The prohibition will, however, continue for six months
The Supreme Court, while holding that the prohibition imposed by the Centre on non-iodised salt for human consumption is unconstitutional, has however, said the ban will continue for six months.
A Bench of Justices R.V. Raveendran and B. Sudershan Reddy (since retired) directed the Centre to review its policy of compulsory universal salt iodisation programme within six months. The programme should be reviewed with reference to the latest inputs and research data and if, after such an exercise, the government was of the view that it required to be continued, appropriate legislation or other measures in accordance with law should be introduced.
Writing the judgment, Justice Raveendran held that Rule 44-I of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955, was unconstitutional. For, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act was intended for banning use of adulterated and misbranded products and hence the rule could not be invoked to ban sale of non-iodised salt.
The Bench said: “If the object sought to be achieved is to persuade people to use iodised salt or to ensure that people use iodised salt, the recourse cannot be by making a rule banning sale of common salt for human consumption under the PFA Act.”
The PFA Act could not be used to make a rule to achieve an object wholly unrelated to the Act.
“We are of the view that the Rule 44-I [under which the ban was imposed] is wholly outside the scope of the Act.”
“We are constrained to hold that Rule 44-I is ultra vires and therefore not valid. The result would be that the ban on sale of non-iodised salt for human consumption will be raised, which may not be in the interest of public health.”
But, the Bench said, to do complete justice and in the interest of public health, it was exercising its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and the ban contained in Rule 44-I would continue for six months.
“It is needless to say that if it [the government] fails to take any action within the expiry of six months, Rule 44-I shall cease to operate.”
The Bench, allowing a writ petition filed by the Academy of Nutrition Improvement and others challenging the ban, said if the government was keen on banning non-iodised salt it should to come out with different legislation. However, there was no material to prove the petitioners' claim that compulsory iodisation resulted in thyroid and other life-threatening complications.
The government had made mandatory consumption of only iodised salt on the ground that iodine deficiency caused a wide spectrum of disorders, ranging from goitre to cretinism, apart from stillbirth, abortion, dwarfism, squint eye, mental retardation, lower IQ and neuromotor defects.
The petitioners said that when people “who do not suffer from iodine deficiency are forced to take iodised salt regularly, there is the risk of many of them developing complications induced by higher intake of iodine and increase in iodine levels.”