The government must ensure it establishes the consumer court expeditiouslyConsumer courts enable consumers to make the best choices based on their interests and prevent them from being mistreated.
Last year, the government tabled a bill in Parliament that mandated the construction of a consumer court in Nepal. Albeit late, this was a much-needed decision. According to a consumer survey conducted by the Department of Supplies Management in 2011, 53.57 percent of Nepali consumers were not satisfied with the government’s work on ensuring consumer rights. For long, consumers are being duped and have fallen prey to illegal practices such as the sale of substandard and adulterated goods and black marketing.
The constitution has also declared consumer rights as a fundamental right. It states, ‘Each consumer shall have the right to quality foodstuffs and services. A person who has suffered from substandard object or service shall have the right to be compensated as provided for by law.’ But in practice, very little has been done.
Although the government has increased crackdowns over the years, the agencies concerned lack teeth and sincerity when it comes to punishing those involved in selling substandard products. Food inspectors, for instance, book a few shop owners and firms and slap fines on them; after some time, the adulterators go back to their old business. No serious measures have been initiated to check the proliferation of adulterated and substandard food, leaving thousands of people at the mercy of profit-hungry traders.
The Consumer Protection Act 2018 replaced the 1998 law of the same name, but reports suggest that the new legislation is flawed and ‘reflects favouritism.’ For example, the Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumers Interest recently took action against Bhadrakali Oil Store in Gothatar for giving short measures to its customers and was slapped with on-the-spot cash fines of Rs200,000. But according to the new law, business firms can appeal and get a 50 percent discount on the fine. Taking advantage of it, the oil store deposited Rs100,000 into the government’s account and continued on with business as usual, proving that such fines alone do not seem to be effective. The government needs to further strengthen its vigilance, hiring more inspection staff and providing adequate resources to the monitoring department.
What’s more, be it goods produced locally or imported, if the consumers are charged more than 20 percent of the marked price, it is considered a big crime in other countries. But here, we do not follow such practices. In fact, in clothing, there have been instances of shops selling merchandise at a 2,300 percent markup.
Should the consumer court be established, consumers will have a place to go if they feel cheated. They could get compensation too. It is important for business owners to respect consumers because they need to be able to obtain accurate, unbiased information about the products and services they purchase. This enables consumers to make the best choices based on their interests and prevents them from being mistreated or misled by businesses. Consumer rights become especially important to provide protection against the abuse of monopolistic and restrictive trade practices and the government must do everything it can to expedite the process of court establishment.
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