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Maggi Ban: SC revives class action suit against Nestle India

FE Bureau

The Supreme Court on Thursday revived the government s 2015 class action suit that had sought damages of Rs 640 crore from Nestle India over allegations of high lead content and presence of MSG (monosodium glutamate) in its popular Maggi instant noodles.

A bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud vacated its earlier order that had stayed the proceedings in the `640-crore class action suit before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. It said that the report from the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CTRI), Mysuru, where the testing of the Maggi noodle samples was conducted then, will form the basis for the proceedings.

The judges also asked the parties Nestle, the government, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and others to argue before the Commission on whether the company had misled the consumers or not.

The apex court in December 2015 had stayed the proceedings before the consumer court, which had directed retesting of 16 samples of its popular Maggi instant noodles at the Export Inspection Council of India, Chennai, to check safety of its consumption and to ascertain the quantity of lead and MSG.

During the hearing, the apex court asked: Why should we be eating Maggi with lead in it”?

While Nestle India, makers of Maggi, claimed that the lead content was within the permissible limit prescribed under the Food Safety Act, the Centre said there was a need for comprehensive findings of all other parameters.

Senior lawyer AM Singhvi, appearing for Nestle, said: The lead content was found to be within permissible limit and there is some amount of lead in lots of products. He further argued that the Mysuru-based laboratory had found that the noodles contained lead “within permissible limits”, and it could not be ascertained whether the monosodium glutamate was natural or added.

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The government argued that the central issue in this class action suit is not whether the noodles are harmful, but whether the company misled its consumers on what the product contains.

The Centre had alleged unfair trade practices, false labelling and misleading advertisements by the firm.

The consumer affairs ministry had filed the complaint in October 2015, using a provision for the first time in the nearly three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act. It was for the first time that the government had taken action under Section 12-1-D of the Act, under which both the Centre and states have powers to file complaints.

FSSAI had in June 2015 imposed a ban on the popular brand, which alleged that the instant noodles were unsafe and hazardous with lead beyond safe limits. The ban was later lifted that year by the Bombay High Court.