The Consumer Affairs Ministry, Government of India has filed ‘unfair trade practice’ case against Nestle India for Maggi instant noodles. The complaint has been filed before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) under section 12(1D) of the1986 Consumer Protection Act. Usually NCDRC listens to complaints filed by a consumer. However, under this section, there is a provision for even the government to resister a complaint. Though the government has not clarified it but it seems they have also sought damages to the tune of Rs.640crore for damages. The Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said that the new consumer protection bill, which was introduced in Parliament recently, would also help to redress consumer grievances.
There is an opinion that in filing this case the government has sent a strong signal to all companies that they should refrain from selling sub-standard products that could risk the health of consumers in the country. Consumer health is the premise under which the case has been filed, besides ‘unfair trade practices’ and false labelling on the product. Nestle India has been charged with misleading consumers as Maggi claimed noodles were healthy with their slogan “Taste bhi health bhi”. The labels said no MSG even though MSG was found in the contents. There was Lead content above permissible limits and also the company has not undertaken any “risk assessment nor has it taken product approval for the Maggi masala oats.” Nestle India says they are not aware of these developments as they have not received any intimation yet.
Meanwhile Nestle India has got some relief from the Bombay High Court which has quashed the ban on the popular noodle brand. The Court opined that the course of natural justice had not been followed as Nestle was not given any hearing before the ban was imposed. The Court has also ordered that fresh laboratory tests be carried since the laboratories that reported excessive lead in Maggi were not accredited testing laboratories.
The fresh laboratory tests will be carried out in three independent laboratories in Punjab, Hyderabad and Jaipur which are NABL accredited laboratories. Five samples of each of the nine banned variants will be taken from the 750 samples that the company has with them. If lead content is found to be within permissible levels in these tests then Maggi instant noodles will be back on the Indian table.
However, there is still a wait of six weeks as the laboratories have been asked to submit their report within that time. Nestle has also given an undertaking to the High Court that they will not manufacture Maggi instant noodles before the laboratory reports are submitted even though the ban no longer holds. The High Court also said that the petition filed by Nestle India was maintainable and the High Court had the right to hear the case under Article 226 of the Constitution. The Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal has welcomed this decision of the Bombay High Court. She said that the confidence of the food processing industry had been shaken after the Maggi incident.