Unscrupulous activities continue to rise despite an uptick in market inspectionsIn current fiscal year alone, from mid-July to October end, the department has fined 197 firms a total of Rs9 million.
Despite the increase in the number of market inspections by the Department of Commerce, Supply and Consumer Protection, consumers are yet to feel it's impact, as the number of unscrupulous activities in the market continue to rise.
In the current fiscal year alone, from mid-July to October end, the department has fined Rs9 million from 197 firms (by inspecting a total of 954 firms). Last year, the department had fined Rs3.53 million from 208 firms by inspecting a total of 584 firms from mid-July to mid-November.
Netra Prasad Subedi, director general at the department, admitted that consumers are not being able to feel the outcome of the market inspection. “The department has been conducting market inspection on a regular basis but consumers have not been able to feel its impact in the market due to traders’ unscrupulous intention," he said. Such behaviour, however, can be lessened with continued market inspection but that will take time, he added.
Laxman Babu Aryal, a consumer from Kuleshower, said that the prices on goods are going up but the quality is declining. In the last month, whenever Aryal has gone out to purchase food items like rice, lentils, edible oil among others he has noticed the prices going up by a few rupees.
“The price of goods did not increase at this pace compared to what it was a decade ago,” Aryal, 48, said. “I have been hearing that the government is conducting market inspection but have not been able to feel its impact neither price-wise nor quality and quantity wise,” he added.
Despite having the Consumer Protection Act in place, consumers are feeling dissatisfied and cheated. “The Consumer Protection Act is directed more towards charging a fine. However, it does not have provision to increase the fine amount as per the flaw of the traders," Subedi told the Post. “The government should be ready to improve some articles and sub-articles strictly to make the Act strong so that a healthy market can be set and traders can be held responsible for their doings,” he said. For instance, the Act currently allows a fine of up to Rs600,000 and two-three years of imprisonment for offences that put consumers’ health and money at risk. The punishment for offences that put consumer health at risk should be increased, say officials.
Only recently, the police and the department raided tonnes of expired branded foods and other items that were relabeled with a new date and ready to be sent to the market at the beginning of October.
The case is currently being investigated by the department and has taken two people in custody in relation to it. “There is no such pressure from an upper level to take action,” he said.
Similarly, to protect consumers, Market Monitoring Procedure 2020 and Market Monitoring Team’s Code of Conduct 2020 that the department prepared and submitted to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies has been approved and came into implementation from October 20.
The Market Monitoring Procedure 2020 has come into implementation aiming to protect consumers and require businesses to follow certain quality standards. The procedure has provisions that are not included in the Consumer Protection Act 2018. The procedure is expected to make market regulation more manageable and effective.
The new regulation requires mandatory quality checks and Nepal Standard certification for goods. The packaging label should also clearly mention what is inside the package, its quantity and the symbol number of the product that the department has given.
However, given the past performances of the department and rise in the number of unscrupulous activities in the market area, consumer right activists are not hopeful the new procedure will provide relief to consumers.
Unless strict action is taken against market anomalies, consumers will continue to be cheated, said consumer right activists. They also stress on the need of a tool of market intervention to regulate the prices on daily essential goods.
Prem Lal Maharjan, president of National Consumer Forum, said market anomalies are on the rise as traders think they can go beyond the law, because law implementing bodies work on political pressure and intervention which has never been able to go according to consumer expectation.
Market inspection is also dependent on the mood of the people’s representative more than the consumers, he said. “This is why the market has not become consumer-focused in Nepal yet, and why consumers are continually being cheated on quality of goods and price,” he said.