Is right to food security ensured in Bangladesh?
Rajib Kumar Deb:
The FAO constitution states that “Food security is a situation when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
The right to food, an essential part of the adequate standard of living, is a human right recognized by UDHR and ICESCR. The WHO states about four pillars of food security – availability, access, utilization, and stability.
“Right to food” has been placed in our fundamental principle of state policy and obligates the state to secure the provision of its basic necessities and raise the level of nutrition and improve public health as state’s primary responsibility. This writing is not to assess and evaluate the adequacy of food arranged by the state but to examine to what extent constitutional commitment to socialist society has been reflected and accordingly ensured over the legislations as made thereof.
Giving a parallel effect to the international law as well as showing obligation to the constitutional commitment, the government has made the Pure Food Act, 2013 (PFA) followed by Pure Food Rule, 2014. But PFA has some loopholes which have thrown challenges over its implementation. It is also a challenge towards the establishment of constitutional commitment to secure the rule of law and fundamental human rights.
The PFA specifies the area of adulterated food articles but is silent about the establishment of central Laboratory. That is why there remains the possibility of lab test standard variation which will certainly put a question over the whole implementation procedure of this law.
The PFA provides for the Pure Food Court (PFC) but has not established separate courts till now. Conversely, SRO of 2015 entrusted regular courts with a charge of PFC but it is quite inhuman for a court being already overburdened with backlog of cases to carry out such additional charge.
Again this Act prescribes the procedure to bring complaint either to the judicial or administrative forum but most of the people don’t know where and how the complaint is to be made because of unavailability of complaint places. The PFA provides for 5 years by PFC and SPA (Special Power Act, 1974) provides for the death penalty for the same offence but the former contains overlapping effect over the later and such a saving clause will cause a constitutional deviation. Besides, the option of the Authority’s chairman to choose the forum of law is surely to contravene the basic pillars of administration of justice.
Compensatory punishment for the offence of adulteration, the maximum punishment of which is death penalty is likely to compensate for the offence of murder.
The PFA provides for four committees- National Pure Food Management Advisory Committee, Bangladesh Pure Food Authority, Central Pure Food Management Coordination Committee, Technical Committee. But the centralization of all committees is a great challenge towards the monitoring and supervision of all activities relating to the manufacture, import, processing, storage, distribution and sale of food over the whole country. This is quite impossible for the capital placed committees to ensure access to safe food through the exercise of appropriate scientific methods and to coordinate the activities of all the organisations concerned with food safety management. All these committees in absence of local visible wings can never extend their monitoring and supervisory hands to the field activities where most manufacturing and storage of food are located beyond Dhaka region.
The PFA prescribes coordination among all the committees but, indeed, all committee members being controlled by different ministries are not beyond inter-ministerial outlook and interest which may have a direct or indirect reflection on coordination as prescribed thereof.
Again this Act empowers the Authority to appoint Food Expert (FE) and Inspector (FI) as it thinks to be necessary but since the jurisdictional area of FE, FI has not been determined, such appointment depends on Authority’s sweet will.
Besides centralization surely makes a supervisory and monitoring gap between the capital placed committee and field officer (FI). Again PCA prescribes special responsibility for the food businessmen if they believe the standard isn’t following the Act, they may withdraw adulterated food articles but the law doesn’t provide any effective inspirational mechanism and compensatory protection for such withdrawal.
Our Honourable High Court Division in a writ petition directed seize, destruction and stoppage of production of 52 adulterated food articles with observation to declare war against adulteration. It is high time to declare war but the loopholes having found in the Act are urgently needed to be removed out by way of doing certain jobs. The establishment of separate court (PFC), central lab, decentralization of all committees, District Committee composed of District Commissioner, Superintendent of Police under the head of CJM or CMM at the district level and Upozila Committee composed of Assistant Commissioner (Land), Assistant Superintendent of Police, food inspector under the head of respective Cognizance Magistrate at the Upazila level, visible activation on part of all committees over the whole country may contribute to a greater extent to the implementation of this law.
Overcoming the challenges has become a vital factor to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the standard of living of the people. The assurance of constitutional commitment to “right to food security” depends on the proper implementation of this law and how the state organs face all the challenges.
The writer is Rajib Kumar Deb, Senior Judicial Magistrate, Cox’sbazar.