Updated: July 31, 2020 10:52:44 am
Justice moves at a snail’s pace — even if all it involves is four mealworms, two weevils, and 600 gm of turmeric.
On Thursday, a three-judge Supreme Court Bench finally pulled the curtains on this story, acquitting a Sonepat-based trader, Prem Chand, in a case of adulteration filed 38 years ago.
In their six-paragraph order restoring a trial court judgment passed back in 1995 clearing Prem Chand of all charges, Justices N V Ramana, Surya Kant and Krishna Murari recounted the sequence of events starting August 18, 1982, when a food inspector visited Prem Chand’s shop and found he was selling turmeric without a licence. From a 10-kg bag, the food inspector took 600 gm for testing, and the sample was found to contain “four living mealworms and two live weevils”.
The Supreme Court noted that the 2009 high court order convicting Prem Chand had overlooked key facts. First, that the sample had been sent for testing after an unexplained delay of 18 days. “There is no evidence that the samples were not tampered (in) the intervening period,” the court noted. Second, it found that during cross-examination, the analyst who examined the sample had acknowledged that the infestation was not visible to the naked eye.
Prem Chand had been charged under Section 16 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. Thirteen years later, the trial court acquitted him. The Haryana government moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which took 14 years to convict Prem Chand of selling turmeric without a licence. The 2009 order sentenced him to one-month imprisonment and a fine of Rs 500.
The next year, Prem Chand moved the Supreme Court. The case was listed at the time before then chief justice of India P Sathasivam; six CJIs have retired since.
The case came up for regular hearing before the Supreme Court in March this year, after the court fast-tracked criminal appeals pending for over 10 years and involving a sentence of less than five years, in a bid to address the pendency of cases.
As of July 1, over 60,000 cases were pending before the Supreme Court, according to its own report. These included 46 crucial ones that require hearings by a Constitution bench of at least five judges or more.
The lockdown since March has reduced hearings in court to only “urgent” cases, through video-conferencing.
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