The Supreme Court held that while Article 20 of the Constitution prohibits the imposition of a higher punishment, it does not prohibit the imposition of a lesser punishment under a new law applicable to the same offence.

A shop of the appellants was inspected by a food inspector who took samples of sugar boiled confectioneries. The finding of the lab report were that while the food items were not adulterated, the packets did not show the prescribed particulars such as the complete address of the manufacturer and the date of manufacturing.

This was in violation of Rule 32(c) and (f) of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955 (Rules).

The trial court had convicted the accused under Section 16(1)(a)(i) read with Section 7 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 (the Act) and they were sentenced to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of six months along with a fine. The Calcutta High Court had upheld the conviction.

Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice Prasanna B. Varale observed, “There are concurrent findings of three Courts below and there is absolutely no question of us having any measure of doubt as to the findings, inasmuch as that the packets which were taken from shop/godown of the appellants were misbranded as defined under Section 2(ix)(k) of the Act, as they were not labelled in accordance with the requirements of the Act or the Rules made thereunder.

AOR Nandini Sen Mukherjee represented the appellants, while AOR Astha Sharma appeared for the respondents.

The accused had pleaded for a reduction of sentence and argued that they had not manufactured the food articles, but could not show any valid proof of their contention. To this effect, the Supreme Court stated that the “contention of the…appellant regarding non-applicability of the provision is not correct.

The Court explained that Article 20(1) of the Constitution of India mandates that “a person cannot be punished for an offence which was not an offence at the time it was committed, nor can he be subjected to a sentence which is greater than the sentence which was applicable at the relevant point of time.

The Court remarked that the Act was repealed by the introduction of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 where Section 52 of the same provides for a fine for misbranded food, but not imprisonment.

The Court noted that the crime was committed in the year 2000 and twenty-four years had elapsed since. Therefore, the Court converted the imposition of a sentence awarded from a simple imprisonment to a fine while answering the question of whether an accused be granted the benefit of the new legislation and be awarded a lesser punishment under a new law.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court partly allowed the appeal.

Cause Title: M/S A.K. Sarkar & Co. & Anr. v. The State Of West Bengal & Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 186)


Appellants: AOR Nandini Sen Mukherjee

Respondents: AOR Astha Sharma and Kunal Chatterji; Advocates Srisatya Mohanty, Anju Thomas, Sanjeev Kaushik, Mantika Haryani, Shreyas Awasthi, Himanshu Chakravarty, Ripul Swati Kumari, Bhanu Mishra, Muskan Surana, Anvita Dwivedi, Lihzu Shiney Konyak, Kunal Chatterji, Maitrayee Banerjee, Rohit Bansal, Kshitij Singh, Sohhom Sau

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