Government authorities fail to protect consumer rightsApathy from the government authorities tasked with effectively implementing the laws related to consumers’ protection has allowed the rampant selling of substandard products along with excessive price hikes in the market.
Apathy from the government authorities tasked with effectively implementing the laws related to consumers’ protection has allowed the rampant selling of substandard products along with excessive price hikes in the market.
While the present Constitution talks about protecting consumers’ rights as a fundamental right, consumers have been left in the lurch as they face various malpractices such as artificial shortage from syndicate and cartel, fake products, low quality drugs and construction materials and poor quality services in almost all sectors, said analysts.
Currently, there are number of institutions which are liable to look after consumers’ rights. Among them, Department of Commerce, Supply and Protection of Consumers, Department of Food Technology and Quality Control, Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology, Department of Drug Administration, District Administration Office, local governments and National Human Rights Commission are the authorities which are supposed to conduct market monitoring and receive complaints from the suffered.
In theory, these authorities are supposed to look after the consumers but in reality, they avoid the duty.
The concerned authorities often blame either the shortfall of resources or the weak laws when it comes to safeguarding the consumers’ interests. Narayan Dhakal, director general of Department of Drug Administration, said they had failed to regulate the drugs business with such reasons. “The existing Drugs Act 1978 cannot address the entire issues of the newly emerging drugs market,” he said.
The department estimates that substandard drugs worth around Rs5 billion are traded in the domestic market annually. Many of them are being used as both medicine and dietary supplement.
“However, we have failed to framework such business due to lack of clarity in the law along with the shortage of manpower,” said Dhakal adding that the department has only 49 drugs administrators to look after the country’s drugs business.
The Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology said it has also been conducting its regular work on the basis of Standard Measurement and Weight Act 1968 and Nepal Standards Act 1980.
“Although some amendments were made in these acts over time, they could not address the need of market monitoring these days,” said Bishwo Babu Pudasaini, the director general of the department, adding that these laws only allow market inspection of 12 types of products.
Pudasaini sought the need of laws related to the technical regulation rather than the conventional type laws that look to framework the price and transaction volume.
Giving an instance of around 20,000 standards that are in place in number of developed countries, Pudasaini said Nepal has been based on just 927 standard criteria to regulate the market.
Sanjeev Kumar Karn, chief of the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control, said they had to carry out their work relying on Food Act 1967.
Karna said the amendments made over the time were not at par to address effective market regulation. “The law talks on keeping an eye on the final products only. However, the entire production and supply chain have to be tracked to ensure safety of the consumers,” he said.
Karna also stressed on the need for deploying adequate number of efficient manpower. According to him, the department is deploying only 42 food inspectors across the country. Karna also underlined the need of developing a mechanism to establish coordination among the authorities including the local governments, which delegate the authorities to carry out market monitoring.
Consumer rights activists blamed the government authorities for fulfilling just the bare minimum in the name of market monitoring. Babu Ram Humagain, general secretary of Consumer Welfare Protection Forum, urged the authorities to step up market monitoring based on safety rather than limiting to just availability and price hike.
Humagain also criticised the government for failing to devise related regulations even after six months of endorsing the Consumer Protection Act 2018.