Johnson baby talc: Bombay HC raps state government for delayed action

A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and SG Dige asked the government to clarify by January 6 whether it was willing to withdraw earlier orders imposing ban on manufacture and sale of Johnson baby powder.

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Tuesday, January 03, 2023, 08:57 PM IST
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Johnson & Johnson baby powder |

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday rapped the Maharashtra government for delayed action against Johnson & Johnson, for allegedly manufacturing sub standard baby powder, citing Covid-19 pandemic. 

HC asks for clarification from government

A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and SG Dige asked the government to clarify by January 6 whether it was willing to withdraw earlier orders imposing ban on manufacture and sale of Johnson baby powder and willing to take fresh samples and test it as per the latest testing methods. 

The bench questioned additional government pleader Milind More over the delay of over two years on the part of the government between collecting samples from Johnson’s facilities and passing an order cancelling its licence for manufacturing and selling baby powder.

More reasoned that the delay was due to the Covid-19.

Did Maha govt cease to exist during Covid?: HC's pointed question

“If you are dealing with infant healthcare, we expect you to take action within 48 hours, not 2 years... Did the world shut down during Covid? Did Maharashtra government cease to exist from November 2019 till September 2022?” quipped justice Patel.

Reminding the seriousness of the issue to the government, Justice Patel said: “You are supposedly the torch bearers of public health… I will assume the reverse side. That the baby powder is of third-grade quality and may cause fatalities. Is this how the government responds? Is this your sense of urgency?”

Johnson & Johnson had challenged two govt orders

The court was hearing a petition filed by Johnson challenging two orders of the state government – one dated Sept 15 by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) Joint Commissioner and Licensing Authority cancelling its licence with effect from Dec 15, 2022; and second order dated Sep 20 by the FDA Commissioner directing the company to immediately stop manufacturing and sale of baby powder.

The FDA originally collected samples from Pune and Nashik in November and December 2019, the first show cause notice was issued in February 2021 and Johnson’s response was received a couple of weeks thereafter. However, the company was given a personal hearing only in July 2022 and the licence was suspended on September 15, 2022.

Johnson & Johnson says powder samples adhere to required quality

Ravi Kadam, counsel for Johoson, pointed out reports by three laboratories - two government labs and one private lab – which tested recent samples of Johnson baby powder. The reports were submitted pursuant to HC order in November 2022. These reports stated that the samples adhered to the legal requirements on quality.

The bench, on Tuesday, pointed out that government orders were passed relying upon rules which had been declared defunct by the Central government in 2021. The court said that on this ground alone, the orders could be set aside. 

Next hearing on Jan 6

The court asked More whether the government was willing to withdraw earlier orders and conduct tests on fresh samples at government labs as per the latest testing methods. 

“You can even carry out testing today. But this order has to go,” said justice Patel adding: “We are not giving a clean chit to Johnsons. They have to comply with the standards.”

The HC has kept the matter for hearing on January 6 for the government to inform its stand. 

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