New Delhi: The Supreme Court has directed the Centre to review within six months its compulsory universal salt idoisation programme, failing which the existing ban on consumption of non-iodised salt would become unconstitutional.

The Apex Court asked the government to conduct a proper expert survey on the need for continuance of the compulsory iodisation policy.

A bench of justices R V Raveendran and B Sudershan Reddy ruled in a judgement that Rule 44-I of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955, was unconstitutional as the Act was intended for banning use of adulterated and misbranded products and hence the rule cannot be invoked to ban the sale of non-iodised sal.

According to the Apex Court, if the government was keen on banning non-iodised salt then it has to come out with a different legislation.

The Apex Court, however, said that there was no material to prove the claim of the petitioner Academy of Nutrition Improvement that compulsory iodisation resulted in thyroid and other life-threatening complications. "We have already noticed that at present there is no material to show that universal salt iodisation will be injurious to public health (that is to the majority of populace who do not suffer from iodine deficiency).      

"But we are constrained to hold that rule 44-I is ultra vires of the Act and, therefore, not valid. The result would be that the (demand for) ban on sale of non-iodised salt for human consumption will be raised, which may not be in the interest of public health.

"We are, therefore, of the view that the central government should have at least six months time to thoroughly review the compulsory iodisation policy (universal salt iodisation for human consumption) with reference to latest inputs and research data and, if after such a review, it is of the view that universal iodisation scheme requires to be continued, bring appropriate legislation or other measures in accordance with law to continue the compulsory iodisation programme," the Apex Court said.

The Apex Court said it was passing the order by invoking its extraordinary jurisdiction " to do complete justice between the parties" in the interest of public health.

"We direct the continuation of the ban contained in Rule 44-I for a period of six months.

"The central government may within that period review the compulsory iodisation programme and if it decides to continue, may introduce appropriate legislative or other measures. It is needless to say that if it fails to take any action within the expiry of six months from today, Rule 44-I shall cease to operate,"the Apex Court said.

The bench, however, said it was partly allowing the petition and declare that Rule 44-I of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955 (inserted by Prevention of Food Adulteration (Eighth Amendment) Rules 2005) "is beyond the rule-making power of the central government and ultra vires the Act subject to the continuation of the ban contained in Rule 44-I for a period of six months in terms of the previous paragraph."

(The government had earlier made it mandatory for consumption of only iodised salt on the ground that iodine deficiency caused a wide spectrum of disorders, ranging from goitre to cretinism, apart from causing disorders like stillbirth, abortion, dwarfism, eye-squint, mental retardation, lower IQ and neuromotor defects.

However, the NGO opposing the policy contended that when people who do not suffer from iodine deficiency are forced to take iodised salt regularly, there is risk of many of them developing complications induced by higher intake of iodine and increase in iodine levels.

According to the petitioners, constant use of iodised salt on account of compulsory iodisation, would lead to iodine-induced hyper-thyroidism with increased chances of death.