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ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has barred the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) from forcibly registering vegetable ghee (Banaspati) products manufactured by ghee and cooking oil companies.

In this regard, the LHC has issued a stay order against the action of the PFA with the direction to maintain the status quo. The court has also directed the PFA to submit their response by May 5, 2021.

On behalf of the petitioner companies, barrister Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi argued the case before the LHC.

According to the petition filed by the companies, the companies are well reputed, well known and renowned manufacturers, sellers and exporters of vegetable ghee (Banaspati), which fully comply with the standards prescribed by the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) and the same are also registered with the PSQCA. The companies are involved in inter-provincial trade of Banaspati, and also export of the same to various countries including the USA, UAE, and Afghanistan.

The companies are aggrieved of the unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful and void ab initio notices sent by the Punjab Food Authority (PFA), wherein, the PFA is attempting to force the petitioners to register their products with the PFA in violation of the decision of the Council of Common Interests dated March 6, 2020, which categorically states that registration of the products must be done by the federal government through the PSQCA.

Since the CCI Decision clearly states that the jurisdiction over the registration of the products of the petitioners vests with the PSQCA and not the PFA, the PFA had no jurisdiction to send the Hearing Notices to the companies for in person hearings. Thus, Hearing Notices are based on illegally assumed jurisdiction and merit being declared illegal, unlawful and void ab initio. Since the 18th Amendment, and the consequent creation of the PFA through the enactment of the PFA Act, the province of Punjab has, and its residents/businesses, have witnessed an over-zealous enthusiasm on part of the PFA, and the same has led to a severe over-stepping of statutory authority on part of the PFA, in complete ignorance of its statutory domain and the provisions of its governing law, rules and regulations.

The main issue with the actions of the PFA was that the PFA, on numerous occasions, overstepped its own authority and treaded onto the jurisdiction of the PSQCA regarding the regulation of various activities/businesses across the province of Punjab, petitioner said.

Due to these overly enthusiastic and illegal actions of the PFA, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) took cognisance of the matter relating to the conflicting actions of the PFA and the PSQCA.

Thus, in its 41st meeting held on 23rd December 2019, and subsequent meeting held on 29th January 2020, under the chairmanship of the Federal Minister for the Ministry of Science and Technology, the CCI decided, inter alia, that: “Registration/Licensing shall be done by the Federal Government, whereas, the revenue will be shared to the provinces.” (CCI Decision).

Even though the CCI Decision categorically stated, in no uncertain terms, that the registration of the products must be done by the federal government through the PSQCA, thus, taking the jurisdiction from the provincial government, more specifically the PFA, the PFA sent notices to the companies requiring therein to have their products registered with the PFA purportedly in terms of Section 7(2)(k) of the PFA Act (the “Impugned Notices”). Once the CCI has decided that the power to register/license the products of the petitioners shall vest with the Federal Government through the PSQCA, and not the Provincial Government through the PFA, the Impugned Notices are hit by the Doctrine of Occupied Field.

The PFA is encroaching upon the forbidden federal field determined pursuant to CCI Decision.

The field is already entirely occupied by the Federal Government through the PSQCA which has registered the products of the Petitioner with itself.

Admittedly, the product of the petitioners i.e., vanaspati and cooking oil, is a trans-provincial commodity, thus, the same is not amenable to the registration by the PFA.

Since vanaspati and cooking oil are trans-provincial commodities in nature, therefore, in terms of Article 151 read with entry No 27 of Part I of the FLL in the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution, the business activities of the petitioners fall within the legislative domain of the Parliament (and are to be registered with the Federal Government through the PSQCA) and as such cannot be subjected to the registration by Provincial Government through the PFA.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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