Law Ministry holds the key to setting up Nepal’s first consumer courtThe court will make traders pay compensation to consumers affected by market misconduct.
The country’s first consumer court is likely to come online in the next five months after a proposed draft made its way to the Law Ministry, said officials at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies. It has been more than a decade since work began on setting up the court to deal with cases related to consumer disputes and grievances.
A consumer court has long been sought after to bring unscrupulous traders under a legal framework through a fast track. Similarly, the court as envisioned by the Consumer Protection Act, endorsed last October, will make such traders pay compensation to consumers affected by market misconduct.
Through endorsing a National Strategy on Development and Use of e-commerce in Nepal 2019, the government has come up with materialising the provision maintained in the act and set a six-month deadline to set up the court.
Officials at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies said a draft proposal to form the consumer court had been sent to the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs a few weeks ago, seeking necessary consent. “In the proposed draft, the regulator is authorised to file a case for a jail term of up to five years against a guilty business, up from the one year sentence,” said a high-level official at the ministry under the condition of anonymity.
The constitution has guaranteed consumer protection as a fundamental right. Under this provision, the new act has outlined the creation of consumer courts under a district judge and with two government officials as members to arbitrate cases related to consumer rights.
Yogendra Gauchan, director-general of the Department of Commerce, Supply and Consumer Protection Management, said the proposed court will be mandated to oversee proper compensation amount if a consumer files a case on any health or financial damage caused by the use of any products and services, the consumer court will demand proper compensation.
In the absence of a consumer court, currently, cases are either filed at the district court or district administration offices, leading to lengthy administrative procedures and bureaucratic hassles. According to Gauchan, it usually takes three to six months for the district court to give a verdict, while in many cases a guilty firm does not face any real action as the evidence is lost over the period.
Gauchan said the ministry in the draft has proposed to set up a consumer court in each of seven provinces in the first phase. “The draft after being approved by the Law Ministry will be sent to the Ministry of Finance,” he said.
The consumer rights activists, however, blamed the government for deliberately delaying the implementation of regulation with a vested interest or pressure from manufacturers and traders.
Madhav Timalsina, president of the Consumer Rights Investigation Forum expressed doubt on the implementation part as it has been a year since the new consumer act has been enacted, with no sign of implementing its provisions anytime soon. “Had the government been serious over the consumer issues, it would have enforced the related regulation already,” said Timilsina.
Giving an instance of the Consumer Protection Act, 1997, Timilsina said the old act had also maintained similar provision. “But it had never been implemented in over a decade of the enactment of the law,” he said.