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HC intervenes in FSSAI case

12,August, 2016
 

Pune: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has issued an interim clarification that the Bureau of Indian Standard’s ISI certification mark is not mandatory for packaged natural spring water until standards for the same are finalized.

The clarification by FSSAI’s assistant director (enforcement) on August 4, was brought to the notice of the Bombay High Court on August 5 during the hearing of a plea by Luthra Water Systems Private Limited, a natural spring water bottling plant in Mulshi. The applicant-plant alleged harassment by FSSAI officials in the name of action against unauthorized packaged drinking/mineral water.

In June, FSSAI officials had raided the plant and issued a show cause notice. The plant sought a stay on the notice. The bench of Justices Ranjit More and Anuja Prabhudesai held, "The responsible authorities are bound to consider the applicant-plant’s reply to the show cause notice in the light of the (FSSAI’s) interim clarification."

The action against the bottling plant was part of a larger drive spurred by an April 27, 2016 FSSAI notification which stated that no person shall sell or exhibit for sale, packaged drinking water and mineral water except under the Bureau of Indian Standards’ certification mark. The notification then directed officials to strictly enforce standards related to packaged drinking/mineral water.

Lawyer Ravi Bhardwaj, representing the applicant, argued that packaged natural spring water is distinct from packaged drinking or mineral water, as it falls under the proprietary food products for which the standards are yet to be finalized. He submitted that such proprietary food product is considered safe for consumption when sold under FSSAI product license or a provisional no objection certificate (NOC). Despite having the requisite NOC, the FSSAI officials issued the show cause notice.

Among other things, the applicant-plant had sought the court’s direction to FSSAI to make an amendment/modification in the April 27, 2016 notification by mentioning an exemption for packaged natural spring water which can be sold without ISI mark. It also sought a stay on the show cause notice issued on June 7, 2016.

In view of FSSAI’s interim clarification, which was addressed to the applicant-plant, the latter did not press for amendment/modification of the impugned notification. Regarding the stay, the bench observed that the applicant-plant was at liberty to reply to the show cause notice and responsible authorities were bound to consider the reply in light of the clarification.

Bharadwaj told TOI, "Bottled water in India is broadly classified into two categories, i.e. packaged drinking water and natural mineral water, and there are standards for only these two categories whereas the standards for packaged natural spring water have not been finalized."

In the past, the bottling plant had to approach the Bombay High Court after its plea filed on September 5, 2012, for a product license was kept pending for a long period by the food regulator. The high court on September 5, 2013, ordered the regulators to consider the product license plea following which a provisional NOC was issued by the FSSAI to the plant on October 3, 2013.

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