Although Nestle India's legal woes staged a return yesterday with the Supreme Court reviving the government case against its popular product Maggi, the FMCG major welcomed the court's order to proceed with a three-year-old suit only on the basis of laboratory test reports by the Mysore-based Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI).
The top court was hearing a case filed by the company against two interim orders passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in the suit slapped on Nestle India by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. The suit seeks damages of Rs 640 crore alleging unfair trade practices, false labelling and misleading advertisements by Maggi.
The government had moved NCDRC after Maggi was banned by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in June 2015 for allegedly containing lead beyond permissible limits as well as the presence of monosodium glutamate (MSG), forcing Nestle to withdraw the product from the market. Six months later the Supreme Court had stayed the proceedings before the NCDRC and directed the CFTRI to place its test report before it.
On April 11, 2016, the NABL-accredited CFTRI forwarded its test results to the apex court stating that 29 tested samples of Maggi showed lead levels within permissible levels, as senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Nestle India, reminded the top court yesterday.
But the presence of metal itself was red-flagged by the bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta. "Why should we be eating Maggi with lead in it?", the former asked Singhvi, who replied that there was some amount of lead in various other products.
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 the stay on the proceedings should be vacated.
However, Singhvi opposed sending the matter back to NCDRC saying the matter had now become infructuous as the lab report was in Nestle India's favour and presence of taste enhancer MSG was not found.
The bench ultimately decided not to "pre-empt the jurisdiction" of the 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 that had quashed the FSSAI ban order against Maggi in 2015 will be heard at a later stage.
The top court further directed that the CFTRI report would form the basis for the proceedings before the NCDRC. "All the rights and contentions of the parties will remain open," the bench added.
"Nestle India welcomes the orders passed by the Supreme Court in Maggi Noodles matter," the company said in a statement on Thursday.
With PTI inputs