Food safety is deemed to be an important issue in Bangladesh as consumers are victimised due to serious food adulteration. The Constitution of Bangladesh gives importance to food safety. Article 15 of Bangladesh Constitution states: “It is a fundamental responsibility of the state to secure provisions of the basic necessities of life including food.” Article 18 of the Constitution states: “States shall raise the level of nutrition and improve public health as its primary duty.” Both the articles imply food safety requirements for consumers and the state must be ensured through enactment of appropriate laws. There are several laws in the country for maintaining health and safety standards.
Bangladesh has many laws and regulations to cover some areas of food safety, but the regulatory frameworks and implementation are still weak. Food safety in Bangladesh was earlier regulated by the Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 and the Bangladesh Pure Food Rules, 1967. The Pure Food Ordinance 1959 (amended) in 2005 is repealed by the Food Safety Act 2013. The government has also promulgated a Food Safety Rule-2014. The Food Safety Act has been enforced on February 01, 2015 by a government notification issued on January 26, 2015. This 2013 Act has been enacted to form an authority that would ensure generous efforts to the food control agencies, food business operators and people of the country towards achieving the landmark goal of founding a Modern and Technological Food Safety System in Bangladesh. Accordingly under the 2013 Act, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) has been formed in 2015. The BFSA formulated and enforced some rules and regulations to cover the responsibilities sharpening the legal promise from food adulteration.The unique provision of this Act is to establish the Pure Food Court and gives exclusive mandate to the court ensuring the goals of the Act though the Pure Food Court which also existed in the Pure Food Ordinance of 1959. This is a stringent and effective law on food governance and justice regulating the food management in the legal scheme. Sections 23 to 44 deal with the offences of the Act that covers all categories of irregularities in food adulteration. The schedule of this Act postulates about the punishment and mode of offence in 23 different heads. The maximum punishment of this Act is the offence of Section 23 is up to five years’ imprisonment and payment of a fine up to 10 lakh taka only. The punishment of every offence, according to the Act and schedule of the Act, will be doubled if anyone commits it more than once. The punishment is severe and the monetary fine is also huge in comparison to other laws of the land. Section 60 of the Act determines about the cognizable and non-bailable offences and states that “the offences mentioned in sections 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 35 and 37 of this Act shall be cognizable and non-bailable, and except those offences, all other offences of this Act shall be non-cognizable and bailable.”
Now, it will be pertinent to focus on the Pure Food Court. According to section 2(4) of the Food Safety Act 2013, “Food Court” means a Pure Food Court to be designated as such under Section 64. As per section 64 of the Act which states about the food court, power and jurisdiction that “ (1) There shall be such numbers of courts as may be necessary to be called the Pure Food Court for the trial of offences under this Act. (2) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, for the purpose of sub-section (1), the Government in consultation with the Supreme Court may, by notification in the official Gazette, designate any court of a 1st Class Magistrate or, as the case may be, in metropolitan area, the court of Metropolitan Magistrate as Pure Food Court and, if more than one court are designated, shall specify the jurisdiction of each court.”
As the mandate of the Act, the government has empowered Senior Judicial Magistrate Court-1 in district level and more than one court in metropolitan area as the Pure Food Court for trial. By the notification of the Ministry of Law and Justice Division, 71 courts across the country were empowered to try the offenses under the Food Safety Act, 2013. It is ironical to find that no new pure food court has been established in the country. It was just an additional charge of the existing magistrate courts which have already huge burden in regular activities. The BFSA claimed that each court has been assigned by a public prosecutor. In practice, we don’t notify any public prosecutor in the court for cases. Practically in the Pure Food Court, there is no case on food safety matter under this Act across the country excepting Dhaka. The local and central authority are silent and inactive about the cases filed in the Court and receive complaints from consumers.
The Food Safety Act 2013 is a very progressive law to entertain complaints of aggrieved persons taking action on spots and filing prosecution by the authority. Section 66 of the Act provides that “(1) Any person, including food purchaser, consumer, food receiver or user may lodge a complaint in writing to the Chairman or any person authorised by him on this behalf or an Inspector, in respect of any anti-food safety practice under this Act. (2) After being informed about an offence under this Act, the Chairman or the person authorised by him on this behalf or the Inspector, if primarily be confirmed about the commission of such offence after making necessary inquiry or investigation, shall file a case before the Food Court. (3) Notwithstanding anything contained contrary to this section, any person may lodge a case before the Food Court in respect of any anti-food safety practice within 30 (thirty) days from the date of cause of such act.” In practice, people are unknown about the application of this provision.
The legal promise is to call people to file complaints and for such public awareness the Act approves some incentives to the complainant as like that of the Consumer Protection Act 2009. As per Section 62, “If any person is convicted and thereby punished with fines by a Food Court, the concerned complainant shall be entitled to get 25 (twenty five) percent of the said amount as incentive.” This provision is also not well known to people. Considering the above provisions, it is crystal clear that the Act 2013 keeps wonderful provisions to file complaint to the concerned local authority and lodge case in the Pure Food Court directly. By the dispose of the case, the complainant can get a good compensation from the fine as incentive for social action.
The investigation process is also fine in this statute achieving success in the prosecution. Section 67 of the Act depicts the format of investigation which states that “(1) Any officer authorised by the Chairman or an Inspector having local jurisdiction shall, as an Investigating Officer, investigate all complaints lodged under this Act. (2) During investigation of any complaint under this Act, the Investigating Officer may exercise powers as an Officer-in-Charge of a police station pursuant to the Code of Criminal Procedure.” As per mandate of Section 68, the Investigating Officer will get the highest time for investigation up to 120 days to submit reports to the Pure Food Court. The pure food court will conduct the trial summarily in accordance with Section 65. The pure food court can accept audio, video footage, photograph and any other type of visual evidences for the end of justice in food adulteration under Section 72 of the Act.It is also a fantastic statutory right on the food safety that Section 76 of the Food Safety Act 2013 gives also the civil right to file civil legal action along with criminal case claiming compensation against their health injury as like the international practice of law. But this provision is also not known to people and possibly there has not been file any civil suit under this Act. The said Section 76 (2) and (3) state about the action that “(2) If any food consumer is affected by any anti-food safety practice of any seller, and if the reparation is assessable in terms of money, the consumer may institute a civil suit in any competent court claiming compensation not exceeding 5 (five) times of the assessed amount.”
To ensure consumer rights effectively in Bangladesh it is necessary to establish a separate pure food court to deal with the cases of violation of consumers’ rights and that of food adulteration. A separate pure court can actively keep surveillance and co-ordinate the high promise of the Act and government actions implementing the legal enforcement stringently. Moreover, the pure food court can conduct mobile court for initiating summery trials on the spot. Recently, in some districts of the country such as Rajshahi, Bandarban, Patuakhali and Chandpur, magistrate courts have conducted Pure Food Court on spots and taken legal actions for food safety justice. Last but not the least, Pure Food Court is the mainstream authority to ensure food safety justice, but such courts are in the dark when we outcry for justice and action for food safety and health.
The writer is a member of Bangladesh Judicial Service and Senior Judicial Magistrate, Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Feni