Delhi HC upholds 50 pc warning label size on pan masala packages

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New Delhi, Jul 11 (PTI) The Delhi High Court has upheld food safety regulator FSSAI's decision to enhance the size of statutory warnings against injury to health on pan masala packages to 50 per cent of the front of the label from the earlier 3 mm.

A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Manmohan dismissed a petition by a pan masala manufacturer, who challenged a notification issued by the FSSAI in October 2022, and said the mandate gives effect to the legislative intent of safeguarding the larger public interest in health, which is paramount, and outweighs the individual loss to a manufacturer.

"The present writ petition stands dismissed along with the pending application," the bench, also comprising Justice Manmeet PS Arora, said in the judgment dated July 9.

The petitioners, Dharampal Satyapal Ltd -- a licensed manufacturer and trader of pan masala brands Rajnigandha, Tansen, and Mastaba -- and one of its shareholders had also sought "sufficient time" to comply with the new packaging requirement if the petition was dismissed.

In its judgment, the court said the petitioner company had already been granted sufficient time to change the packaging of its product and comply with the regulation.

"In view of our findings on the vires of the impugned regulation, we are not inclined to grant any further time to the petitioner for permitting transition of the packaging of its product," it said.

The petitioners had assailed the regulation on the grounds that there was no study, data or material to justify the size of the statutory warning, and said the notification was liable to be struck down as it was based on "whims, surmises and conjectures".

The court, however, observed that as per the record, the decision of the food authority to increase the warning size on the front of the label to 50 per cent is based on "concerted deliberations" of the relevant material, including expert studies and reports, which showed that the use of areca nut in pan masala was extremely hazardous to consumers and therefore, there was a necessity to enhance the warning.

It also rejected the petitioner's claim that the enhancement of the size of the warning statement took away its rights under the Trademarks Act and Copyright Act as it constricted the space on the package.

"Keeping in view the object of protecting and promoting public health sought to be achieved by Respondent No. 2, the constriction of space, if any, in displaying the trademark is not a ground for striking down the impugned regulation keeping in view the public health concern," the court said.

It noted that although there is a worldwide recommendation for banning pan masala products, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has, for the present, only taken the limited step of increasing the warning size and the resistance by the petitioner showed it was only seeking to subserve their personal interests.

"This court is of the opinion that the impugned Regulation gives effect to the legislative intent of safeguarding the larger public interest which is paramount and as held by the Supreme Court in Unicorn Industries, the larger public interest of public health would outweigh the individual loss to the manufacturer/licensee like the Petitioners herein," it observed.

The court held the mandate met the "test of proportionality" as the statutory health warning statement was a crucial public health measure, and the petitioner cannot claim parity with the size of 3 mm for statutory health warning on alcohol bottles. PTI ADS IJT

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