The government's inability to notify the Food Safety Act invited the Supreme Court's wrath on Thursday. The court came close to passing an order to direct the Health Ministry to implement the Act by the end of August.
A bench headed by Justice AK Mathur expressed anger on learning that the government was implementing the Act in a phased manner. For the past two years the ministry has been taking time from the court to notify the Act. However, it has failed to do so on technical grounds. A public interest litigation, which had raised the need for a Food Safety Act was filed in 2004, awaits final disposal.
The bench scoffed at the government for failing to implement the Act two years after it was passed by Parliament. "Why is the executive sitting over it? When the President has given the assent, how can the department not act?" the bench asked Additional Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran who appeared for the ministry.
The court indicated it would prescribe a time period within which the government will have to constitute the authority and committee required under the Act.
The government has been dragging its feet over notifying the Act, which replaces regulations such as the Milk and Milk Products Order, Fruit Products Order and the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has been set up to ensure that safety measures are followed by food processing companies.
Coming to the government's rescue, senior advocate Harish Salve pacified the bench and said his client, Coca-Cola, welcomed the notification of Food Safety Act. "Coca-Cola is a big company and is obliged to follow the international norms. Our products continue to conform to the draft regulations on labelling," he said. Salve convinced the court not to pass orders immediately to direct that the Act be notified.