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State food safety chiefs urged to expedite disposal of cases under PFA
Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 08 : 05 AM [IST]
Ashwani Maindola, New Delhi
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has issued a letter to the state food safety commissioners to expedite the disposal of the cases registered under the erstwhile Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954.

The country’s apex food regulator has urged the state governments to take a cue from Gujarat in disposing of such cases. The western state has set up special courts, disposed of 1,200 of the registered cases and recovered fines amounting to Rs 1.25 crore so far.

This is the third such letter issued by FSSAI. In February 2016 and July 2017, the regulator wrote to the state authorities, urging them to dispose of such cases.

However, when contacted, a senior official with FSSAI’s legal unit stated that it had no data about the total pendency under the PFA Act, 1954, in the country, adding that it varied from state to state.

In the letter, FSSAI mentioned that Gujarat was able to identify nearly 3,881 cases out of 4,329 cases of misbranded and sub-standard food registered under the PFA Act, 1954.

Out of these, 1,200 cases were disposed of merely by imposing fines through proceedings held in special sittings of judicial magistrates’ courts on September 9, 2017.

According to a senior Food and Drugs Control Administration (FDCA) Gujarat official, the next round of the proceedings would take place on November 11, 2017.

FSSAI approached the state food safety commissioners after a Supreme Court judgment in a criminal appeal posted before it in March 2016, wherein the apex court modified the rules under the PFA Act, 1954, from imprisonment for a term of six months to a fine of Rs 50,000, as the same offense in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, has a maximum penalty of a fine.

The case was registered against a trader who filed a revision petition in the Rajasthan High Court against the order dated September 11, 1996 passed by the additional sessions judge, Barmer, Rajasthan, in which the order passed by the trial court dated October 19, 1995 that the petitioner has been convicted for the offence under Section 7/16 of the PFA Act, 1954, and has been sentenced to undergo six months’ rigorous imprisonment (RI) and pay a fine of Rs 1,000, and in default, one month’s RI was upheld.

The Rajasthan High Court also upheld the sentence which was again challenged in the Supreme Court, which modified the verdict. In place of imprisonment, a fine of Rs 50,000 was imposed.

The apex regulator also described the efforts taken by FDCA Gujarat to the other state commissioners to encourage them to dispose of the cases pending under the PFA Act, 1954.

Gujarat decided to reduce the pendency of cases under the PFA Act, 1954, by appointing a committee of technical experts and analysing the cases which fall under the same covered by the Supreme Court judgment.

“FDCA Gujarat has formed a special committee of designated officers to look into the cases registered under the PFA Act, 1954. They will assess the case as to how and where it fits in accordance to the new Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, and subsequently proceedings will be carried out and the matters will be disposed of,” said the FDCA Gujarat official.

Prior to the formation of the committee of technical experts, FDCA Gujarat studied the judgment of the apex court and gathered all the information about the pendency and nature of the cases.

The committee comprised designated officers, field analysts from government laboratories, legal officers and doctors. It studied about 4,500 cases. Only the serious offences would run under the PFA Act, 1954, while cases that were not of a serious nature could be disposed of merely by imposing a fine.

Of the 4500 cases, about 448 cases were found to be of a serious nature and shall run in various courts under the PFA Act, 1954.

The FDCA Gujarat official stated that there were a series of meetings between the FDCA, the state legal service authority and the municipal commissioner, and a roadmap was created to resolve the pendency of the cases.

In Maharashtra alone, about 5,000 cases were registered under the PFA Act, 1954. A senior official of the state FDA informed, “In the state of Maharashtra, there are 5,000 cases pending under the PFA Act, 1954. We are working on the same.”

“We haven’t decided how to go about it yet. We submitted a paper on the subject to the higher authority earlier, but we haven’t got a positive response on the issue yet. However, we will follow the order issued by the apex regulator,” he added.
 
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