The Madras High Court Tuesday directed the Food Safety Department in Tamil Nadu to submit a report on the action taken against milk sellers involved in adulteration of the essential commodity. A division bench, comprising justices Vineet Kothari and Anita Sumanth, gave the directive to an official of the department on a PIL filed by a lawyer A P Suryaprakasam, seeking enhancement of punishment against those adulterating milk and milk products.
The bench opined that cases pertaining to food safety should be given priority in competent courts dealing with such trials because they directly affect the health and life of citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution. "We assert that the courts concerned, as well as DROs (District Revenue Officers) dealing with civil proceedings against such sellers give urgent priority to such cases," it said.
The bench directed the registrar general of the high court to obtain reports from the courts of all districts, through the principle district judges, about the class of cases of food safety and the number of pending cases, giving year-wise break up, to ensure that trials receive due and urgent priority. The court said it prima facie found that once it took up the PIL and started monitoring the working of the Food Safety Department, the department appeared to have undertaken a special drive against adulteration in December last year.
"The number of surveys conducted during 2017-18 up to November 2018, ranging from 47 samples analysed have gone up to 790 and the collected samples analysed by the department in December 2018." Going by this, the bench said that of the 790 samples collected, 113 were found sub-standard, but the action taken report on the milk sellers was not there.
The bench ordered the director and the additional commissioner of food safety, K Vanaja, to submit a report on the basis of information to be collected through all DROs on the action taken by them, either on criminal or civil side, with case-wise details on the quantum of penalty or fine imposed on the erring milk sellers in each district. The bench then posted the matter for further hearing to February 26.
The issue of adulteration of milk arose when the state minister for dairy development alleged that private milk firms were using harmful chemicals in the milk they produced causing cancer to many children. The minister had said that the charges he levelled were made after a thorough check of the packaged milk of private firms for more than five months and that the authorities found that private milk producers were using hydrogen peroxide and chlorine to prevent milk from getting spoilt.
(With inputs from agencies.)