MENS or slow, insidious or open, that
MENS REA IN SOCIO ECONOMIC OFFENCESINTRODUCTIONAs discussed in the last chapters the nature ofmens rea may take a number of forms, depending on the working of theoffence and the component of the actus reus to which it attached. The faultrequirement may take the form of one or more of intention, knowledge etc.,depending on the offence.the general principlesfor the interpretation of the mens rea or mental element, of socio-economicoffences. The nature of the mens rea that would be implied in a statutecreating an offence depends on the object of the Act and the provisionsthereof.OFFENCES RELATED TO FOOD ADULTERATIONAdulteration of food is a menace to public health. The Prevention ofFood Adulteration Act has been enacted with the aim of eradicating that antisocialevil and for ensuring purity in the articles of food .Adulteration of food is so dangerous and wide-spread and has so oftenled to large human tragedies, sudden or slow, insidious or open, that socialdefense compels casting of absolute liability on the criminal, even if theparticular offence is committed with an unsuspecting mens. To take risks in thename of very gullible dealers or very ignorant distributors, when theconsequences may spell disaster on innocent victims, few or many, islegislative lackadaisical conduct, giving the widest hostage to fortune. So it isthat mens rea is excluded and proof of actus reus is often enough. The story ofsmall restauranteurs unwittingly vending milk, as is alleged here, is irrelevantto culpability .The Act is a Welfare legislation to prevent health hazards by consumingadulterated food. The mens rea is not an essential ingredient. It is a social evil and theAct prohibits commission of the offences under Act. The essential ingredient is soldto the purchaser by the vendor. It is not material to establish the capacity of the personvis-a-vis the owner of the shop to prove his authority to sell the adulterated foodexposed for sale in the shop. It is enough for the prosecution to establish that theperson who sold the adulterated article of food had sold it to the purchaser43.Ignorance of nature of Substance – No DefenceEvery person, be he an employer or an agent is prohibited from sellingadulterated food and infringement of the prohibition is by Section 165, 6 7penalised. By Section 19(1) in a prosecution for an offence pertaining to thesale of any adulterated article of food, it is no defence merely to allege that thevendor was ignorant of the nature of the substance or quality of the food soldby him. Prohibition of sale of adulterated food is evidently imposed in thelarger interest of maintenance of public health. If the owner of a shop in whichadulterated food is sold is without proof of mens rea liable to be punished forsale of adulterated food, there is no reason why an agent or a servant of theowner is not liable to be punished for contravention of the same provisionunless he is shown to have guilty knowledge.Strict Liability is the RuleIt is trite law that in food offences strict liability is the rule not merelyo under the Indian Act, but all the world over . The principle has been explainedin American Jurisprudence98 thus:”Intent as element of offence :”The distribution of impure or adulterated food forconsumption is an act perilous to human life and health,hence a dangerous act, and cannot be made innocent andharmless by the want of knowledge or by the good faith ofthe seller: it is the act itself, not the intent, that determinesthe guilt, and the actual harm to the public is the same inone case as in the other. Thus, the seller of food is underthe duty of ascertaining at his peril whether the article offood conforms to the standard fixed by statute or8 The argument before the court was that the dealer believed in good faith that there was no cyclamatein the substance sold induced by the warranty and honestly did not know that saccharin wascontraband, the rules in this behalf having been changed frequently and recently, which was negated.