Delhi High Court upholds 50% warning label requirement for pan masala packages

The High Court’s decision came in response to a petition filed by Dharampal Satyapal Limited, the manufacturers of well-known pan brands.

Published - July 11, 2024 01:17 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of the Delhi High Court. File

A view of the Delhi High Court. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Delhi High Court has ruled in favour of the Central Government’s decision to increase the size of statutory warnings on pan masala packages, requiring the warnings to cover 50% of the front of the label, up from the previous font size of 3 mm.

The High Court’s decision came in response to a petition filed by Dharampal Satyapal Limited, the manufacturers of well-known pan brands such as Rajnigandha, Tansen, and Mastaba, who challenged the regulation issued by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) set to take effect in May 2024.

The company claimed that there was no scientific basis for the significant increase in the size of the statutory warning. It claimed that no studies were conducted by the Scientific Panel or Scientific Committee, set up under the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act, prior to the decision.

The company stated that to its knowledge, no study was done by the Scientific Panel or Scientific Committee before proposing the said increase in the size of the statutory warning.

It stated that it appears from the record that the size of the warning statement was increased to 50% at the instance of one member of the Scientific Committee at the 31st meeting dated November 15, 2018 and thereafter, the said suggestion has been implemented without any deliberations as required under the FSS Act.

The company also highlighted the inconsistency in warning sizes for similar harmful products, such as betel nut (areca nut), which is the principal ingredient of pan masala and alcohol, which is admittedly acknowledged as a harmful substance, still maintain a warning size of 3mm.

In response, FSSAI’s emphasised the historical context of the warning statements. It said the warning “Chewing of pan masala may be injurious to health” was introduced in 1990 and updated in 2011 to “Chewing of pan masala is injurious to health,” reflecting a more definitive health risk.

The FSSAI argued that the increased warning size is part of a broader public health policy aimed at enhancing consumer awareness and is a reasonable restriction under Article 19(6) of the Indian Constitution.

The high court, in its judgment on July 9, said the contention of the company that there was no scientific studies before the Scientific Panel for recommending the 50% size of the pack warning, is without any merits.

It noted that the recommendation for increasing the statutory warning size to 50% was first made by the Scientific Committee at its 31st Meeting on November 15, 2018, on the basis of the scientific opinion of the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, which concluded that pan masala is not safe for human consumption.

The high court opined that the “Regulation gives effect to the legislative intent of safeguarding the larger public interest which is paramount”.

The high court further referenced expert reports and guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) of December 6, 2018, which showed that though there is a worldwide recommendation for banning pan masala, yet the Food Authority has for the present only taken the limited step of increasing the warning size.

“The resistance of the Petitioners to the increase in the warning size while accepting the existence of the health hazard of the pan masala, as evidenced by the expert studies, shows that the Petitioners are only seeking to subserve their personal interest without having regard for the public health,” the high court remarked while dismissing the plea of the company.

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