“The Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) health services team raided my shop at G-9 Markaz last year and collected a packet of branded tea. They said they are sending the sample to the laboratory for checking the quality,” Hussain Ahmed, owner of Madina General Store narrated his ordeal to Dawn.
“I told the members of the team that this was a branded item of a renowned company and the team should talk to the company about it. But they did not listen to me. Now the CDA has sent me a letter stating that the sample does not conform to the standards set by law and asked me to give an explanation at Iqbal Hall on June 19, he added.
Hussain Ahmed explained that historically, CDA teams used to collect samples of unbranded items like spices, salt and other things due to which his store stopped selling non-branded items.
“Now the CDA team has started collecting branded items but it is not possible for us to pay heavy amounts to the CDA teams for laboratory tests and fines.
“We purchase our tea from the distribution offices of two well-known companies of tea and CDA should directly ask the companies in case of any complaints involving branded items. But the poor traders have been suffering,” he said.
A rising number of fake or low quality edible items like oil, ice-cream, milk, tea etc. are being sold at shops all over Islamabad which are ultimately affecting the health of citizens. On one hand, traders blame the supplying companies for fake or sub-standard items and on the other, companies refuse to own the items and take responsibility.
Like Hussain, Azfar Tahir, a trader of G-8 Markaz said that CDA teams only create problems for small traders by collecting the samples frequently.
Sometimes when customers complain to traders, the traders inform the health department that a company has supplied fake items. But they find that the health directorate does not take action against the big companies because they have substantial influence and contacts with politicians.
“There have been several occasions when we informed the companies that citizens are complaining about certain edible items like milk and potato chips and we request them to replace them. The companies make excuses to blame us for wrongly handling their product and refuse replacement. But traders cannot afford to waste these things so they keep selling them,” he explained.
Nawaz Safdar who runs a departmental store in I-10 sector said that usually after collecting the samples, magistrate of health department charges Rs2, 400 for laboratory test fee and Rs2, 000 as fine.
“On the challan receipt it is clearly mentioned that Rs30 will be charged as laboratory test fee but the directorate charges Rs 2,400 for the test which is not fair. We cannot argue with the CDA because if we complain, the department creates even more problems for us by sending teams every day,” complained Hussain.
Advocate Abdul Razzaq explained that unfortunately our laws, rules and fees have not be revised due to which teams of Health Directorate are bound to charge fines and fees as they were decided over 40 years ago. This is not practical so they have been charging much more without amending the rules.
Malik Amjad, a trader, said he complained to the magistrate about the laboratory fee but he was informed that National Institute of Health Islamabad charges Rs2, 400 for laboratory test so he has to pay the amount.
But in all this back and forth between the health directorate, the traders and the supplying companies – each with its own grievances, the sufferers are the customers.
Fake and low quality food items are dangerous for health and can become a cause for stomach cancer, said Dr Waseem Khawaja of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims).
Mr Javaid Iqbal, a professor, said as a consumer of such items, it is really painful that the problem of fake food items is almost ubiquitous and exists all over the country.
“Restaurants cook food with low quality oil and unhygienic food is being sold at shops so it seems inescapable. We need to raise awareness among people to ensure that at least our new generation will know the destructive effects of the fake food and will know how to avoid it,” he said.
Supervisor of a renowned company, Haider Imtiaz, noted that he has received many complaints that CDA officials have declared their products as fake or of low quality, but since the CDA officials do not show the laboratory report, it seems they do it just for minting money.
“Our products are of international standards and we have strict quality standards in place so there is no chance of any complaint. But we will look into how the issue can be resolved,” he assured.
However, Directorate of Health CDA maintains that numbers of fake food items are very large. Director Dr Hassan Urooj said the only way to eliminate the trend is to increase fines and ensure punishments.
“Our 40-year-old Pure Food Ordinance only allows a fine up to Rs200. These rules need to be revised. I prepared a draft proposal for new rules and sent it to the standing committee of Parliament on human rights four months ago. I have suggested that there should be at least Rs5, 000 fine and culprits should be punished if he repeats the crime,” he said.