The Kerala High Court in a plea filed by M/s. Parle Agro Private Limited the manufacturer and directors of which were facing prosecution for the violation under the Legal Metrology Act, 2009 has quashed the complaint against the fruit-based beverage popularly known as ‘FROOTI’ stating that even print of MRP and other information on the bottle will become a label.

The question that arose for consideration before the Court was whether the online information when grouped together and printed on the neck of the bottle of ‘FROOTI’ violated the provisions of Rule 8(2) of Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011.

A Single Bench of Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas held –

“… the declaration required by the rules must appear on the principal display panel either grouped together in one place or at different places. Though in ordinary perception, the principal display panel will mean only the wrapper encircling or affixed on the bottle, the Rules perceive the principal display panel differently. The definition of the aforesaid term regards the total surface area of the package as the principal display panel. When Rule 8(1) directs that the total surface area of the package as the place where the information can be given in the manner specified, Rule 8(2) stipulates that for soft drinks and ready-to serve fruit beverages or the like, to indicate the retail sale price either on the crown cap or on the bottle or on both, if the bottle is one which can be refilled. There is nothing in Rule 8(2) which indicates the clause to be restrictive in character. Rule 8(2) can be regarded only as an addition to and not as a restriction or exception to Rule 8(1). In other words, Rule 8(2) is only an enabling provision, enabling the manufacturer to have the option to specify those required details printed in the places mentioned in the sub-rule also. … Therefore, even the print of MRP and other online information on the bottle will, by the definition itself, become a label.”

The Bench noted that every package is required to have the print of the MRP either on the package or on the label securely affixed and relied upon the decision in the case of Pepsico India Holdings Pvt. Ltd. v. State of Kerala and Another (2022 (1) KHC 141).

The Court further observed, “The first respondent has no case in his complaint that the retail price has not been affixed on the bottle. In such circumstances, the mere affixing of the retail price and the other online information grouped together and printed on the neck of the bottle satisfy the requirements under the Rules then in force, and there is no violation of rule 8(2) as made out from the complaint.”

Advocate Madhu Radhakrishnan appeared on behalf of the petitioners. Public Prosecutor K.A. Noushad represented the respondents.

Facts of the Case –

In the year 2014, the Senior Inspector, Legal Metrology i.e., the respondent purchased a 1.5- litre pre-packed plastic bottle of ‘FROOTI’. On the next day, he issued a notice to the manufacturer, alleging that the product manufactured by them violated the provisions of rule 8(2) as well as rule 31(2) of the Rules. The reason alleged was that as a bottle not intended to be refilled, the product purchased by him did not contain the retail sale price printed on the ‘principal display panel’ and that the font size of the declaration of MRP was not the same as that of the net quantity declaration and hence punishable under section 36(1) of the Act.

Immediately, a reply notice was issued on behalf of the petitioners to the respondent, contending that the product satisfied the requirements of the Act and the Rules, and hence there was no violation. However, disregarding the reply notice, the respondent filed a complaint before the Judicial First Class Magistrate, Thiruvananthapuram, alleging violation of Rules 4, 6, 7(2), 9(1)(b), 9(3) read with rule 8(2) and 18 of the Rules, apart from Section 18 and Section 36(1) of the Act. The cognizance was taken regarding the same and the manufacturer, the manufacturing unit, the Chairman, and Managing Director along with the other Directors were arrayed as accused. Hence, the accused were seeking to quash the complaint before the High Court.

The counsel for the petitioners contended before the Court that such prosecution is an abuse of the process of court as it is instituted with malafides without any basis. On the other hand, the counsel for the respondents opposed the petition arguing that as per Rule 6, every package must “bear thereon or on the label”, the details regarding MRP and requisite information as contemplated under the Rules and the Act and that in the instant case, there was no compliance of the Rules.

The High Court after considering the rival contentions opined, “Since at the time the first respondent purchased the product of the petitioners, the rules treated the entire bottle itself as a principal display panel and since the information, both online and pre-printed, could be affixed separately or together on the principal display panel, this Court is of the view that there is no legal basis for the allegation of infraction of Rule 8(2).”

With regard to the issue that the font size of the numerals of MRP and packing date was not of the required size, the Court stated that the pet bottle purchased by the respondent was a 1.5 litre bottle and that Rule 7 provides the minimum height of the numerals.

The Court further said, "In the absence of any specific allegation in the complaint that the product purchased by the first respondent, contained any blown, formed, molded, embossed or perforated numerals, the allegation of the requirement of a minimum height of 6mm for its numerals, is without any basis. … Merely because the product or the commodity is perishable, it was not open for the Inspector to remove the commodity from the bottle without complying with the provisions of the Act or the Rules, as that will prejudice the accused during the prosecution. It is for this purpose that the Act read with the Rules stipulate that if the commodity is perishable, the provisions of section 451 Cr.P.C. is required to be followed. There is no mandate or stipulation that enables the Inspector to remove the commodity from the bottle, rendering the accused to prejudice. The proceedings are liable to be quashed for this reason also.”

The Court held that no offence can stand against the petitioners for violation of Rule 9(3) of the Rules.

The Court therefore stated, “Even though the learned Counsel for the petitioner had argued on the issue relating to non-prosecution of the nominee and illegal, prosecution of the Managing Director and other Directors of the company contrary to section 49 of the Act, I am of the view that since the entire complaint itself is required to be quashed, the question of non-prosecution of the nominee becomes only academic in nature. The said question is left open. … this Court is of the considered view that the prosecution against the petitioners is an abuse of the process of law and is liable to be interfered with.”

Accordingly, the Court quashed the proceedings against the petitioners and allowed the plea.

Cause Title- M/s. Parle Agro Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. Senior Inspector & Anr.

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