Life imprisonment for milk adulteration: Supreme Court


New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday favoured life imprisonment for the offence of milk adulteration and urged the central government to amend the Indian Penal Code to make the punishment deterrent for offenders. 

The Bench comprising Chief Justice TS Takur and Justices R.Banumati and UU Lalit has issued the directions in a Public Interest Litigation filed by Swmai Achyutanand Tirth and Others. The petitioners allege that the concerned State Governments and Union of India have failed to take effective measures for combating the adulteration of milk with hazardous substance like urea, detergent, refined oil, caustic soda, etc. which adversely affects the consumers’ health and seek appropriate direction. 

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Chief Justice TS Thakur suggested that the Centre consider amending the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act 2006 to raise the penalty for selling synthetic milk to life sentence as had already been done by Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha.

At present, the 2006 Act provides for a maximum punishment of life sentence only if the “unsafe food” results in death. The minimum sentence is seven years. In all, the Bench issued ten directives and guidelines to the Centre and the states on a PIL by Swami Achyutanand Tirath and others pleading for the apex court’s intervention to stop the sale of such milk, particularly in Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

The Centre and the states “shall take appropriate steps to implement FSS Act, 2006 in a more effective manner,” the Bench said. The other members of the Bench were Justices R. Banumathi, who authored the verdict for the court, and Uday Umesh Lalit.

The state governments should set up committees at the state and district levels to review the steps taken to curb milk adulteration as was being done in Maharashtra. The state-level committee should be headed by the Chief Secretary or the Secretary of Dairy Department, while the Collectors should be in charge of the district panels, the Supreme Court said.

The Centre and the states should evolve a complaint mechanism for checking corruption and other unethical practices of the food authorities and their officers. State food safety authorities should identify high risk areas and ensure adequate lab-testing infrastructure for sampling of milk and milk products, including spot testing through mobile food-testing vans.

Citing the “National Survey on adulteration of Milk” conducted by the FSS Authority of India in 2011, the court noted that contaminated water in adulterated milk caused gastroenteritis and other stomach ailments, while the presence of chemicals like caustic soda and detergents was very serious. Prolonged consumption of milk adulterated with chemicals damaged vital body organs.

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