They are on paper only. In reality, not a single food court has been set up, even four years after the High Court ordered to do so.
Following a public interest litigation, the HC in June 2009 directed the government to set up a Food Court and appoint sufficient food analysts in each district and metropolitan cities within two years.
But the government has done neither.
The court order was in line with the Pure Food Ordinance 1959, which aims to ensure better control over production and sale of food for human consumption.
But in the last 42 years since liberation, successive governments took no steps to set up food courts although they are crucial to combat the menace of adulteration.
The 2009 HC order came after the rights body Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) filed a petition with the court, seeking its directive on the government, in the wake of growing concern over food adulteration across the country.
In response, some anti-adulteration drives were conducted. The mobile courts that operated the drives found some dishonest traders using toxic chemicals in local and imported fruits, fishes, vegetables, eggs, bakery items and juice.
Unhygienic cooking in many restaurants and fast food shops and expired processed food in the market also pose a serious threat.
Yet, little action has been taken to address this threat. The authorities did not even submit to the HC any progress report on the moves taken to this end. The report was due by July 1, 2011.
Such inaction prompted the court to issue a contempt rule against the government last December.
This finally led to a government move, with the law ministry in March this year issuing a gazette notification saying the government had set up a Pure Food Court in each district and Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna metropolitan cities.
However, it did not translate into action.
Interestingly, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed told The Daily Star that he was not aware of the gazette notification.
State Minister for Law Qamrul Islam, however, said he was aware of the matter and said food courts would soon become operational.
Some officials from Dhaka, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Chittagong, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj and Sherpur said the chief judicial magistrates had received the copy of the law ministry’s March 24 gazette notification.
But none has taken any step to set up the court, since there is no detailed guideline in the gazette nor is there any specific time limit for assigning a magistrate to run the court.
Law Secretary ASSM Zahirul Haque said his office had done its duty by issuing the gazette notification. The judicial magistrates of the districts and metropolitan cities will now assign a magistrate to run the courts.
On appointing food analysts, he said the government could appoint food analysts or inspectors to move cases relating to food adulteration. He, however, feared that “appointment business” might take place centering on the recruitment.
Replying to a query, the law secretary said his office was not responsible for running awareness campaigns on food courts and their functions.
He added his office would soon send letters to the chief judicial magistrates, asking them to inform the ministry about their progress on the setting up of food courts.
Following reports by The Daily Star on severe food adulteration, the home ministry had formed some mobile courts in the mid-2000s to conduct drives against the menace. But all such drives fizzled out within days.
Only Dhaka City Corporation and Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute (BSTI) have their inspection teams to take action against food adulteration. They also run mobile courts.
Manzill Murshid, a Supreme Court lawyer and president of HRPB, said a few mobile courts were working just in Dhaka. So the crime continues totally unabated elsewhere in the country.
“If the government sets up food courts in every district, those responsible for adulterating food will be tried and punished duly and mobile courts will not be required in this regard,” he said.
Mobile courts hand down lenient punishment to offenders, which is not enough to prevent food adulteration, he observed.
The food court, when set up, can fine anyone for food adulteration up to Tk 3 lakh and give three years’ imprisonment under the 1959 ordinance.
Meanwhile, a law ministry official said the ministry would soon seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on empowering magistrates to run food courts. Upon the SC’s consent, the ministry will issue a new gazette notification to this effect.
On August 16, 2010, the HC directed the police to file cases under the Special Powers Act 1974 against traders responsible for food adulteration and price spirals. The highest punishment for such offences is death. But no effective development has been observed in this regard as well.