In the recent verdict, Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw have placed restrictions on the availability of foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt in schools but have refused to call them “junk food.” This is in reply to the PIL filed by Uday Foundation, an NGO that had sought the complete ban on junk food and carbonated drinks in all schools. During the course of the hearing the Court had directed the FSSAI to prepare guidelines for regulating sale of junk food in schools and within an area of 500 yards from the school.
Junk food has caused a lot of concern among health experts as it is seen as one of the reasons for obesity in children. Junk food has led to an increase in the rise of non communicable diseases like diabetes, chronic respiratory problems, cardiovascular problems and certain cancers. This is why health experts had wanted a complete ban on the consumption of carbonated and caffeinated drinks, chips, packaged fried foods, instant noodles and confectioneries.
Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi, had also planned to formulate guidelines for the ban of junk food in schools and to make children aware about why such foods are harmful. The objective was to “make available good quality, safe food to students in school canteens.”
In its concluding hearing the High Court refused to ban ‘junk food” but has agreed to the FSSAI guidelines that have identified certain categories of foods and beverages as harmful for children; and have suggested that such foods should be restricted and regulated within schools and in a radius of 50 meters. The High Court has ruled that since the guidelines on foods rich in salt, sugar and fat have been framed by a court appointed expert committee under the aegis of the FSSAI, then it must be upheld and such foods must be restricted in schools.
The panel of experts included, nutritionists, doctors, scientists, representatives of the food industry were included after they approached the High Court for inclusion, and environmentalist Sunita Narain. The High Court has directed schools to promote foods rich in nutrition and encourage children to eat foods like sandwiches, fruit salads, paneer, vegetable cutlets, upma, idli, uthapam, khandvi, poha and beverages like low fat milkshakes. The High Court said that once an expert committee had framed guidelines to make available safe and quality food in schools then there is no reason to change that framework in any way.
The guidelines were fra- med by a court-appointed expert committee under aegis of FSSAI on the subject of “making available quality and safe food in schools”. The panel identified foods high in fat, sugar and salt that must be limited by schools in canteens.The Centre and the FSSAI have three months time to convert these guidelines into law and to start enforcing them. While the High Court has focused on the Delhi schools; State governments have been asked to frame new laws on the basis of the FSSAI guidelines and has warned them that if they ignore restrictions they could find it problematic.
The Court has also empowered the students, parents and teachers to lodge complaints with the government if they find unrestricted sale of harmful foods in school canteens. In Delhi these new restrictions will be actionable under Delhi School Education Act and directions are likely to be issued by 30the April, 2015 for compliance of guidelines by schools.
However, this news to restrict and not ban ‘junk food’ has dismayed health experts. They feel that just like a ban on cigarettes in public places, there should be a complete ban of junk foods in schools. They feel restrictions cannot be fully regulated and this will neither limit nor curb the sale of these foods and drinks in schools. There are other health experts who are of the opinion that restriction of junk food in schools will not help unless they are also restricted at home. However, they feel that this is a step in the right direction as now the message has gone out that children must be discouraged from eating foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt.
However, FSSAI is of the opinion that their guidelines should help to curb the menace of junk foods as there are detailed points in the newly framed guidelines on how to limit the usage of such foods in schools. If the schools implement the restrictions properly then to a large extent this would be a benefit to children’s health issues. We have to wait and see how these restrictions benefit the children in the long run, as results cannot be immediately available.