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HC quashes penalty order issued to Tata Chemicals and others over 'substandard iodized salt'

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Nagpur: The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court has quashed an order issued by the Food Safety Appellate Tribunal in Maharashtra's Buldhana in 2016, imposing penalty on Tata Chemicals Limited and other companies for "manufacturing and selling substandard iodized salt".

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In his order, Justice Anil L Pansare of the bench also directed the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to issue appropriate advisories or circulars to ensure procedural compliance and transparency in future cases.

Tata Chemicals Limited and others had appealed against the order in question, dated October 13, 2016, under Section 71(6) of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 in the case involving Tata Chemicals Limited and others versus the State of Maharashtra.

The appellants, Tata Chemicals Limited, along with others, contested the previous decision which had upheld penalties imposed on them for allegedly manufacturing and selling substandard iodized salt. The adjudicating officer had imposed a penalty of Rs 2,00,000 on each appellant under sections 26 (2) (ii) and 27(1) of the Act of 2006.

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The high court's judgment underlined several critical discrepancies and procedural lapses in the case. It was observed that the food analyst's report, which labelled the product as misbranded, was contested by the appellants. The matter was then referred to the Referral Food Laboratory (RFL) for further analysis.

However, the RFL's report, while concluding that the product was substandard, did not provide sufficient reasoning or justification for its deviation from the initial report. This lack of transparency raised questions regarding the validity of the RFL's findings and the overall integrity of the process, it said.

It was also noted that the RFL had exceeded the mandated time frame for analysis which potentially compromised the integrity of the sample and its classification. The court stressed the importance of adhering to procedural guidelines, especially in matters of food safety, where public health and consumer trust are paramount.

"The RFL has apparently not followed the time limit stipulated in the Rules of 2011. The report, thus, suffers from noncompliance of mandatory provisions. The penalty cannot be imposed on the basis of such a report. The adjudicating officer as also the Tribunal have rendered unsustainable finding," Justice Pansare stated in the order.

In light of these critical observations, the high court quashed the previous orders and exonerated all appellants. Additionally, it directed the FSSAI to issue appropriate advisories or circulars to ensure procedural compliance and transparency in future cases.

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