New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday pulled up the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for not taking adequate action to prevent the sale of adulterated milk.

A bench comprising chief justice T.S. Thakur, justices R. Banumathi and U.U. Lalit also recommended stringent punishment for those found guilty of food adulteration.

In 2012, a public interest litigation had been filed by residents of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi before the apex court highlighting growing sales of adulterated and synthetic milk in different parts of the country.

The court laid down ten directives for the Centre and states to implement the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 in a more effective manner to curb milk adulteration.

The court recommended short snap surveys to identify risk zones and taking appropriate steps to inform owners of dairies and retailers of the consequences if chemical adulterants like pesticides and caustic soda are found in milk.

The court in this case took on record a report published by non-profit Voluntary Organization in Interest of Consumer Education (VOICE) in 2012 that said synthetic milk is prepared by mixing urea, starch/blotting paper, glucose/sugar, caustic soda, refined white paint, detergent or shampoo.

Under the Food Safety and Standards Act, food adulteration is punishable with imprisonment up to six months and a fine. However, states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha have amended the Indian Penal Code to treat adulteration of food products as a serious offence, for which punishment could extend to life imprisonment.

“Considering the seriousness of the offence, it is important that similar amendments are made in other states as well," the court said in its ruling, taking into account changes in laws brought in by states.

The court added that the Centre must revisit the Food Safety and Standards Act to revise the punishment for adulteration, making it more of a deterrent.

According to FSSAI’s own report titled “Executive Summary on National Survey on Milk Adulteration" in 2011, on a national level, 68.4% of milk being sold is adulterated and it is alleged that the worst performers in the survey were Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Mizoram, Jharkhand and Daman and Diu, where adulteration in milk was found up to 100%. In the states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, 88% of milk samples were found adulterated.

In June 2015, the Central Advisory Committee of FSSAI had decided to step up quality checks of packaged drinking water, milk and milk products and edible oil. The move came after a parliamentary standing committee for consumer affairs expressed concern over reports of milk adulteration.

Meanwhile, the government is working on amendments to the Food Safety and Standards Act. On 13 July, the ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a gazetted notification regarding the first amendment of the Act pertaining to licensing and registration of food businesses.

FSSAI chief executive officer Pawan Kumar Agarwal did not respond to Mint queries seeking a response.

Sounak Mitra contributed to the story.

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