The High Court yesterday expressed serious dissatisfaction at the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution’s (BSTI) statement where it claimed that the institution had no responsibility over the companies producing and supplying pasteurized milk and curd without any licence.
“We are astonished at your statement. Who has given you the right to play ducks and drakes with the people’s health? They have no license, but they are producing and supplying milk! Who is responsible for looking into it?” the HC bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam and Justice KM Hafizul Alam put the questions while hearing a suomoto rule.
The bench made the comments to BSTI’s lawyer Barrister Sarkar MR Hassan and Deputy Director Nurul Islam when they told the court that BSTI looks into the matters of only 18 companies which were given license for producing and supplying pasteurized milk and curd.
The BSTI lawyer replied that the department of agriculture extension and the ministry of livestock and fisheries are responsible for taking steps about the companies with no license.
However, Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) lawyer Advocate Syed Mamun Mahbub and Deputy Attorney General AKM Amin Uddin Manik opposed this statement, saying the BSTI is empowered by law to take action against the companies and dairy farms which have no license.
The BSTI is diverting the responsibility to others, they said, adding that the court needs to be rigid on this issue.
The HC bench then ordered the BSTI to submit a report with the particulars of the companies and farms that are producing and supplying milk and curd in Dhaka with and without having a valid license within two weeks.
The HC bench also asked the concerned government organisations not to disturb Prof Shahnila Ferdousi, head of National Food Safety Laboratory (NFSL), over its study report.
The NFSL, in its study report, said it found the presence of excessive levels of lead and pesticides in raw cow milk, regular consumption of which may pose threats to human health.
The study also found high level of chromium in fodder and excessive presence of pesticides, antibiotics and bacteria in raw cow milk.
Shahnila’s lawyer Barrister Shahin Ahmed told the court that a number of government agencies had been pressing her client for the names of the companies producing adulterated raw cow milk and curd.
Contacted, Prof Shahnila told The Daily Star that the study was originally conducted for research purpose and she was not supposed to reveal all the details of the study to any agency or individual.
Besides, taking any punitive action against any company based on this study would be a mistake, she added.
Earlier in the day, the BSTI submitted a report to the HC saying that it had tested 305 samples of curds from across the country and found 303 of them to be standard.
Meanwhile yesterday, Bangladesh Food Safety Authority’s (BFSA) lawyer Barrister Mohammed Faridul Islam sought four more weeks to submit the report on the companies and the individuals responsible for the adulteration of milk, curd and fodder, saying that his client was yet to collect the reports from the laboratories.
The court directed BFSA to submit the report before it by July 15.
On May 15, the bench had issued a warning saying that the companies and individuals responsible for adulterating milk and curd, whoever they were, would not be spared and they must be punished.
None will be allowed to play ducks and drakes with people’s lives and health, as safe food is a fundamental right of people, the court said, asking, “How will the nation be built if health of its future generation is not sound?”
The BFSA on May 8 submitted a test report to the HC and said it found harmful elements in most of the 190 samples of raw and packed liquid milk, curd, and fodder. The samples were tested at the NFSL.
Issuing the suo moto rule, the HC bench on February 11 had directed the ACC to enquire about the adulteration of milk, curd, and fodder and take legal action against those responsible.
The court also asked the BFSA to form a probe committee to identify the individuals and businesses involved in adulteration of dairy products and fodder in three months.
The HC then issued a rule asking the respondents, including the BFSA chairman, members of Central Food Safety Management Coordination Committee and the BSTI chairman, to explain why their inaction and failure in preventing adulteration and taking appropriate legal steps against it should not be declared illegal.
It asked them to show causes as to why the production, carrying, and preservation of adulterated milk, curd, and fodder in shops, departmental stores, and the open market should not be declared illegal.
The rule asked the respondents to explain why they should not be directed to remove those from the market and bring people responsible to book.
The HC bench came up with the order and rule following reports on adulteration, based on the NFSL study, published in The Daily Star, the Prothom Alo, and the Kaler Kantha on February 11.