The irrepressible Ms Mumtaz

A cringe-worthy, yet addictive disgust. That is the feeling with which online audiences had been watching the exploits of the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) in its crusade against dirty restaurants and other food processing outfits. The Authority’s Facebook page had racked up hundreds of thousands of followers, a rarity for a regulatory bureaucracy.Which is why the court order barring the Authority from sharing photos of its raids wasn’t all too popular. Nothing wrong with being unpopular; the courts aren’t supposed to play to the gallery. But the rationale did not quite register. The goodwill of the restaurant shouldn’t be tarnished before a decision has been reached? But the PFA is, in fact, the authority that is empowered to take a decision. Are those decisions justiciable? Yes, but the courts shouldn’t assume that all penalised restaurants would file an appeal.The PFA could have gone for an appeal but the Punjab Government, like all governments, has to deal with the courts on a daily basis. It, therefore, has to pick its battles and chose to let this one slide.Ayesha Mumtaz, the iron lady operations director of the Authority, however, had another trick up her sleeve. One that would, strictly speaking, circumvent the court orders, without letting the buzz die out. She could co-opt one of the many television shows that had devoted themselves completely to the issue of unclean food products.To this end, Mohsin Bhatti, who hosts the show Hum Kya Doodh ke Dhule Hain? on ATV, was a good choice. Though in the interests of fairness, it is hoped that all other media outlets also have similar access to the raids.The footage is then aired from the social media accounts of the concerned journalists and is broadcast on live TV. Nothing in the law against that. After all, journalists and TV crews do accompany the police in its raids don’t they?*****Recently, the PFA raided the premises of Monal Restaurant, located on the roof of the Liberty Park and Ride plaza in Lahore and sealed the outfit. And, as per the new norm, the footage was uploaded on Facebook through the social media accounts of the press.In a follow-up of that, the proprietors of the restaurant have made a series of videos, one of which is embedded below (online readers only.)
During the course of the video, the narrator seems to begrudge Ms Mumtaz for going over the kitchen area with a fine-toothed comb. What was she looking for, asks the narrator. To answer: well, this might be a shot in the dark here, but perhaps Ms Mumtaz was looking for a violation? This is one of those instance where the public asks as to how dare a government servant be meticulous in his/her job!The narrator also questions the presence of the media team there with the PFA staff. Civil servants all over the country and the world, seek the assistance of citizens. The courts, of course, have a formalised system. Amicus curiae; literally: friend of the court.Officers of the state can request anyone for assistance, if they are deemed to have some helpful expertise or information. What matters are whether they law has been violated or not.For example: the network of police stations of the country, despite being hideously underfunded, provide much better actionable intelligence than the lavishly well-funded ISI, a fact conceded by the late General Naseerullah Babar during the Karachi operation of ‘96. The DG Khan police had informed the army of the attack on the GHQ. This excellent information gathering is done through the help of all sorts of cooperating locals, including, believe it or not, criminals and drug addicts. If the state can use the cooperation of drug addicts to good effect, then the journalists (whatever society might think of them) could surely be used as well.Yes, in certain instances, Mr Bhatti could be seen inspecting things himself, something which he should avoid doing so in the future.Amongst the litany of complaints in another video released by the restaurant is the fact that they weren’t going to use the expired stuff found at the restaurant. Well, if the police find a working still at your premises, you can’t take the plea that you weren’t going to brew alcohol in it. The law is what it is. If it’s found at your premises, they are going to assume you will use it. One is sure the good folk at Monal wouldn’t, but then this assumption would have to be extended to all the restaurants, rendering the rules and regulations of the PFA toothless.As an analysis of the media, however, the episode has served as an interesting case of the government leveraging social media and, due to changed circumstances, leveraging the mainstream media, which also used the social media. And the other side also chose to take to the social media to fire a volley of its own.