New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ruled that the Government is fully empowered to impose suitable conditions, including use of automated machines, for manufacturing fortified and blended food for lactating mothers and infants as their safety was paramount.

A bench of justices Altamas Kabir and S S Nijjar rejected the plea of an NGO that conditions laid down for manufacturing food stuffs, by insisting on precise measurements of the ingredients and machinery to be used, were arbitrary.

The supplier is required to provide a fine mix of all kinds of ingredients, including the revised intake of proteins and calories, to the precise level. In fact, the level of precision is earmarked for each kind of food.
The procedure adopted is necessary to ensure that there is zero infection in the food which is going to be consumed by infants and the children who are already under nourished.

"It cannot be over emphasised that, since the beneficiaries of the 'Dense Energy Food and Fortified Blended Mixture' are infants from the age group of 6 months to 3 years and pregnant and lactating mothers, it was all the more desirable to have fully automated plants. Such procedure avoids the use of human hands in processes like – handling, cleaning, grinding, extrusion, mixing etc, all of which are done automatically," Justice Nijjar writing the judgement said.

The Apex Court passed the judgement dismissing the appeal of Shagun Mahila Udyogik Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit challenging certain conditions imposed by the Maharashtra Government for allotting contracts in the production of food under the national "Integrated Child Development Scheme"(ICDS).

The Government had insisted that the manufacturers must possess certain specific automated machines and a minimum turnover of Rs one crore for the three preceding years to make them eligible for the contract.

"Therefore, the condition of asking for minimum Rs 1 crore turnover for the last three years cannot be said to be arbitrary. In fact, the condition would be of utmost importance. We are also not impressed by the submission of Mr Rohtagi (counsel) that the condition of having Rs 1 crore over the three previous consecutive years is either arbitrary or whimsical,” the bench said.

"We are also of the considered opinion that the food, which is to be supplied to the recipients as a part of the supplementary nutrition programme has to be prepared in the manner prescribed by the Government for safety and nutrient composition of the food. It cannot be left to uncertainties of the machinery available with individual manufacturers," the bench added.

The Apex Court said the Bombay High Court had rightly concluded that the appellant was not considered for the contract since it did not fulfill the norms.

"The successful supplier is duty bound to necessarily comply with all the specifications laid down by the Government in its norms. Since the appellant did not possess a suitable manufacturing unit, the appellant would be rendered ineligible on this score alone," the bench added,” the bench said.