Firms slapped with Rs 7 million in fines during lockdownSurgical stores were issued the most fines, worth Rs 1.74 million.
The Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection Management collected Rs 7 million in fines from firms found cheating customers in just one and a half months.
The amount is a whopping 10 fold increase compared to normal. With the Covid-19 pandemic causing panic all over the world, it was bound to create a surge in demand for certain products.
And unscrupulous traders saw their chance to profit in Nepal.
According to the department, most of the firms were found hiking prices on surgical masks, food and meat items and not providing an invoice. Stores and shops raised mask and food prices by more than 30 percent, said Sagar Mishra, director at the Department of Commerce.
Traders defended the price hikes, saying they had to pay increased transportation and labour charges. Mishra squashed their defence, “That’s not the case at all.”
The department fined e-retailers, pharmacies, restaurants, food stores, gas depots, petroleum pumps, fruit shops, fish shops, marts, cosmetics, cold stores, surgical and supermarkets during the period.
The department issued fines worth Rs 400,000 to several e-retailers, Rs 505,000 for pharmacies and Rs 300,000 for restaurants.
Similarly, the department slapped Rs 1.4 million in fines on food stores, Rs 455,000 on gas depots, Rs 200,000 on petrol pumps and Rs 100,000 on fruit shops. Marts, cold stores and supermarkets were fined Rs 220,000, Rs 700,000 and Rs 500,000 respectively.
Surgical stores were issued the most fines, worth Rs 1.74 million.
According to the inspection report, the department conducted market inspections on 245 firms and fined 70 firms.
On the pretext of the lockdown, prices of vegetables, food items and daily essentials have increased by 15 to 20 percent across the country despite regular supply and sufficient stores with the government. Consumer rights activists say that businessmen pocketed the difference.
The Consumer Right Management Information Management System received a record 1,000 complaints of business malpractices during the lockdown period.
Though the department has been conducting market inspections and slapping fines to errant firms, it has failed to stop such malpractices in the market, said Prem Lal Maharjan, president of National Consumer Forum. "Market anomalies have been increasing during the pandemic."
“Sugar, which used to cost Rs75 per kg before the lockdown has reached Rs90 per kg, a hike of Rs 15 per kg within a month under the pretext of lockdown. It is just an example of black marketing,” said Maharjan.
Maharjan said that the department has issued fines worth millions till date yet firms continue to engage in business malpractices.
As prices of daily consumable goods continue to soar, consumers have not been able to feel the presence of the government at a time when they need them most, he said.