In a major reprieve for Nestle India, the Bombay High Court on Thursday set aside the order of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and other state food regulators banning the nine variants of popular noodles Maggi on the ground that principles of natural justice were not followed and tests were not conducted in authorised laboratories.
However, the order does not allow Nestle to immediately start selling Maggi once again. The court has said that the preserved samples would now be tested at three centres in Punjab, Hyderabad and Jaipur that are accredited with the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL). If the lead content is found below permissible limits by these three labs, Nestle would be allowed to manufacture and sell Maggi noodles in the country, a bench of justices VM Kanade and BP Colabawala said.
Reacting to the court’s order, Nestle India in a statement said, “Nestle India respects the decision of the Honourable Bombay High Court to revoke the ban order passed by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the FDA, Maharashtra, on Maggi noodles and will comply with the order to undertake fresh tests.”
The statement added, “Nestle India remains committed to working with the FSSAI, FDA Maharashtra and other stakeholders. It is Nestle India’s endeavour to get Maggi noodles back on the shelves as soon as possible for the benefit of our consumers.”
In the capital, FSSAI chairman Ashish Bahuguna said that he would first like to read the judgment before deciding the next steps. “I cannot say anything till I receive the court orders. Only then we can decide future course of action.
It’s only if I find I am not in agreement with the court order, if I feel that the court order has not taken into submission of the authority, it’s only then I will think of going to Supreme court,” Bahuguna told reporters.
The FSSAI had found high amounts of lead and traces of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in Maggi and on June 5 ordered a ban on it, which was quickly followed by the Maharashtra FDA. The ban was on two counts — excessive lead and mislabelling products. The FSSAI had said that the company had misled customers by labelling the packets of Maggi noodles with “no added MSG”.
Subsequently, Nestle had moved the Bombay High Court challenging the ban on the grounds that due processes were not followed in the sense that it had not been given a chance to present its case and further that the tests were not conducted in labs accredited with NABL. It had contended that Maggi noodles did not contain excessive lead and MSG.
While brand experts welcomed the judgment and were critical of the government’s rushing into banning the product, they also maintained that Nestle had mishandled the situation. Former Britannia chief Sunil Alagh, founder and chairman, SKA Advisors, said, “Nestle was victimised by the government. The government went in for an emotional and impulsive reaction rather than a logical one. But despite being a large multinational with so many manuals on crisis management, Nestle did not handle the crisis very well. The company underestimated the power of social media.”
Brand consultant Harish Bijoor also said that Nestle did not handle the crisis well. “Management was slow to react to the controversy and in the era of social media, things go viral in seconds. Speed is of essence in the day and age of digital. This is a good reprieve for Maggi. Very importantly, Maggi needs to be reinvented. It needs to reach out to customers, saying it is back with integrity, and with a new, improved Maggi. They need to correct the packaging, labelling and perhaps even change their packaging colour,” he told FE.
The Maggi fiasco led Nestle India to report its first loss in 15 years in the April-June quarter. The company had to recall all its stocks of the popular snack, resulting in a one-time cost of Rs 451.6 crore. The company reported a Rs 64.4-crore loss during the period.