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High Court grills official on action taken against milk adulteration

Seeks detailed report by Jan. 21; wants FSDA officials to step up testing of samples
“Has anybody been jailed so far or not? Why the number of samples tested have gone down this year? Are you submitting only figures or doing some real work on the ground?” — this was how the Madras High Court on Wednesday grilled Commissioner of Food Safety P. Amudha in a case related to action taken against milk adulterators in the State.
Justices Vineet Kothari and Anita Sumanth refused to be persuaded by the figures submitted by the Commissioner in the court and insisted on taking more vigorous action against the adulterators. They said provision of safe food was directly linked to the fundamental right to life guaranteed to citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The judges wanted the Food Safety and Drug Administration department officials to pick up five to 10 samples for testing on a daily basis and take stringent action under the criminal law against those found to be involved in selling substandard milk. They directed the Commissioner to file a comprehensive report with substantial details by January 21.
Though the Commissioner submitted a status report on Wednesday, they wondered why the number of samples tested for 2018-19 (up to October 2018) had gone down to 42, against 402 samples tested in 2017-18. Ms. Justice Sumanth said the size of the samples does not seem to represent a reasonable proportion of the whole.
Criminal action
In her report, the Commissioner stated that 1,273 milk samples were lifted from all 32 districts between 2011-12 and 2018-19. Though none of them were found to be unsafe, about 289 were classified as either substandard or misbranded. However, criminal action was taken against only seven adulterators in 2017-18 and four of them ended up being convicted.
On the other hand, civil proceedings initiated against 210 adulterators had led to conviction in 177 cases and collection of ?18,57,300 towards penalty. In so far as milk products were concerned, it was reported to the court that 659 samples were lifted since 2011 and 24 of them were found to be unsafe besides 274 classified as substandard/misbranded.
Criminal prosecution launched against 22 adulterators led to conviction of five and collection of penalty of ?1.07 lakh. Similarly, the civil proceedings initiated against 158 had led to conviction of 126 adulterators from whom a total penalty of ? 21.29 lakh was collected in the last seven years.
The report was filed in response to a public interest litigation petition filed by advocte A.P. Suryaprakasam last year seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into allegations of some private dairies in the State indulging in large-scale adulteration as claimed by Minister for Milk and Dairy Development K.T. Rajenthra Bhalaji.