Printing pictures of ‘puttu’ on rice flour packets cannot be termed as misbranding, says judge
The Madras High Court has quashed a charge sheet filed against a rice mill owner and a grocery store proprietor at Periyakulam in Theni district, for manufacturing and selling rice flour used for making ‘puttu’ (steam cake) in packets carrying pictures of the cakes along with cashew nuts, sugar, cardamom and broken coconuts.
A local Food Inspector had booked the duo under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 on charges of printing "misbranded" labels. He had raided the grocery store on June 21, 2007, collected samples of the rice flour packets, obtained a report from the Food Analysis laboratory in Chennai and registered the case.
Allowing a criminal original petition filed by the accused in the Madurai Bench, Justice G.M. Akbar Ali disagreed with reasons adduced by the food inspector for registering the case. He said that printing pictures of food items which could be prepared using the contents of the packets could not be termed as misbranding.
The Judge also said that the petitioner could not be prosecuted in violation of a circular issued by the Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine on June 2, 2008. It laid down guidelines for registration of cases with an observation that many people were being booked wrongly on charges of misbranding their products.
One of the paragraphs in the circular read: "Pictures of food items which can be prepared using ingredients such as edible oil or grain flour or dhal contained in the package of edible oil or grain flour or dhal are not misleading or false. Actually these are all leading pictures and not misleading ones."
Taking a cue from this, Mr. Justice Akbar Ali said: "In my considered view, a label containing leading depiction of pictures will not amount to misbranding as contemplated in the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955. Therefore, the proceeding against the petitioners cannot be allowed to continue as it is an abuse of process of law."
Earlier, petitioner’s counsel R. Gandhi cited a 2008 Supreme Court ruling in which a High Court was criticised for committing a "serious error" by holding that soya bean oil was misbranded just because the packet contained pictures of cabbage, carrot, brinjal, capsicum and other vegetables that could be cooked with the oil.