If the Health Ministry has its way, pizzas, burgers, pakoras and soft drinks will soon be out of bounds for school and college students across the country.
"(The) Health Minister has written to health ministers of all states and union territories to consider withdrawal of carbonated beverages and junk foods from school and college canteens," said an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court by Food and Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which is under the health ministry.
Junk food can cause obesity, dental cavities, diabetes and heart disease, it says. The Ministry said it is in the process of issuing guidelines for improvement of safety and quality food in all educational institutions. The court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by an NGO, seeking a ban on sale of junk food and carbonated drinks within a 1,500-feet-radius of schools. It had sought the view of the Health Ministry on April 19.
While admitting the PIL in February, the court had asked the Centre about the steps it took to create awareness among the young generation about the "harmful effects of increased consumption of junk food".
The Bench of chief justice Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna is set to take a stand on the Centre's affidavit on Monday. "The term ‘junk food' is not defined under Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. But it is understood that any food that has poor nutritional value (and) is considered unhealthy may be called junk food," Dhir Singh, assistant director with the FSSAI says in the affidavit.
To bolster its case for a nationwide ban, the Health Ministry quoted medical researches to say "junk food is high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar, contains harmful additives and colour to enhance flavour and is of no use as (it) lacks vitamins, minerals and fibre. PIL petitioners Rahul Verma and lawyer Rakesh Prabhakar of NGO Uday Foundation told the court: "It is... time we change the way kids eat in schools. Such a ban will set new standards for healthy foods. On one hand, children are taught in classroom about good nutrition... on the other hand, we continue to make junk food available to them."
They said their nationwide survey showed most schools allowed easy access to junk foods and carbonated drinks to students in school canteens and nearby shops.