Three years have passed, but no consumer court in sightConsumer rights activists accuse the government of deliberately delaying the implementation of the law.
It's been three years since the amended Consumer Protection Act 2018, which contained a provision requiring the government to establish a consumer court, was passed. But there isn't any indication of the consumer court being set up, and this shows how serious the government is about ensuring the rights of consumers, observers said.
In 2018, the government made the first amendment to the law in two decades in a bid to better protect the rights and interests of Nepali consumers. One of its highlights was the establishment of a consumer court to bring unscrupulous traders under a legal framework through fast track procedures.
Consumer rights activists accuse the government of deliberately delaying the implementation of the law due to vested interests or pressure from manufacturers and traders.
Currently, cases of unfair trade practices are filed at the District Court or the District Administration Offices, which involves 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.
In many countries, a consumer court is a special purpose court that deals with cases regarding consumer disputes, conflicts and grievances. There are judiciary hearings set up by the government to protect consumer rights. Consumers can file a case against a seller if they are cheated or exploited.
The basic consumer rights outlined by the United Nations which are widely adopted by a number of countries are the right to safety, right to be informed, right to choose and right to be heard, right to redressal and right to consumer education.
Nepal, so far, has not practiced hearing consumer grievances as consumers have to file a case at the courts, which takes months and years to pass a verdict, according to lawyers.
In a recent development, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies said it had drafted legislation to establish a consumer court and submitted it to the Law Ministry for further review. The draft has proposed setting up a consumer court in each of the seven provinces in the first phase.
“We have written to the Supreme Court requesting the formation of a judicial service commission,” said Bishnu Prasad Regmi, joint secretary at the Law Ministry.
“The consumer court needs a district judge with two government officials as members to arbitrate cases related to consumer rights,” he said. “The formation of the consumer court will begin once the Supreme Court responds to our letter,” he said.
In India, there are three layers of consumer courts—the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is the apex body of consumer courts that works for the whole country, the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, a state level court that works at the state level, and the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, a district level court that works at the district level.
Advocate Punya Prasad Khatiwada said that political cases always receive priority over cases of consumers.
“The state also does not provide funds to fight for consumer protection rights. We look for foreign aid for everything. If we get funding from donors, then only there are chances that a consumer court will be established,” he said.
“Little effort is being made against unethical and unfair trade practices, and it is sad to hear that the government has delayed the formation of a consumer court, which is of the utmost necessity in a country like Nepal. ”
In September 2019, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies submitted draft legislation to establish a consumer court to the Law Ministry. The first consumer court in Nepal was expected to be established by the beginning of 2021.
“We are not sure when a consumer court will be opened,” said Regmi.
Complaints about food shortages, hoarding, black marketing, and adulteration of food and edible oil are common. But few people file a case. The number of unscrupulous activities in the market continues to rise.
In the last fiscal year 2019-20, the Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection slapped fines totalling Rs30.46 million against 581 firms among the 1,869 that were investigated during a market inspection.
In the previous fiscal year 2018-19, the department had collected Rs4.32 million in fines from 185 dishonest businesses.
Last October, just before the Dashain festival, the police and the Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection conducted a raid on the warehouse of Ayan Distributors and seized tonnes of date expired foods and other products that had been relabelled with new dates and readied for delivery.
Food brands like Snickers, Cadbury, Pringles, Tang, Oreo and Bournvita and different products from Unilever like Horlicks, Dove shampoo, bathing soap and sanitiser worth about Rs40 million had been relabelled.
Regmi said that once the consumer court comes into operation, consumers can file a complaint directly with evidence and references.
Madhav Timalsina, president of the Consumer Rights Investigation Forum, said that the government did not consider consumer rights a priority. “As a result, the number of unscrupulous activities in the market has increased.”
Consumer rights activists said that the establishment of a consumer court was mooted a decade ago, but it has not materialised. “It will remain on paper only,” said Prem Lal Maharjan, a consumer rights activist.