Supreme Court refuses to dilute prison sentence for milkman

 thehindu.com  10/12/2019 14:41:01  2

The Supreme Court has ordered a milkman to surrender and serve his six-month prison sentence for selling adulterated milk a quarter century ago.

Raj Kumar pleaded with the Supreme Court to use its extraordinary constitutional powers to do complete justice under Article 142 and spare him for a crime committed so long ago.

The court, however, refused to oblige the milk seller. A Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose told the milkman that the extraordinary powers of the top court were not meant to make a mockery of the law.

Besides, the judges agreed that adulteration of a primary food like milk was indeed a very serious offence.

We have no doubt in our mind that powers under Article 142 cannot be exercised in such a manner that they make a mockery of the law itself& Considering the bane of adulteration and the deleterious effect of adulteration and sub-standard food on the health of the citizens [especially children when milk is involved], the Legislature provided a minimum sentence of six months. Passage of time can be no excuse to award a sentence lower than the minimum, the apex court said in a recent judgment.

When Kumar, as an alternative asked the court to then invoke Article 142 to at least reduce his sentence to a period lesser than the statutory minimum of six months, Justice Gupta, who wrote the judgment for the Bench, said even entertaining such a notion was totally contrary to law. Tomorrow, rapists and murderers would cite this case to plead for lesser sentence, Justice Gupta admonished the errant milkman.

If such power [under Article 142] could be used in a food adulteration case to impose a sentence lower than the minimum prescribed, then even in cases of murder and rape, this Court applying the same principles could impose a sentence less than the minimum. This, in our opinion, is not the purpose of Article 142, Justice Gupta concluded.

The court said the legislature had set high standards for primary food like milk under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. In fact, it is neither necessary to prove the milk was injurious to health or unfit for human consumption. All the complainant needs to establish is the quality of milk did not meet the statutory standards. Even a marginal dip in quality would not be forgiven.

If it fails to comply with the standards, then it will have to be treated as an adulterated article even if it is not rendered injurious to health, the court held.

In Kumars case, the milk sample was collected from him in October 1995 in Uttar Pradesh. The analysis showed milk fat to be 4.6% and milk solid non-fat to be 7.7% as against the prescribed standard of 8.5%.

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