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Hindustan Lever Limited v. Food Inspector - Crl.O.P.(MD).No.9932 of 2006  RD-TN 1338 (9 April 2007)
BEFORE THE MADURAI BENCH OF MADRAS HIGH COURT
THE HONOURABLE MR.JUSTICE G.RAJASURIA
Crl.O.P.(MD).No.9932 of 2006
M.P.No.1 of 2006
1.Hindustan Lever Limited,
165/166, Backbay Reclamation,
Mumbai- 600 020.
2.T.Sri Hari ... Petitioners Vs.
Nagercoil. ... Respondent Prayer
Petition filed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, to call for the records in C.C.No.120 of 2006 on the file of the learned Judicial Magistrate No.II, Nagercoil and quash the same.
For Petitioners : Mr.K.Asokan,
Senior Counsel for
For Respondent : Mr.Rajendran
Govt. Advocate (Crl.Side)
This petition has been filed to call for the records in C.C.No.120 of 2006 on the file of the learned Judicial Magistrate No.II, Nagercoil and quash the same.
2. The facts giving rise to the filing of this criminal original petition as stood exposited from the records could be portrayed thus: It so happened that the respondent, Food Inspector on 26.03.2002 went to the shop of the accused and collected samples viz., 180gm (200 ml) of Dalda Vanaspathi. According to the Food Inspector, the label should contain any one of the captions found set out under Rule 32(i) of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955 and it is extracted hereunder for easy reference: "The month and year in capital letters upto which the product is best for consumption, in the following manner, namely:- "BEST BEFORE ....... MONTHS AND YEAR"
OR "BEST BEFORE .... MONTHS FROM PACKAGING"
"BEST BEFORE .... MONTHS FROM MANUFACTURE" OR "BEST BEFORE UPTO MONTH AND YEAR ........... OR "BEST BEFORE WITHIN ........ MONTHS FROM THE
DATE OF PACKAGING/MANUFACTURE"
[For the period upto and inclusive of 1st September, 2001.]"
3. However, his contention was that the actual label found on that Vanaspathi packet was as follows;
"BEST BEFORE WITHIN 6 MONTHS FROM THE DATE OF PACKAGING"
4. Hence, the prosecution case for misbranding at the instance of the petitioner.
5. Being aggrieved by and dissatisfied with the complaint filed by the Food Inspector before the Magistrate Court, this Criminal original petition has been filed on the grounds inter alia which would run thus: The offence of misbranding is not worth being processed before the Court of law as the impugned label contains more information than what is expected under Rule 32(i) of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955. The consumers in no way were confused or obfuscated or mislead by such a label. The petitioner also would invoke the plea of limitation by relying on Section 468 of Cr.P.C.
6. Per contra, the respondent filed the counter affidavit challenging and disputing, contradicting and controverting the averments made in the Criminal Original Petition by contending thus: The complaint filed by the Food Inspector is self-explanatory, as the act complained of is in violation of 32(i) of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955. The consumer would have deceived if the said label is not exactly in commensurate with Rule 32(i) of PFA Rules. The Public Analyst Report would also support the prosecution case. Since the petitioner did not respond to the notice sent by the respondent, for gathering more information relating to ownership, the delay occurred. Accordingly, he prays for dismissal of the petition.
7. The points for consideration are as to whether ex facie and prima facie, a case is made out under Section 32(i) of the said Act? and Whether the complaint is barred by limitation?
8. The nitty-gritty, the gist and kernel, the warp and woof of the case of the prosecution for misbranding is based on the public analysis report and it is extracted hereunder for ready reference:
"1 x 200ml (180 g) of the sample was received in sealed packet with printed declaration : Dalda - The original Vanaspati Mfd. by Hindustan Lever Ltd., 165/166, Backbay Reclamation, Mumbai- 400 020. MKTD by: KICM Madras Ltd, Apex Plaxa IV Floor, 3 Nungambakkam High Road, Chennai - 34. Analysis done
Results of analysis
Examination of the Label :-
Best before declaration
Best before within 6 months from the date of packaging. As per Rule 32(i) of PFA Rules 1955 ( as amended upto date) the best before declaration shall be mentioned on the label as follows: after 1st Sep. 2001 "Best before .. months from packaging".
(The word 'within' shall not be mentioned as
per Rule 32(i) of PFA Rules, 1955 after
1st Sep. 2001)
Moisture : 0.08
Melting point : 39.0* C Butyro-refractometer reading @ 60*C : 39.6
Unsaponifiable matter : 2.14
Free Fatty Acids as Oleic Acid: 0.18
Baudouin test : Positive : 2.3 redunits
Test for Vitamin A : Positive. and am of the opinion that the sample is misbranded, since the Best before declaration present on the label is not as per Rule 32 of PFA Rules, 1955 as mentioned above."
9. It is therefore clear that the offence complained of is mainly by taking exception to the word 'within' found in the label. In the label itself the date of packaging and other details are found specified as follows; "VANASPATHI DALDA
Contents 1x200ml (180g)
BEST BEFORE WITHIN 6 MONTHS FROM THE DATE OF PACKAGING MFD.BY Hindustan Lever Limited
165/166, Backbay reclamation, Mumbai-400 020
Mktd by: KICM Madras Ltd, Apex Plaza IV Floor, 3, Nungambakkam High Rd, Ch-34"
10. It is made clear that the perusal of the label in no way would sidetrack or mislead any ordinary genuine purchasers. I could see no force in the contention of the respondent that such a version in the label would mislead any one. Normally, genuine purchaser would not get himself bamboozled or hoodwinked, sidetracked or obfuscated by such label. The object of incorporating those model forms under Rule 32(i) of the PFA Rules is that the purchaser should know at the time of purchase, whether he is purchasing an article which is capable of being used. Here, the actual label found on the Vanaspathi packet is more than sufficient to convey such purchaser an idea about the genuineness of the product and it also enables the consumer to take a decision whether to purchase it or not. As such mere use of the word 'within' as a surplusage would not push the petitioner/accused within the ambit of the Penal Provisions of the Food Adulteration Act.
11. Section 95 of the Indian Penal Code which embodies the maxim de minimis non curat lex (the law takes no account of trifles) also could be pressed into service in favour of the petitioner/accused and the distinction sought to be made by the respondent is one that of tweedledum and tweedledee. Accordingly, the proceedings based on such flimsy ground, should be quashed and accordingly, it is quashed.
12. In view of the decision to quash the complaint, the limitation point relegates itself to an insignificant position. Admittedly, the complaint is a delayed one, for which, for the first time in the counter, the Food Inspector has narrated about the non-cooperation of the accused for getting particulars of ownership relating to the product concerned. However, in the complaint, there is no reference to it and there is nothing on record to show that any petition was filed for invoking Section 473 of Cr.P.C. Hence, on the ground of limitation also the prosecution case is bound to be quashed.
13. In view of the vulnerability of the complaint filed by the Food Inspector, which was taken on file as C.C.No.120 of 2006, being writ large, proceedings initiated thereunder are quashed including the complaint. Consequently, connected M.P.No.1 of 2006 is closed. gcg
1.The Additional Public Prosecutor,
Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court,
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