Muhammad Ahmad Pansota v. Federation of Pakistan, HCJ DA 38, Writ Petition No. 840 of 2019 (24 December 2019)
Lahore High Court
A group of public-interest advocates involved with the Lahore Chapter of the Robin Hood Army, a charity which collects and redistributes excess food, petitioned the Lahore High Court to direct government officials to adopt laws preventing and redistributing food waste in Pakistan. The petition invoked fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to life and the right to dignity, and argued that the Pakistani government’s failure to address hunger and food waste violated the Constitution, Islamic principles, the intrinsic right to food, and international conventions. Paras. 2, 4-6.
The petition named various food and agriculture-related government departments as respondents. Para. 3. Using its power of continuing mandamus, the High Court issued a series of orders during the litigation directing the respondents to convene consultation meetings and prepare draft regulations to discourage food waste and facilitate redistribution of excess food. Para. 9-11. The draft regulations were submitted to the Court in October 2019. Para. 10.
Before addressing the claims, the High Court discussed standing (locus standi) in the context of public-interest litigation. It noted that public-interest litigation is a “powerful tool” for combatting illegalities and injustice on behalf of the public, particularly marginalized and vulnerable communities. Para. 14. Unlike traditional litigation of an adversarial character,
[p]ublic interest litigation is brought before the court not for the purpose of enforcing the rights of one individual against the another . . . [but to] promote and vindicate the public interest. It demands that violation of constitutional or legal rights of a large number of people who are poor, ignorant or in a socially or economically disadvantaged position should not go unnoticed and un-redressed.
Para. 16. The High Court continued:
So, as long as the public interest prayed for is bona fide and not based on any vested interests, the principles of locus standi/aggrieved person are to be interpreted liberally by the Courts because superior courts are bound to protect the Fundamental Rights of citizens in exercise of jurisdiction conferred [by the Constitution.]
Employing this principle, the Court found the petitioners to have standing and the constitutional claims to be justiciable. Id.
The High Court confirmed both the existence of a food crisis and the absence of systems to divert food waste in Pakistan. Paras. 34, 40. “Despite the fact that Pakistan is essentially an agricultural country. . . 6 out 10 Pakistanis are food insecure. . . [and] Pakistan is among those seven countries that cumulatively account for two-thirds of the world’s under-nourished population[.]” Para. 40. The Court also reviewed international best practices addressing food waste, including Italy’s decriminalization of food theft committed “to satisfy one’s hunger,” the Filipino government’s system of food redistribution, and France’s criminalization of supply chain food waste which is enforced by fines of up to €75,000. Para. 41.
Turning to the merits of the case, the High Court first emphasized that the right to food is a fundamental right in Pakistan. Under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (“Constitution”), the right to life is characterized as a fundamental right and is protected by provisions guaranteeing protection of the law, security of the person, and the right to dignity. Para. 19, 49 (citing Const. arts. 4, 9, 14). The right to food is independently recognized in the Principles of Policy of the Constitution. Const. art. 38(d). Nevertheless, the Court referred to case precedent establishing that “the word ‘life’ in the Constitution has not been used in a limited manner and a wide meaning [must] be given to enable a man not only to sustain life but to enjoy it.” Para. 49. Since “there is no concept of life and body without adequate food,” the right to life includes a right to food, which is why “Pakistan’s Courts have repeatedly held the right to food a necessity of life and thus an extension of the right to life.” Paras. 21, 50.
The government of Pakistan has an obligation to protect fundamental rights, including the right to food. The Court explained: “Providing its citizens with food, especially those that do not have access to it and/or cannot afford it is a primary obligation of the State, violation of which will not just breach the right to food, but the right to life, security, and dignity.” Para. 23. The Court also underscored the government’s constitutional duty to prevent, “concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest and. . . make available basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief” and found that this constitutional duty requires the state to “protect against deprivation of means of subsistence and. . . provide sustenance to those who are unable to do so at their own” in the face of the country’s food crisis. Paras. 23, 52 (citing Const. art 38).
Secondly, the court affirmed that Islamic teaching and commands also uphold the right to food and strongly discourage food waste. Citing religious texts which state that, “[e]xtravagance and wastage is strictly prohibited in Islam,” and underscoring the fact that regular charity, or “zakat,” is required of every Muslim, the court declared that “Islamic teachings depict that the right to food is accepted as a basic human right in Islam.” Paras. 26-29. The Court also cited the Holy Prophet (PBUH)’s words in Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah requiring the redistribution of food to prevent food waste: “Leftover food must be saved for the next time or it should be given to the needy; if there are no needy people, then it should be given to animals, even after it has dried out, for the one who is able to do that.” Paras. 28-29.
The Court noted that Islamic teachings do not sit in isolation. Article 31 of the Constitution requires the state to “enable the Muslims of Pakistan. . . to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam[;]. . . to promote unity and the observance of the Islamic moral standards; and. . . to secure the proper organisation of Zakat [regular charity].” Para. 31 (quoting Const. art. 31). The State is also required to bring all laws of Pakistan “in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam” under Const. art. 227(1). Para. 31.
In light of Islam’s injunctions against waste, the ‘zakat’ (regular charity) required of all Muslims, and Allah’s explicit order to redistribute excess food (S.W.T.), the Court interpreted the constitutional duties to require the State to address food waste, including through State food redistribution. Para. 53.
Finally, the Court stressed that Pakistan’s commitment to upholding international laws protecting the right to food creates a “moral, legal and ethical imperatives to bring this human right framework home by developing a domestic food policy infrastructure based on the right to food.” Para. 55. The Court also explained that upholding international commitments is a sovereign duty, and that such commitments “could be interpreted as legally binding according to [Pakistan’s] own Constitution.” Para. 55-56.
Drawing on all of these tenets, the Court concluded:
In view of Verses of Al-Quran, hadiths, provisions of Constitution of Pakistan 1973, laws, international laws and judicial pronouncements . . . [the] word ’Right to life’ clearly means right to food including protection against wastage of excess food.
* * *
It is the duty of the State to legislate, to protect the wastage of excess food and to start awareness campaigns. . . to achieve the target of food security. The basic concept of food security portrays a situation where a person has physical, economic and social access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food for living an active and healthy life.
The High Court granted the petition for writ of mandamus, directing various government departments, “to do anything, they are required by law to do IN ORDER TO PRESERVE, CONSERVE AND MANAGE EXCESS OF FOOD AND WASTAGE OF FOOD.” Para. 60 (capitalization in original). Specific directions included finalizing and strictly implementing draft regulations related to food waste, taking steps to “preserve, manage and conserve the food wastage,” increasing public awareness, establishing a system to redistribute food to persons in need, and creating new laws or amending existing laws in order to achieve the above objectives. Id.