Facing legal ordeal for 40 years, a milkman booked for selling adulterated milk in 1979 and handed 6-months jail term with Rs 1,000 fine, was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
When an accused is made to suffer the penal consequences, the legal provisions of law have to be construed strictly, the top court observed.
A bench of Justices R Banumathi and AS Bopana said that there is a dispute on timely delivery of a report of a public analyst on the milkman which would have enabled him to seek reference to the Central Food Laboratory at Calcutta.
It said that in the facts and circumstances of this case, the report of the analyst has not been served on the appellant and its mere despatch as per the statement of a prosecution witness was not sufficient.
"In that circumstance when the appellant/accused is made to suffer the penal consequences, it (provisions of law) will have to be construed strictly," the bench said.
The top court also noted that since an independent witness has turned hostile and the manner as to whether the sample was appropriately taken after properly stirring the milk and whether the same was sent for analysis as required has not been established.
"Therefore, in that circumstance even if the other aspects are not adverted to, the very fact that the Analyst's report being served not being proved and the sample being taken in an appropriate manner not being established, it would be sufficient to hold that the prosecution has not proved the guilt of the appellant beyond reasonable doubt and the conviction is not justified," the bench said.
The top court set aside the June 2, 1987, verdict of the magistrate court holding Ghaziabad resident Vijendra guilty under provisions of Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 and the 6-months jail term with Rs 1,000 fine.
Vijendra was out on bail all these years.
It also set aside the Ghaziabad Sessions Court order of 1988 and Allahabad High Court order of December 9, 2014 upholding his conviction and sentence.
"The appellant is acquitted of the charge under Section 7(1)/16(1)(a)(i) of Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954," the bench said.
The case of prosecution is that food inspector and complainant RC Kansal had filed a complaint stating on October 16, 1979, at about 8 AM, while he was posted as Food Inspector at Primary Health Centre Bhojpur, that he had found Vijendra taking buffalo milk for sale on the Acchapalgarhi Road at Pilakhuwa in Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh.
When the food inspector sought license for selling the milk, it was revealed that Vijendra did not have it.
According to the prosecution, three samples of the milk were collected in front of an independent witness and sent in sealed bottles to a Public Analyst, Lucknow on October 17, 1979.
Prosecution said that the rest of the two bottles were submitted before the office of Chief Medical Officer, Ghaziabad.
According to the public analyst report the sample of buffalo milk was deficient by 12 per cent in milk fat and 27 per cent in non-fatty solids and concluded that the sample was found to be adulterated.
Prosecution sanction was taken from competent authority and case under provisions of Prevention of Food Adulteration Act was instituted against Vijendra. However, the independent witness later turned hostile before the trial court.