There have been task forces and committees galore to look into the issue of food adulteration but nothing much has come of these. Clearly, the only solution to this is stricter laws and penalties and this is what the Law Commission has recommended. It has suggested that those convicted of manufacturing and selling adulterated food should be given life imprisonment or pay ₹10 lakh as fine. In its report The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (Provisions dealing with Food Adulteration) submitted to the law ministry, the law panel has proposed amendments to sections 272 and 273 of the Indian Penal Code. At present the penalty starts from a mere six months in prison. Grading “injury” to those consuming these adulterated products into various categories, the Commission has recommended different jail terms and fines. Section 272 deals with manufacture of adulterated items, section 273 deals with their sale.
According to the amendments proposed, a “non grievous injury” may attract jail term of one year and a fine of ₹ 3 lakh. A grievous injury will fetch a jail term of six years and a fine of ₹ 5 lakh. At the same time, the Food Safety and Standards Act, Rules and Regulations has to be strengthened to stop what really amounts to slow poisoning through unregulated use of pesticides, antibiotics and other harmful chemicals and additives in food and other items of daily consumption. An earlier study found that one in five of food items contained some form of adulterant. Many of these are used daily like water and milk. The adulteration of milk is particularly worrying as it affects young children the most. One of the most frightening instances of adulteration was that of low quality khesari dal being added to arhar dal resulting in paralysis of the lower body. This toxic dal had been banned since 1961 but was freely used over the years. Another report released a few years ago referred to `permissible’ levels of rat excreta in milled flour. Even high end products in India do not have proper labelling, prime among them being cosmetic products.
The Indian penchant to adulterate goes as far as goods being exported. A consignment of Indian pepper was turned back from a European country on account of its containing poor quality berry substitutes. This adulteration affects the health of people at every level, causing life threatening morbidities and in some cases death. Cutting corners for profit in items of daily use cannot be dealt with on a piecemeal basis. A stricter law will be a deterrent once the conviction rate which is abysmal at the moment goes up. The Law Commission’s suggestions are a sign that the cavalier attitude to food adulteration is changing and this must be followed through.