The Supreme Court Monday refused to lift the stay on the Centre’s new legal regime, under which the food regulator has been authorised to issue guidelines requiring manufacturers to take approvals for the products already in the market.
A bench of Justices J S Khehar and C Nagappan declined a plea by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to modify the restraint order passed by the Bombay High Court, which had stayed the advisory issued on the subject.
According to the May 2013 advisory, food products covering a broad spectrum, including “novel foods, functional foods, food supplements, irradiated foods, genetically modified foods, foods for special dietary uses or extracts or concentrates of botanicals, herbs or of animal sources” should apply for product approval.
“After perusing the petition and hearing the arguments, we don’t find any ground to interfere with the interim order and hence the prayer against the impugned order is rejected,” said the bench while adding that the High Court should make all endeavor to expeditiously dispose of the petition.
Appearing for the FSSAI, senior advocate Paras Kuhad pointed out that owing to the blanket stay order, the authority was handicapped in examining any food product. “This order is affecting the entire industry. The entire food safety mechanism is rendered ineffective and the authority cannot verify any food product,” he argued.
Kuhad added that the FSAAI has now decided to extend the deadline for product approval and licensing to August 31 and the manufacturers could avail this remedy without waiting for the outcome of the petition.
The bench however maintained that the High Court order was only an interim order and the validity of the advisory was still to be finally adjudicated. It asked the government to wait for the final order of the court and refused to modify the interim directive.
While hearing petitions filed by Vital Nutraceuticals and Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association against the advisory, a two-judge bench of the Bombay High Court had initially delivered a split verdict on whether the FSSAI had the power to issue guidelines requiring existing manufacturers to take approval for products that are already in the market.
One judge on the bench held that such approval for products that are already in the market was unconstitutional but the other differed and said the right to safe and uncontaminated food was held to be a fundamental right under the Constitution.
The matter was then referred to a larger bench of the High Court, which is seized of the issues pertaining to the legality and validity of the impugned advisory.