Published on: 3 August 2023 at 11:30 IST
The Calcutta High Court has refused to quash three separate criminal proceedings filed against manufacturers of allegedly spurious food items under Sections 272/273 (Adulteration of food or drink intended for sale), 420 (Cheating), and 120B (Criminal Conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The court dismissed the petitioner’s argument that the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006 (FSSAI Act), implicitly bars the police from investigating instances of food adulteration under the IPC.
Justice Subhendu Samanta held that the police are not specifically debarred from conducting investigations into offences mentioned in Sections 272/273 of the IPC.
Although the police are not Food Safety Officers under the FSSAI Act, they can still investigate offences punishable under the IPC.
The court emphasized that the FSSAI Act provides a separate and distinct procedure to initiate proceedings against food law offenders, but it does not prevent the police from registering cases under Sections 272/273 of the IPC.
The petitioner argued that the criminal proceedings were an abuse of court process and amounted to harassment beyond the scope of the law.
They contended that the FSSAI Act exclusively governs violations related to food and that the police’s charge sheet and investigation were unwarranted under the law.
Additionally, the petitioners claimed that Sections 272 and 273 of the IPC are non-cognizable in nature, and the police would require an order from a Magistrate under Section 155 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to investigate.
The police invoked Sections 420 and 120B of the IPC in a “colourable exercise” of power to assume cognizance without a Magistrate’s order, rendering the proceedings liable to be set aside.
The State argued that the police had seized significant quantities of adulterated food and misbranded spurious food items from the petitioners’ possession.
They contended that the investigation had sufficient material to indicate the petitioner’s involvement in the alleged offences, justifying the continuation of the proceedings.
The court, in considering the materials collected during the investigation, held that the trial court should assess their value at the appropriate stage.
It clarified that the question of whether the FIRs were maintainable due to the investigation into non-cognizable offences without a Magistrate’s order could only be examined by the trial court, not the revisional court.
The High Court stated that it cannot act like an investigating agency or a trial court at the stage of quashing a criminal case, and the application for quashing the FIRs is not maintainable at the revisional court.
The court upheld the validity of the ongoing criminal proceedings and denied the plea to quash the FIRs.