Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on 10 December in 1948 in article 25 recognised adequate food as human right. Our Constitution in article 15 enumerates that it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State, among others, to secure for its citizens the provision of the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care. At the same time article 32 protects the right to life of all people recognising this as fundamental right. The higher judiciary of our country extended the interpretation of the right to life that includes necessities of life, facilities for education, maintenance and improvement of public health.
Over the last few years, food adulteration has increased alarmingly in Bangladesh. According to the World Health Organisation and Food & Agriculture Organisation, nearly 45 lakh people in Bangladesh are being affected with various diseases every year owing to food adulteration. The government of Bangladesh is conducting Mobile Courts all the year-round throughout the whole country. But these Mobile Courts run by the Executive Magistrates have limitations in awarding punishment. This Court cannot award punishment exceeding two years. Under the Consumer’s Right Protection Act, 2009, the Courts may award imprisonment which may extend to three years. On the other hand, according to the Food Safety Act 2013, the Pure Food Court may award up to five years imprisonment along with huge amount of fine in applicable cases. However, these punishments are nominal punishment in comparison to the gravity of offences that perpetrators commit and as such have so far borne little fruits. The government should take uncompromising actions against food and drug adulteration.
In recent times, the HC bench after hearing a writ petition filed by Conscious Consumers Society, a rights organisation, observed that “[i]f necessary, the state may declare an emergency for preventing food adulteration,” adding that food adulteration cannot be tolerated and there can be no compromise on this.
Only lump sum amount of fine and few months’ imprisonment by the Mobile Courts on the spot upon acknowledgment of guilt is not enough to prevent food adulteration. In addition to the laws mentioned above, the Special Powers Act, 1974 has inserted provision regarding adulteration of food and drug and for this offence life imprisonment or death penalty may be awarded to the convicted persons.
Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) recently inaugurated a Mobile Laboratory which will be used across the capital to detect food adulteration. This activity should be extended in every districts of the country. A Special Task Force may be constituted in every district including officials of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, Bangladesh Food Safety Authority and District Police which may be under the supervision of Chief Judicial Magistrate of the concerned district. The government should deploy Senior Judicial Magistrate in Pure Food Court of every district with adequate logistic supports and vehicle facilities so that the Magistrate may conduct summary trials at field level. In addition to this, awareness of the consumers of the mass people is must. We all should be vigilant while purchasing any food or drug or medical item so as to hold the retailers accountable.
Sheikh Sadi Rahman
Senior Law Research Officer, International Crimes Tribunal, Dhaka.