The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the Centre for delaying the notification making it mandatory for soft drinks manufacturers like Coca Cola and Pepsi to disclose actual contents of their products.
“Should people gulp down poison till then?” Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra, the sole woman judge in the apex court, snapped at the Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSA) counsel, who submitted that it would take at least three months for the draft regulations to be issued.
Justice Mishra, who was part of the bench headed by Justice Dalveer Bhandari, also told the Government that it was improper to appoint top executives of the Cola and other food products manufacturers to the “scientific panels” of the authority appointed to determine the quality of the products.
“How can they be made members of the panel? How can a person judge his own case?” Justice Mishra told Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising appearing for the Centre.
Concurring with her views, Justice Bhandari said the petitioner Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) had a valid apprehension that appointment of executives from private companies in the scientific panel of the government body would lead to “conflict of interest”.
“People must have faith in the panel. People with vested interests cannot be part of the panel,” Justice Bhandari said.
The apex court made the remarks while granting three months time to the Food Safety and Standards Authority to finalise the draft regulations to regulate the sale and distribution of soft drinks and other food products throughout the country.
The CPIL had filed the PIL in 2004 seeking regulations and quality checks on the sale of soft drinks and cited various purported findings that they contained harmful substance.
Counsel for FSSA submitted that the proposed regulations under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 would not only regulate the quality of the soft drinks but also other food products in the markets like jams, jellies, etc.
CPIL counsel Prashant Bhushan alleged the general public was exposed to gastro-intestinal and other ailments due to heavy contents of pesticides, phosphoric acid and other dangerous substance present in the soft drinks.
However, K.K. Venugopal and Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for soft drink makers, submitted the manufacturers were taking all necessary steps to inform the general public by appropriately printing on the bottles or the caps the relevant contents of the products.
The apex court posted the matter for further hearing on August 3.