The observation by a bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice A.K. Sikri came after it took note of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha having made the sale of adulterated milk, contaminated with synthetic material, an offence punishable with life imprisonment.
"That shows the seriousness of the offence. That is why they have made it life imprisonment. Adulterated milk having synthetic material is harmful to heart, lungs, liver and is even cancerous. It also affects ladies, also those pregnant," observed Justice Radhakrishnan.
Asking the states to make more stringent the law to deal with production and sale of milk which is harmful to human beings, the court observed that the maximum punishment of six months for such offences under the Food Safety and Standards Act was grossly inadequate.
The court was hearing a public suit by Haridwar-based Swami Achyutanand, which said samples collected by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in 2011 revealed large-scale sale of adulterated milk across the country.
As petitioner's counsel Anurag Tomar questioned the size of the sample, the court asked him what information was available with him. "You can't just file a PIL (based on a report) and leave rest to the court."
Seeking the details of prosecution launched in the cases of milk adulteration having synthetic material and the number of convictions, the court said though every year thousands of tonnes of sweets are seized and destroyed during festive season of Diwali and Holi, they are not accompanied with prosecution of those involved in making and selling adulterated sweets.
"What happened to those cases? That should be told to us," observed Justice Sikri. "It is happening. If (state is) not able to apprehend or detect, then it is a failure of the food department."
"Without a drop of milk, they can make milk," observed Justice Radhakrishnan.
Mocking the reports by Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh governments, which said that most of the cases of milk adulteration involved mixing of water and powder, the court said: "We are not happy with the details given in the affidavits."
"On paper everything is good but ground reality is different," observed Justice Sikri.
Referring to a report by NGO VOICE that said synthetic milk with synthetic materials like caustic soda, blotting paper, detergents, including white paint to make it look white, were being used, the court said that none of the adulterated samples revealed this kind of adulteration. The court issued notice to VOICE, asking it to assist the court in the matter.
The court asked counsel for the Uttar Pradesh government why didn't it approach the TV channels and the NGOs that have carried these reports.
As counsel for the Rajasthan government urged the court to issue directions, Justice Sikri asked: "Is it not the duty of the states to act on its own? Why should court direct them?"
Justice Radhakrishnan observed that the officers of the food department know much more than what the judges know, while Justice Sikri said: "Your officers go (for raiding) and what they do, we know."
Justice Sikri referred to an article by Lok Sabha member Maneka Gandhi, which said one lakh litres of adulterated milk was being produced in Delhi alone as Additional Solicitor General Mohan Jain told the court that there were no cases of milk adulteration that was harmful to human consumption.
As counsel for the Uttar Pradesh government said that of the total samples collected by food department, only 132 were found harmful to human consumption, Justice Radhakrishnan observed: "These are big numbers. These are just samples. One can imagine what is happening on a large scale."
Next hearing of the matter will be held in January 2014.