Having heard representations from Nestlé and the FSSAI over the last two weeks, a division bench of Justice VM Kanade and Justice Burgess Colabawalla allowed the petition filed by Nestle challenging the ban imposed on the manufacture and sale of the noodles after samples tested allegedly for high lead content and traces of monosodium glutamate.
The court said that the "principles of natural justice" and statutory procedures had not been followed by the food regulator when it issued the ban—leading to 29,000 tonnes of product being burned, according to Nestlé’s chairman, Peter Brabeck yesterday.
Before Maggi noodles can return to the market, the court has asked Nestlé to submit five samples of each of its nine variants to three accredited laboratories for further testing “in the public interest”.
Nestlé has strenuously denied all allegations, while testing conducted in countries including Australia, Britain, Singapore and the United States gave the noodles a clean bill of health.
It claimed that it had tested the product at 2,700 laboratories in India and overseas, with the tests indicating that the lead content had been below the permissible limit of 0.5 per cent.
Nestlé had petitioned the court that the ban was "unauthorised, arbitrary, unconstitutional for violating right to equality and trade'' and had violated the principles of natural justice as it had not been given proper hearing.
In a bizarre twist, counsel for the FSSAI admitted that its decision to demand the withdrawal had been partly in response to online reports that the company’s image was not as celebrated Nestlé had projected.
Mehmood Pracha, who spoke for the regulator, had submitted various reports this week which he said had been downloaded from the internet.
While the Bombay high court made its ruling on the safety of the noodles, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, a semi-judicial body that will now decide on the government's US$99m class action case over what it alleges was Nestlé’s mislabelling of Maggi noodles to say that the product contained “No added MSG”.
While the case looks pretty solid for Nestlé to those who understand the difference between “added MSG” and “natural MSG”, it is certainly no formality.