First consumer court expected to open within this fiscal yearOne-third of the 1,869 firms inspected in the last fiscal year were found to be engaged in dishonest practices.
One-third of the 1,869 business firms inspected in the last fiscal year were found to be engaged in dishonest practices, a threefold jump from the previous year.
The Department of Commerce, Supply and Consumer Protection Management said it slapped fines totalling Rs30.46 million on 581 companies for misconduct.
In the previous fiscal year, the department had collected Rs4.32 million in fines from 185 dishonest firms.
Rabindra Acharya, director and information officer at the department, said the inspection activities increased during the last fiscal year, especially during the lockdown.
But consumer rights activists said that lack of coordination with local governments and the department's emphasis on collecting fines had brought little relief to customers.
“The consumer is being cheated in terms of quality and quantity at every step, and illegal practices have swelled during the lockdown,” said Prem Lal Maharjan, president of the National Consumer Forum.
The Consumer Right Management Information System under the department received 1,098 complaints since it opened on March 26 till July 15. Most of the grievances were related to shortage of gas, price hikes, shortages of food items and other goods, slow internet speed and black marketing of masks.
The department has included establishing a consumer court in its work plan for the current fiscal year.
Industry Secretary Baikuntha Aryal said that the consumer court would come into operation within the current fiscal year. It has been more than a decade since work began on setting up a court to deal with cases related to consumer disputes and grievances.
In September last year, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies submitted a draft piece of legislation to establish a consumer court to the Law Ministry, and the court is expected to open by the beginning of 2021.
The public has long been demanding a consumer court to bring unscrupulous traders under a legal framework through a fast track.
In the absence of a consumer court, cases are currently filed at the District Court or the District Administration Offices, leading to lengthy administrative procedures and bureaucratic hassles. It usually takes three to six months for the District Court to give a verdict, while in many cases the guilty firm does not face any real action as the evidence is lost over the period.
Consumer rights activists accuse the government of deliberately delaying the implementation of laws due to vested interests or pressure from manufacturers and traders.
The Consumer Protection Act 1997 which has been superseded contained provisions for taking action against firms engaging in illegal practices, but it was never implemented.
Maharjan said that no cases have yet been made by the department so that they can be taken to court.
Following the passage of the Consumer Protection Act 2018, there were many cases that could have been taken to court, he said. The department should prepare a case that can be taken to the consumer court and demand that it should be established, he added.
The department will hand over the responsibility and liability to the federal provinces and local units on the basis of their jurisdiction. The department is planning to prepare a curriculum and source materials to provide basic training to market inspection chiefs to build their capacity in the current fiscal year.
The department has prepared a draft work procedure for market inspection besides a draft code of ethics for market inspection chiefs and their teams.
In the current fiscal year, the department will keep digital records of the firms registered with it. The market level, list of essential services and standards for price determination will be implemented in the current fiscal year.
The department plans to operate an online system for the registration, regulation and cancellation of firms. For the convenience of customers, the department also proposes to start an online payment system.