At the very outset let me begin by pointing out that I have not come across a single person in my life who has not complained of milk being not up to the mark and even in my own life I don’t remember how many times my mother has changed how many persons as the quality of milk supplied was just not up to the mark! Day in and day out we keep hearing the same thing in every household especially in cities and towns where very few people keep cow or other animal and therefore don’t require any milk! It is most astonishing to see that those indulging in milk adulteration have just no fear of any law or going to jail!
To put things in perspective, this is mainly because very few of us actually complaint to police of milk adulteration. The second major reason is that milk adulteration is taken very lightly in our country and there is no strict punishment inserted in our penal laws to contain this grave menace. This has to end if the serious menace of milk adulteration is to be effectively checked in our country. It goes without saying that only then can we expect to get some respite.
This alone explains why the Supreme Court very rightly on August 5, 2016 while expressing concern over alarming level of milk adulteration in the country favoured stringent punishment for this offence and asked the Centre to consider amending the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSAI) to make milk adulteration a criminal offence punishable with life imprisonment. Right now, the adulteration of food product is a crime under Section 272 of the IPC but it is most pathetic to note that it entails a maximum punishment of six months only. It can also be compounded by way of a fine of Rs 1000.
While craving for the extreme indulgence of my esteemed readers, it must be gainfully mentioned here that a Bench of Supreme Court headed by the then Chief Justice TS Thakur and also comprising Justices R Banumathi and UU Lalit said notably that there was an urgent need to tackle the menace of growing sale of adulterated and synthetic milk in different parts of the country. Centre must act fast on this. Showing zero tolerance to adulteration of milk and milk products, a three-Judge Bench of the Apex Court made scathing observation when it said that, “In India, where traditionally infants and children are fed milk, its adulteration is a concern and stringent measures need to be taken to combat it.”
It is also worth mentioning here that the Bench gave the commendable direction after perusing various expert reports revealing that adulteration of milk with chemicals such as baking soda caused several life threatening diseases, including pneumonia and diarrhea. It can also lead to skin surgeries. Centre must comply with these directions at the earliest. For the Centre, the Supreme Court’s intervention can come in handy in cracking the whip on people indulging in wrongdoing with a comprehensive Bill aimed exclusively for this purpose only.
Needless to say, milk adulteration can adversely affect the growth of future generations since it is the staple diet of children and infants. It is a no-brainer that this is what has compelled the Supreme Court which is the highest court of the land to recommend such a severe punishment of making milk adulteration punishable with life. This is in fact long overdue and Centre must therefore waste no time in complying with what Supreme Court has advised it.
It ought to be mentioned here that the Bench of Supreme Court which ordered this landmark verdict pointed out that states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha had already amended the law making adulteration punishable up to life imprisonment. The Bench asked Centre and other States to adopt similar rules and disposed a 2012 petition seeking deterrent punishment against the offenders. Centre and other States must waste no time in doing what the Supreme Court has asked them to do.
To say the least, it must be appreciated here that the Centre had sought to act tough against people involved in food adulteration by enacting the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, which stipulates a heavy fine of up to Rs 10 lakh. But this alone is also not enough. Life imprisonment must be imposed as recommended by Apex Court so that a loud and clear message goes out to all offenders that they would have to cool the rest of their lives in jail if they committed the offence of milk adulteration.
Be it known, it was a PIL that was filed by one Swami Achyutanand Tirth who demanded life term for milk adulteration. In fact, I would go a step further and say that food adulteration too must be severely punished so that no one can play with the health of any other person. Those who still dare to do so must pay for it by spending the rest of their lives in jail so that it acts as an effective deterrent to others from doing so similarly.
It is also worth mentioning here that the petition had cited a report titled “National Survey on Adulteration of Milk” which was based on results of random milk samples lifted from various parts of the country. The results showed the presence of hazardous chemicals, caustic soda and detergents in some samples. This is simply inexcusable. The court noted with concern, “Prolonged consumption of milk adulterated with chemicals may affect vital body organs and may pose a health risk to infants, children and also adults.”
A Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) report of 2011 was quoted in the petition to state that 68.4% of fresh milk was adulterated as was 33% of packaged milk. There was 100% adulteration in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Mizoram, Jharkhand and Daman and Diu.` In Uttarakhand and UP, 88% of milk samples were found adulterated. The Bench of Apex Court ordered that, “It is also desirable that Union of India revisits the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, to revise the punishment for adulteration making it more deterrent in cases where the adulterant can have an adverse impact on health.”
As we see, while proposing a set of guidelines, the Bench asked States and the Centre to generate awareness and increase vigilance over addition of chemicals and pesticides to milk and milk products by forming teams for surprise checks and setting up dedicated laboratories for testing presence of adulterants. In addition, the States were asked to identify high risk areas (where petty food manufacturers are present) and occasions (particularly around festivals) when there is higher risk for ingesting adulterated milk and milk products.
All said and done, the Supreme Court’s order has come timely which is in the interest of people’s health and well-being. There can be no two opinions that adulteration of milk and food amounts to poisoning people slowly so that undue profit is made at the expense of customer and his/her family. There has to be zero tolerance for it and life imprisonment is the appropriate punishment as per this commendable, cogent, composed and convincing judgment of the Supreme Court. Centre and States must consider it at the earliest and make the necessary law providing for life imprisonment for milk and food adulteration so that it acts as an effective deterrent to potential offenders to desist from indulging in the nefarious activity of adulteration of milk and food products. Let us hope that the proposed increase in punishment for milk adulteration is extended to other food items also as well as to bottled water, tea, coffee and spices. It brooks no more delay.