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Right to Food – A right being relentlessly abused

Food, a basic necessity for human beings to survive and a commodity that is being thrown out relentlessly instead of putting it to good use. There is a need for proper strategy to recycle the food that goes to waste.

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The increasing use of the judicial procedure for public interest litigation (PIL), in the recent past, has secured the rights of disadvantaged classes and managed social issues in Pakistan. Enforcement of the rights of domestic workers, protection from child labor, saving the environment and many more such cases have been taken up by the Lahore High Court (LHC) mainly in the exercise of constitutional jurisdiction.

Another PIL, “Muhammad Ahmad Pansota and others v. Federation of Pakistan and others” brought before the LHC earlier this year focused on the issue of food wastage and the violation of the right to food in Pakistan. As petitioner in person along with my counsel, Eamaan Bandial, I sought directions from the court to both the Federal & Provincial Legislature to legislate on this subject based on Bandial’s opinion in Dawn newspaper.

She states ‘The answer lies in efficiently managing existing food stocks and ensuring these are accessible to those in need. Minimizing wastage of surplus food (currently estimated at 40pc of the yearly produce) can easily feed the hungry in Pakistan,’ while highlighting that 36 million tonnes of food are discarded annually when 40 million Pakistanis are perpetually hungry.

Non-governmental organizations have also been encouraged to come forward and play their due roles in creating awareness amongst the general public

Such serious issues could only be handled through the creation of relevant legislation as asserted in my Petition based on the precedent set by the Honourable Justice Jawad Hasan of the Lahore High Court. The concept of ‘judicial legislation ’ developed by Justice Jawad in Subay Khan’s Case reported as PLD 2019 Lahore 253 under the Domestic Workers Model (D.W. Model), aims to catalyze the legislative process, on behalf of the government without interfering in their affairs.

It has proved to be a mechanism, extremely beneficial in getting an organ of the state to perform its fundamental task of legislating. The government’s inability to legislate on the pressing issues of food wastage and insecurity is violative of, amongst others, the constitutional rights of a citizen under Articles 4, 9 and 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973.

The right to life of a citizen is contingent upon the right to a dignified life, and the two may only be enforced in the presence of accessible food. Apart from failing to follow various pronouncements of the Superior Courts asserting the above-mentioned view, the government had also been in breach of its duty to align its procedures with the Islamic way of life under Article 31 and 38(d) of the Constitution.

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The Quran and Ahadis describe hunger as a ‘menace,’ forbid extravagance, wastage and encourage simplicity. Islam imposes on all Muslims an obligation to shared give through charitable acts; Islamic scholars have stated that in case of food is in excess it should not be thrown away or wasted but be consumed or shared with those in need.

Additionally, Pakistan has been in breach of international obligations requiring enforcement of the right to food in accordance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition.

During the proceedings, the Court directed the provincial government to create a committee that consisted of eminent professionals and stakeholders from both the public and private sectors for consultation on the matter.

After detailed deliberation, an amended version of an earlier draft presented by PFA was produced before the Court, which then took the shape of the “Punjab Food Authority (Disposal of Excess Food) Regulation, 2019” (‘Regulations”). The new law imposes a duty and lays down a mechanism for the Food Operators to donate the excess food for welfare purposes to donor organizations.

Enforcement of the rights of domestic workers, protection from child labour, saving the environment and many more such causes have been taken up by the LHC mainly in exercise of constitutional jurisdiction

It covers the method of donation and disposal of excess food and goes on to describe what is fit or unfit for donation, and the needy through a prescribed format to ensure hygiene and safety. The Regulations require food operators like supermarkets to minimize food wastage by entering into agreements with food donor organizations to donate excess food and further set goals to reduce food wastage drastically in the next few years.

Finally, the Regulations empower the PFA to penalize anyone found in violation of the Regulations by imposing penalties as provided under chapter 4 of the Punjab Food Authority Act, 2011. Punjab Food Authority (Disposal of Excess Food) Regulations were drafted under the supervision of the Punjab Food Authority exercising its powers under section 57 of the Punjab Food Authority Act 2011.

The Regulations aim to regulate the disposal of excess food for human consumption rather than being wasted on account of the high economic and environmental cost of producing food; to encourage zero-waste principles in food businesses. Following these Regulations food operators including restaurants, caterers, supermarkets and all those who ‘manufacture for sale, transport, store, distribute or import or export food’ are instructed to donate excess food to food donors, that shall further distribute them amongst the underprivileged.

Read more: Losing a generation: The expense of malnutrition

They also contain a provision for a scheme to establish incentives to implement and encourage observance of the discardable food reduction hierarchy; to encourage food operators and the general public to save excess food for its safe disposal rather than it being wasted. Justice Jawad Hasan’s judgment in “Muhammad Ahmad Pansota v. Federation of Pakistan and others” aims to ensure that the Regulations are implemented in letter and spirit, and in doing so the Court has also laid down a mechanism.

Non-governmental organizations have also been encouraged to come forward and play their due roles in creating awareness amongst the general public. Moreover, the order suggests that a comprehensive social and electronic media campaign be launched by the government for creating awareness amongst the people.

If all governing bodies adopt a solution-oriented approach as in this case and perform their duties with dedication, integrity, and professionalism Pakistan will see a brighter and safer future.

Barrister Muhammad Ahmad Pansota is an Advocate High Court practicing in Lahore. He tweets @pansota. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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