Packets of Maggi 2-Minute Noodles, manufactured by Nestle India Ltd., are arranged for a photograph in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg)

Supreme Court Revives Suit Against Nestle Over Maggi Noodles

The Supreme Court revived the government’s case in the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission against Nestle India seeking damages of Rs 640 crore for alleged unfair trade practices, false labelling and misleading advertisements.

A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said the report of Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysuru, where the samples of Maggi were tested, will form the basis for the proceedings.

The top court had on Dec. 6, 2015 stayed the proceedings before the commission and directed the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysuru, to place its test report before it.

"Why should we be eating Maggi with lead in it?" Justice Chandrachud asked Singhvi, who replied that lead content in the noodles was well within the permissible limit and there was some amount of lead in various other products.

The bench said the report of CFTRI, where the samples of Maggi noodles were tested following earlier orders of the court, will form the basis for the proceedings before the commission.

"We are of the view that CFTRI report be evaluated by the NCDRC in the complaint before it. It will not be appropriate for this court to preempt the jurisdiction of NCDRC... All the rights and contentions of the parties will remain open," the bench said.

During the hearing, Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee, appearing for Centre said that in the wake of the Mysuru lab report the matter should go back to the commission and stay on the proceedings should be vacated.

Singhvi said the matter has now become infructuous as the report "is in my favour and presence of monosodium glutamate was not found”.

He along with senior advocate Arvind Dattar opposed sending the matter back to the commission saying nothing remains to be decided after the lab report.

"Why should we usurp the power of NCDRC. We will send the lab reports to the commission and them ask to dispose of the complaint filed before it," the bench said adding that the appeal against the Bombay High Court order which had in 2015 quashed the Food Safety Standards Authority of India ban order against Nestle's Maggi noodle will be heard at a later stage.

The Consumer Affairs Ministry had in 2015 filed a complaint against Nestle India Ltd. before the commission using a provision in the nearly three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act. It had filed a complaint against the noodle-maker for causing harm to Indian consumers by allegedly indulging in unfair trade practices and false labeling related to the Maggi noodles product. In the same year, food safety regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India banned Maggi noodles after it found excess level of lead in samples, terming it as “unsafe and hazardous” for human consumption.

It was for the first time that the government had taken action under Section 12-1-D of the Consumer Protection Act, under which both the Centre and states have powers to file complaints.

In the petition filed before the commission, the ministry had charged that Nestle India misled consumers claiming that its Maggi noodled were healthy—"Taste bhi, healthy bhi". Nestle had to withdraw its instant noodles from the market over allegations of high lead content and presence of MSG.

FSSAI had also said that the company had violated labeling regulations on taste enhancer 'MSG' and ordered the company to submit a compliance report on its orders.