Concept of Reports of Public Analyst (PA) and Central Food Laboratory (CFL) and Variations therein

The scheme of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 (PFA Act) would show that Central Food Laboratory (CFL) has been, in a way, given the status of an appellate expert over the findings of Public Analyst (PA). What is important to be noted is, that no such finality and conclusiveness has been attached to the report of PA and it has been only attached to the report of CFL.

A careful study of the precedents would show that mere differences or variations in report of PA and CFL would not, by themselves, lead to a direct conclusion that the samples were not representative. When a sample is analysed by two different persons, the possibility of variations cannot be ruled out. And precisely for this reason, the report of CFL has been given preference over the report of PA, considering the Director, CFL to be the better expert. Not only this, the report of CFL is given finality and is declared to be conclusive evidence, after superseding the earlier report of PA.

The sample would become all the more prone to variations as there would always be some time gap between the analyses carried out by PA and CFL. But mere delay in analyses by CFL and consequent variations would not be a reason to discard its report, which is otherwise final and conclusive, unless the accused is able to show that the variations are on account of delay in analysing the sample or that some chemical changes during the intervening period had resulted in such variations. Again, this is not a matter of assumptions or presumptions.

There can be no dispute that if there are such variations on the basis of which the accused is able to show that the samples were not representative, the accused would be given benefit. However, the important point to be noted is, that there is no rule prescribed under the statute to conclude what variation would be “substantial enough” to be considered in favour of the accused.

The Actor Rules do not prescribe that there any variation of more than a specific value / percentage would be a substantial variation so as to disregard the report of the CFL which has otherwise been given finality and conclusiveness. In the absence of any such standard prescribed, the matter would be governed only by the evidence adduced by the parties, which includes cross-examination of complainant’s witnesses and/or examination of defence witnesses (subject to cross-examination of course).

If the accused on the basis of evidence can show that any particular variation, to a particular extent, in any particular matter and for a particular ingredient, would be “substantial enough”, then certainly he would be given benefit. But the argument that in case of any and every variation in the two reports, in any ingredient (incriminating or not) without even considering its nature, irrespective of the extent of preservative used, irrespective of the time gap between two reports, on any count whatsoever, would straight away lead to conclusion that the samples were not representative, would certainly be not tenable.

If PA has failed to detect some ingredient, or had detected something improperly or by using invalid method, the accused can always lead evidence to disprove the said report, even on the ground that the sample was not representative of the food article, because no finality has been given to the report of PA and this report is not conclusive proof of evidence. Alternatively, accused can exercise his right to get the sample analysed from CFL under section 13(2) of the Act, but in that case, section 13(3) and proviso to section 13(5) of the Act would come in to play and the report would be now conclusive and final.

No benefit can be granted to an accused merely because there are some difference in two reports. If an accused is able to show, through evidence, that the variations are substantial enough so as to conclude that the sample was not representative, he would get benefit.

For instance, if PA fails to detect any poisonous matter in a sample, and CFL detects such poison, then no benefit can be granted to the accused on account of variation, unless he is able to establish in evidence that such poison was a result of delay in sending the sample for analysis or of improper sampling. Similarly, if PA detects one type of poison and CFL detects the same poison and also an additional poison, then also the accused cannot be given benefit on the ground that the reports were at variance.

Again, if both the PA and CFL find same type of poison in the samples, the said result cannot be discarded on the ground that there was difference in the moisture or ash content of the samples. CFL report in all cases supersedes the PA report and variations therein would not lead to irrefutable conclusion that the samples were not representative.

If the two reports are to be so compared with each other, then it would lead to giving finality and conclusiveness as to the contents even to the report of PA, which is against the scheme of the Act that gives such finality and conclusiveness only to the report of CFL. The comparison, if any, can only be to ascertain if the variations are substantial enough, provided that there is evidence to show that any particular variation might be because of sample not being representative.

The CFL report is given precedence over PA report irrespective of the results therein. If PA detects some adulteration but CFL does not find any such adulteration, the benefit goes to the accused straight away and in that case, the law does not permit the two reports to be compared. Similarly, if PA detects some ingredient present in some quantity and CFL detects presence or absence of another ingredient or presence of that ingredient in different quantity, the finality clause in CFL report cannot be left redundant solely on the ground that there is some variation in reports.

Since CFL is better equipped, have better means of analysis, is having more experienced analysts, advanced technology, its report has to be given precedence over report of PA in every case where the accused exercises his right to get the sample analysed from CFL. There is no requirement under the Act or Rules that the two reports should be uniform or identical or that any variation in any ingredient would nullify the report of CFL.

No limit is prescribed anywhere and therefore, it depends on the evidence led in each case and testimony of expert witnesses, including the analysts, from case to case based on their study, experience and research, and their passing the test of cross-examination by opposite side.

Again, this position would apply only in those cases where the samples are required to be representative. For instance, if any prohibited substance (like poison or prohibited colour) is added in a food article, then even if the samples were not representative, that would not make any difference as even a minuscule presence of such ingredient would implicate an accused irrespective of variation in its quantity.

The accused cannot simply rely upon any other case for that matter and say that since there are variations, the sample in his case would deemed to be not representative. The accused cannot now rely on the testimony of that expert as examined in that case without leading any further evidence whatsoever in his case. If such interpretation is given, then all the cases of food adulteration would fail, the moment the CFL gives its report which happens to be at variance with the PA report. This would rather give precedence to the report of PA and not CFL.

Where the evidence does not show that the variations were due to sample being not representative, the matter cannot result in acquittal simply by assuming that any variation would make the sample non representative. Certainly, if the variations are established to be substantial enough to conclude that the sample was not representative, the accused would surely get benefit but not otherwise.


Case Laws on Public Analyst & Central Food Laboratory

1. Calcutta Municipal Corporation v. Pawan Kumar Saraf, AIR 1999 SC 738

The legal impact of a certificate of the Director of CFL is three fold: (a) it annuls or replaces the report of the PA, (b) it gains finality regarding the quality and standard of the food article involved in the case and (c) it becomes irrefutable so far as the facts stated therein are concerned.