Is salt a flavouring agent or a food product? The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to clarify this query that arose in a plea filed by an ITC Hotels nominee, challenging its prosecution by the Punjab government for allegedly misbranding its product.
ITC Hotels had used the word ‘pure’ to brand its Aashirwaad salt, which Punjab said is not allowed under the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) law. ITC claims salt is a flavouring agent and the law grants immunity from prosecution if it is misbranded. The SC bench asked additional solicitor general Pinky Anand to state the Centre’s stand on the dispute.
“It’s (PFA) a central legislation. You better clarify what it (salt) is,” the bench said, fixing October 18 to hear the matter. In 2013, the Punjab and Haryana high court had prosecuted ITC under the PFA for misbranding salt. Bhanu Shankar Rautray, the ITC nominee, has moved the top court against the HC verdict. The Punjab government began the prosecution against Rautray in 2003. It filed a complaint against him, saying salt cannot be termed ‘pure’ because the form sold in the market contains additives. State counsel Jayant Sud told SC the word connotes the quality of the salt, which is impure. “It has an anti-caking agent and components to ionize so that it does not let the product crystalise,” the lawyer said. The state has contested ITC’s claim that salt is a seasoning and is subject to exception under the law.
But Rautray’s advocate, senior counsel KV Vishwanathan, told the SC: “Nobody can say salt is not a flavouring agent. Please look at the definition of this word.” Vishwanathan said all such prosecutions in Punjab have been quashed after a HC ruling. “It says salt is a flavouring agent.” Sud, however, said the verdict came in a different case where the packet said “free-flowing pure salt.” “ In that, the HC held the salt is pure because it is free-flowing,” Sud argued.