The Supreme Court on Friday directed Nestle India to file its response to an appeal by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) demanding a ban on Maggi, the company’s popular instant noodles.
Nestle relaunched its instant noodles on November 9 after a favourable high court verdict and 50 million packets flew off the shelves within three weeks but the latest development indicates the Swiss food giant’s India operations may not be out of the woods yet. Nestle India posted its first loss in 17 years in the June quarter, having incurred an exceptional item charge of Rs 451.6 crore after Maggi stocks were pulled out of stores nationwide.
A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra, however, declined on Friday to interfere with the National Commission Disputes Redressal Commission’s (NCDRC’s) direction asking the company to get Maggi samples tested at a government-accredited laboratory.
“You file a separate petition against that order. It cannot be heard in this (FSSAI) appeal,” the court told Nestle’s counsel Harish Salve when he asked the bench for relief against the NCDRC order delivered on the Centre’s class action suit claiming damages from the company. Salve agreed to do so and assured the court that he would reply to the FSSAI petition by January 5.
Appearing for the FSSAI, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said he was not pressing for an immediate stay of the Bombay High Court order. He, however, drew the court’s attention towards the difficulties the FSSAI was facing after the HC order. Rohatgi said the HC had virtually stayed laboratory testing of food products.
“The new food adulteration law mandates the laboratories are accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) and recognised by the regulator. However, until the accreditation process is completed the ministry had permitted the laboratories with old accreditation to continue testing. The HC now says that you cannot conduct any tests until the accreditation is complete. As a result all 72 laboratories do not have any work,” Rohatgi said.
The bench agreed to look into all the concerns on January 13.
In its petition, the FSSAI has questioned the “sanctity” of the samples provided to government-approved laboratories for the re-test. It said the HC had asked Nestle to provide samples whereas they should have been picked up randomly from the market. This direction vitiated the procedure of re-testing and a neutral agency should have lifted the samples, it said.
According to the FSSAI, sale of Maggi without fresh permission from the authorities also violated provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
Nestle India had moved the HC against the FSSAI’s decision to ban Maggi and the showcause notice asking the company why its product approval should not be withdrawn.
Quashing the ban order and notice, the HC held the regulator had violated the principles of natural justice. The court had allowed Nestle to go in for fresh testing of five samples of each variant of the noodles at three independent laboratories in Punjab, Hyderabad and Jaipur accredited with the NABL.