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No relief for Nestle, HC declines to stay ban on Maggi

Nestle India failed to get any relief on Friday with the Bombay High Court refusing to stay orders of the central food safety regulator and Maharashtra government banning nine variants of its “Maggi” noodles from the market for being “hazardous” to public health.

A division bench of Justices V M Kanade and B P Colabawalla, hearing the petition filed by Nestle India Ltd challenging the ban orders, directed the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and Maharashtra government to file their affidavits in reply to the company’s petition within two weeks.

The court posted the matter for further hearing on June 30.

The bench opined that the product (Maggi) was already off the shelf and hence no stay on the ban order was required at this stage.

The court, however, said if the FSSAI wants to initiate prosecution against Nestle then it should give the Indian arm of the Swiss multinational 72 hours notice.

Nestle has sought quashing of the June 5 order of Delhi-based Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and its Chief Executive Officer asking the company to withdraw and recall all its nine variants of Maggi from the market as they were unsafe and hazardous for human consumption.

“Parents have been told that their children have been poisoned for 30 years. It’s not a product which has failed safety standards and then thrust on a third world country. It is sold in other countries too. Maggi noodles are safe,” senior counsel for the multinational Iqbal Chagla argued.

Mr Chagla also pointed out that the samples tested were manufactured in January 2014 and the “best before” expiry date was on 9 months. He, however, insisted that the samples were tested in January 2015, several months after they had expired. “Moreover, they were kept open to the elements from January 27th 2015 to March 31, 2015,” he said.

Nestle’s legal team also argued that it was not just a commercial issue, but also one of reputation since they had been found guilty as charged even before the showcause notice was given to them. While only 3 of the 9 variants had violated regulations, they argued, the FSSI banned other variants without even testing them. “Can powers be exercised in this cavalier manner?”

The impugned orders also asked the company to stop production, processing, import, distribution and sale of their products with immediate effect, said Nestle.

The company said the orders do not comply with the mandatory provisions of section 34 of Food Safety and Standards Authority Act which deals with Emergency prohibition notices and orders. It said the orders were passed without any authority and without following due process of law.

The company also said the orders were illegal, arbitrary and violative of the principles of Natural Justice as well as the Constitution of India.

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