Uday Foundation for Congenital Defects and Rare Blood Groups v. Union of India, et al.

W.P.(C) No. 8568/2010
Download Judgment: English

Following a petition filed by the Uday Foundation, in February 2011, the Court ordered the Union of India to state whether a global policy had been framed regarding the subject of “junk food” and the emphasis of health and nutrition in schools.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FFSAI) responded to the Court in July 2011 stating that: (1) the term “junk food” was not defined by the laws of India, but it is understood to mean food, high in fat, sodium and/or sugar and lacking in micro-nutrients; (2) junk food has adverse consequences on health (diseases, heart problems etc.); (3) the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was making efforts to raise awareness regarding the consumption of junk foods; and (4) The FFSAI was working on guidelines for making quality food available in schools.

The Court expressed dissatisfication with the steps the Union of India had stated it was taking and directed India to take concrete and effective steps and file a further affidavit detailing the steps to be taken.

In January 2012, India responded to the Court that a law had been passed in 2006 (the FSS Act) to ensure the availability of safe and wholesome food and to create the FFSAI. It also listed all laws and regulations applicable to food, and the definitions and committees created that showed a raise in awareness in prevention. It also explained that some requirements are still yet to be applied, such as the labeling of food and other safety parameters.

The Court ordered FFSAI to create guidelines and present them to the Court.

In March 2014, the Court reviewed the guidelines submitted by India entitled “Guidelines for Making Available Wholesome, Nutritious, Safe and Hygienic Food to School Children in India.”

The Court examined the nominated expert’s objections and suggestions to the Guidelines and held that it should not make any changes to the guidelines because the FSSAI will have to consider the objections suggestions under the procedure for framing the guidelines.

Suggestions for the list of food items to be in the list of healthy foods were not retained (being too subjective), nor was the suggestion for the addition of the term “junk food”, as it was considered to have several meanings by the Court.

The Court directed the FFSAI to give the guidelines in the form of regulations within three months following its decision, with appropriate steps to ensure their enforcement, without prejudice for the possibility for FFSAI to change the guidelines. The Court further directed the Delhi Administrator to consider the issuance of instructions and to issue directions for compliance by schools and to ensure that the guidelines are abided by the schools.

“When an expert body constituted for this very purpose and in performance of its statutory duties has framed the Guidelines, without there being any specific challenge thereto, we do not consider appropriate on our part to tinker therewith.” Para. 26.

“However, we have nevertheless examined the objections / suggestions of the learned Amicus Curiae to the said Guidelines. Though undoubtedly the language or the form thereof could have been better as suggested, but it is not for this Court to substitute the language which it may deem appropriate for the language which a statutory authority exercising statutory powers has deemed it appropriate to use. After all, our perspective may be parochial in comparison to a broad base representation before the FSSAI. Qua the objections/suggestions as to the list of food items to be contained in the list of healthy foods, again we at least at this stage, respect the decision of the FSSAI and have no reason to make additions thereto. As far as the objection/suggestion qua Mid-day-Meal Scheme is concerned, the said Schemes have their own purpose and without hearing the framers of the said Scheme and who are not before us, the said objection/suggestion can in any case be not accepted. That brings us to the principal contention of the learned Amicus Curiae and the representative of the petitioner, qua non-mention of the term ‘junk food’ in the Guidelines. Though at least in Delhi, the food items which in the Guidelines have been described as HFSS foods are commonly referred to as ‘junk food’ and the expression also finds mention in nearly all the dictionaries of English Language but otherwise the meaning of the word ‘junk’ is given in Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Tenth Edition as ‘informal useless or worthless articles, non-sense, the lump of oily fibrous tissue in a sperm whale’s head, a flat-bottomed sailing vessel with a prominent stem’. In several dictionaries the meaning of the word ‘junk’ in slang is also described as ‘heroin or male genitalia’. Seeing the diverse meanings of the word ‘junk’ in different regions, we do not find any merit in the said suggestion also, particularly when the Guidelines are not confined to Delhi but are to be applicable and in force throughout the country. We have already noticed that a mechanism exists under the FSS Act for enforcement of the Guidelines.” Para. 27.