Maggi controversy: SC revives govt's case against Nestle India in NCDRC seeking damages of Rs 640 crore

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday revived the government case in National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) against Nestle India, seeking damages of Rs 640 crore alleging unfair trade practices, false labelling and misleading advertisements of its Maggi noodles.

The top court had on 16 December, 2015 stayed the proceedings before the NCDRC and directed the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysuru (CFTRI) to place its test report before it.

Maggi controversy: SC revives govts case against Nestle India in NCDRC seeking damages of Rs 640 crore

File image of the Supreme Court of India. AP

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta was told by senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Nestle India, that tests reports of the Mysuru lab had been submitted and it found that lead content in Maggi noodles was well within the limit. "Why should we be eating Maggi with lead in it?", Justice Chandrachud asked Singhvi, who replied that lead content in the noodles was well within the permissible limit and there was some amount of lead in various other products.

The bench said the report of CFTRI, where the samples of Maggi noodles were tested following earlier orders of the court, will form the basis for the proceedings before the NCDRC. "We are of the view that CFTRI report should be evaluated by the NCDRC in the complaint before it. It will not be appropriate for this court to pre-empt the jurisdiction of NCDRC... All the rights and contentions of the parties will remain open," the bench said.

During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee, appearing for Centre said that in the wake of the Mysuru lab report the matter should go back to NCDRC and stay on the proceedings should be vacated.

Singhvi said, "the matter has now become infructuous as the report is in my favour and presence of MSG (monosodium glutamate) was not found."

He, along with senior advocate Arvind Dattar opposed sending the matter back to NCDRC saying nothing remains to be decided after the lab report. "Why should we usurp the power of NCDRC. We will send the lab reports to the commission and them ask to dispose of the complaint filed before it," the bench said adding that the appeal against the Bombay High Court order which had in 2015 quashed the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) ban order against Nestle's Maggi noodle will be heard at a later stage.

According to The Times of India, Nestle said: "During the hearing, we pointed out to the court that reports show lead below detectable limits in some samples and only miniscule quantities of lead in others. The Hon’ble justices wanted to know as to why they should eat noodles if there is any lead. It was explained that the lead is present everywhere and therefore post proper scientific evaluation, a limit of 2.5 PPM is fixed as permissible limit.

"It was clarified that Nestle does not add any lead to the product and miniscule quantities can come from purely external sources like air, water, grains etc. It was again pointed out that the CFTRI results clearly show that in some of the samples the presence of lead has been found as traces and far below the permissible limit."

The Consumer Affairs Ministry had in 2015 filed a complaint against Nestle India before the NCDRC using a provision for the first time in the nearly three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act. It had filed a complaint against Nestle for causing harm to Indian consumers by allegedly indulging in unfair trade practices and false labelling related to the Maggi noodles product.

It was for the first time that the government had taken action under Section 12-1-D of the Consumer Protection Act, under which both the Centre and states have powers to file complaints. In the petition filed before the NCDRC, the ministry had charged that Nestle India has misled consumers claiming that its Maggi noodle was healthy — "Taste bhi healthy bhi".

Nestle had to withdraw its instant noodles brand Maggi from the market over allegations of high lead content and presence of MSG.

The food safety regulator FSSAI had banned Maggi noodles after it found an excess level of lead in samples, terming it as "unsafe and hazardous" for human consumption. The FSSAI had also said Nestle violated labelling regulations on taste enhancer MSG and ordered the company to submit a compliance report on its orders.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jan 04, 2019 11:38:11 IST

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