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Maggi case: FSSAI moves apex court

Nestle Maggi Controversy

Arnab Dutta Nivedita Mookerji & Sanjay Jog  |  New Delhi/Mumbai 

A vendor works at a roadside Maggi noodles eatery in Ahmedabad
A vendor works at a roadside Maggi noodles eatery in Ahmedabad

In less than a week of Nestlé’s Maggi noodles returning to the market, the country’s apex food regulator — Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) — has moved the Supreme Court in the matter.

Even as reports through Monday evening indicated that FSSAI had moved the SC against the Bombay High Court order that had allowed relaunch of the noodles and that it had questioned the credibility of the latest tests as samples were drawn from Nestlé, sources in the government told Business Standard the food regulator’s move might not have been directly linked to re-introduction of the product in the market.

Nestlé India said, “It has been brought to our attention that the Hon’ble Supreme Court website has posted that FSSAI has filed a case against Nestlé India Ltd and others. We have not been served a notice about this and are not yet aware of its content. However, we would like to reiterate that Nestlé India is confident of the quality and safety of Maggi Noodles and so we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

These sources said FSSAI had approached the apex court on two issues — to appeal that some “adverse remarks” against officials of the regulatory body during the Maggi proceedings in the Bombay High Court be expunged, and not to de-accredit certain laboratories that had tested Maggi noodles as indicated by the court.

However, the reason for FSSAI moving the Supreme Court could not be independently verified with the food regulator or its lawyer. Calls made to FSSAI Chairman Ashish Bahuguna remained unanswered. FSSAI lawyer Mehmood Pracha did not respond to calls or text messages.

Officials in the Maharashtra Food & Drug Administration (FDA) told this newspaper they had not been consulted by FSSAI in moving the Supreme Court. They said had FSSAI sought return of the ban on Maggi noodles, Maharashtra FDA would have been taken on board.

Maharashtra FDA wanted the ban to continue and its draft petition is ready, a source said. It has to be vetted by the advocate general and then attorney general before it is taken forward. In June, the instant snack was banned across the country on the basis of some tested samples showing presence of monosodium glutamate and excessive lead content. FSSAI had termed Maggi noodles “hazardous to health” and had ordered pan-India recall of the product, stopping its manufacturing as well.

Although FSSAI comes under the ambit of the health ministry in the Union government, the Centre was seen distancing itself from the controversial decision of banning the Swiss major’s popular snack in India. In fact, Yudhvir Malik, then chief executive officer of FSSAI, who was at the centre of decision-making against Maggi, was shifted out to Niti Aayog following protests within the food industry. Bahuguna, a former secretary in the agriculture ministry, was brought in as FSSAI chairman, a slot vacant for several months.

In such a backdrop, it is unlikely FSSAI would take a call to clamp on a multinational such as Nestlé at this point, a government official said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a visit to the UK and Turkey, and wooing international companies to invest in India has been top of his agenda. Also, recently the government had come out with revised conditions for foreign investment in India, to make things simpler for international companies.

On August 13, a bench of the Bombay High Court comprising Judges V M Kanade and B P Colabawalla had quashed the ‘order of recall’ on Maggi noodles, imposed by FSSAI on June 5. It also laid down the process of testing and specified three NABL-accredited and FSSAI approved laboratories to determine whether Maggi is fit for human consumption. Maggi cleared the first set of tests on October 16 which allowed Nestlé India to start manufacturing the product. A second set of tests, done afterwards on newly manufactured batches of the instant noodle, too declared the products safe.

  • “In fact, the entire sequence culminating in imposition of ban on June 5, 2015 by respondent no.2 (FSSAI CEO) shows that there is something more that what meets the eye….”
  • “It appears that respondent no. 2 is also influenced by extraneous considerations such as the material, which has been placed before us which is not reflected in the reasons given in the impugned order.”

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First Published: Tue, November 17 2015. 00:49 IST