Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Old food adulteration cases to be dropped? A questionable action

A million dollar question that may pose some problem to government of India pertains to the thousands of food adulteration cases pending before various judicial courts through out the country. This issue became a hot potato to the new government in Delhi when trader associations filed a plea with the Prime Minister's Office to dismiss all such cases immediately since the present food quality and safety laws have replaced the old ones prevailing between 1956 and 2012. But is it ethical for the government to direct the judiciary to ignore such cases, some of them pending for decades, when prosecutions were initiated based on laboratory evidence? A crime does not become a crime just because the law has been slightly tweaked! The new Food Safety and Standards Act has inherited all the liabilities and assets of erstwhile Prevention of Food adulteration Act 1954 and therefore a crime committed then cannot be condoned under any circumstances. Here is a take on this issue which makes a funny reading.  .

"Considering the plea submitted by the Chandigarh chapter of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) regarding withdrawal of cases registered under the erstwhile Prevention of food adulteration Act (PFAA), 1954, the Prime Minister Office (PMO) has directed the Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) to take appropriate action. A significant number of cases were registered against traders under the erstwhile PFAA and are pending in various courts across the country. According to CAIT (Chandigarh) President Harish Garg, many of these cases are as old as 20 years and are still in the initial stages. "Now with the PFAA being replaced by the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, all the cases registered under the previous Act have no relevance. Highlighting the problems faced by traders, I had told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that all such cases should be compounded because there is no merit to continue these cases after the replacement of the Act." Garg said the PMO has considered the issue sympathetically and directed the FSSAI to take appropriate actions. The move will help traders carry out their businesses in a smooth manner. Garg also said earlier the issue was also taken up by the Central office of CAIT with former Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, urging him to evolve a "compounding of offences". Alternatively, if compounding of cases is not feasible, then "fast-track court or arbitration or reconciliation proceedings may be initiated, to clear all the pending cases".

What is appalling is that the PMO has unwittingly played into the hands of this lobby which is spearheading the campaign to withdraw these cases by directing the FSSAI to take action in the matter. It is not clear whether PMO has directed FSSAI to withdraw these cases or to just process their plea appropriately as per the law? No doubt the judiciary has to take some blame for this sorry situation because of its delaying procedures compounded by ruthless lawyers who try to prolong the cases as much as possible. Is it not a joke that some of the accused parties in such cases do not even live to day because of repeated adjournments and prevarications by the clever lawyers which drags such cases for decades deliberately serving the cause of those being prosecuted!

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