“Manufacturer cannot shirk from its liability that it was seller who was selling unsafe product,” Madhya Pradesh HC

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In a recent judgment, the Madhya Pradesh High Court (HC) refused to quash criminal proceedings against the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. for an alleged fungal-infected ‘Maaza Mango Drink’ displayed for sale by a retailer. While dismissing the petition, the bench said, “...The manufacturer is also a seller and it is his duty that unsafe food products should not be put on sale to consumers. All-packer, wholesaler, distributor, and seller work on a contract with a manufacturer. Therefore, it is the duty of the manufacturer to see that none of its product is there in the store of wholesaler, distributor or seller and before its expiry date, it should be removed or should have been recalled.” It also mentioned that “manufacturer cannot shirk from its liability that it was seller who was selling unsafe product.”

While addressing Coca-Cola’s liability regarding the drink manufacture on 02.02.2012 and marked as ‘Best Before Six Months’ on the label, stated that “At this stage, it cannot be said that only Accused No. 1 was responsible for the sale of unsafe food product i.e. ‘Maaza Mango Drink’ and the fungal developed in the product while keeping in the shop of petitioners/Accused No. 1 or it was there when it was dispatched from the manufacturing unit. At this stage, no such finding in this petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) can be given.”

During the proceedings, Coca-Cola’s argument regarding the Designated Officer’s ability to entail imprisonment as punishment and not just fine. It said that “ in this case, the complaint has been filed under various sections alleging violation of the Act under which some of them are punishable with fine only and some of them are punishable with imprisonment; and power has been delegated to the Designated Officer by Commissioner, therefore, trial Court can examine this issue during the trial because the issue of the validity of sanction is liable to be examined by the trial Court itself during the trial by framing a specific issue. At this stage, it cannot be held that petitioner No. 2 would be punished with imprisonment also.”