Let the buyer bewareThe many consumer protection laws are of no use if they are not enforced properly
Many problems can be seen in Nepal’s law enforcement mechanism. Some of the laws are almost in a paralysed state. They are found only in the acts and statutes and have not been enforced. People are widely and openly violating them, and the government remains quiet. One of the examples of rights that have been ignored is consumer rights. The monopoly of sellers is expanding, and they have been manipulating the market and exploiting consumers in some way. Profit-minded market parasites are violating the rights of the people. Some instances may look trivial, but they need to be brought to the fore. When a customer goes to a store and buys a product, the seller does not return small change and instead gives a candy. Isn’t this a violation of our right to buy something or not?
There are specifically two laws designed to regulate unlawful practices in the business world and protect consumer rights. The first is the Black-Marketing and Some Other Social Offences and Punishment Act 1975 and the other is the Consumer Protection Act 1998. The Black-Marketing Act states that sellers cannot overcharge customers. But in reality, it cannot be said that this law is being followed. For example, the actual price of a stick of cigarette is Rs12, but shopkeepers charge Rs15 per stick. When asked about it, shopkeepers say that all shops are charging the same price.
Similarly, no price lists can be seen in any shop even though merchants are required
by law to display them. However, no action has been taken or any inspection done to control it. The rental business is booming but no reasonable method has been applied to fix the house rent, especially in Kathmandu. This is a kind of black marketing.
Coming back to the main issue, the Consumer Protection Regulation prohibits forced choice describing it as an unlawful activity. And to control such activities, the regulation talks about establishing the office of the inspector in every district. Similarly, the regulation has provisioned the appointment of an inspector by the government to control these unfair activities in the market and implement the act. The qualification, training to be provided to the inspector and the inspector’s duties, rights and obligations are stated in the regulation.
Similarly, the regulation contains the procedures that have to be followed when filing a report so that the inspector can make a proper investigation and provide reasonable compensation to the victims. Likewise, the regulation contains the procedures to be followed to claim compensation. In addition, the regulation states that a Central Monitoring Council and District Monitoring Council will be established to better safeguard the rights of consumers. The regulation states that additional mechanisms like Consumer Education and Awareness Sub-Council, Technical Sub-Council, Price Monitoring Sub-Council and Supply Management Sub-Council will be established.
Should we say that it is not the law which is paralysed but the government and the people that have been inactive? The answer for that is a yes. First, it is the main duty of the government to stop the violations that have occurred, and second, the citizens should also take some initiative to stop these activities. Of course, government alone cannot be blamed. However, the people’s duty cannot be ignored either. People always criticise political and cultural matters, but they ignore things that are going on daily and hampering our rights. Isn’t it the duty of the people to speak out against these wrongdoings too?
When studying the laws, we see that they are definitely the best ones, but in practice no one cares about what is happening. The laws will remain in a paralysed stage until and unless the mechanisms stipulated are strictly followed. Also, people must protest against this as it is our right, and we should vigorously participate to get our rights in a rightful way. It is the duty of the people too to stop wrongdoings, but due to the monopoly of the sellers in the market, it is a difficult step for the people. Thus a strong mechanism should be implemented by the government to activate these so-called paralysed laws and break the monopoly that is controlling the market.
Therefore, a very independent and noble institution needs to be established that will work for the protection and welfare of consumers in a prompt, proper and appropriate manner. The establishment of a separate and independent Consumer Court is of immense importance to safeguard the rights of consumers and also to control the affairs of traders amid the economic leap in the new federal system where business is poised to expand tremendously.
Dahal is currently pursuing LLB at Kathmandu School of Law. Khatiwada is an advocate