Stop the loot, form Consumer Court!
After Nepal became republic, a paradigm shift in the political structure is in the offing. The country has witnessed a host of developments but the people have not experienced anything tangible. The expectation of people to witness a culture of accountability, honesty and good governance has become a distant reality.
In the ‘Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal’, consumers are cheated with every purchase, be it mobile phones, vegetables, lose or packed goods, lands, or among other movable properties. For instance, the price of vegetables, pulses or other food items has gone up by 50 percent which is an indicator how price is affecting the common people. Expenditure takes away all income and hence saving has become a story so far.
This scribe prefers not eating out to save money. He brings ration for a month and tries to make it last for two months. Whatever he needs, he buys in a small quantity. This is not the case with this scribe only. It has become a common trend.
Another problem is fee of the schools. Most of the private schools demand huge fees (under different heads) and there is no restriction and limitation imposed on them. Neither there is a standard set by the government, nor is there any strict initiative from the part of government to improve the quality of its schools in an endeavour to ensure quality education to poor and needy sections of society and enable them to compete with their counterparts in private schools. The irony is that most of the government/public servants or the teachers of government schools or college don’t wish to admit their children in government schools, but only in private schools. It seems the government is committed to cause a hole in the wallets of its citizens by not providing cost effective services to its people.
The inconsistency is not only with fees of private schools. We could expect the price variation of each and every product or service at every nook and corner. At one place the consumer could purchase onion at Rs 60 per kg while the same could be available at other price at some other place. In this way, the government has grossly failed to control the malpractices, irregularities and selling of substandard goods in the market.
Even under the rule of a communist government, there is no viable alternative of consumerism, privatisation, industrialisation and capitalism (which is itself contrary to the principle of communism).
In order to save consumers from being cheated by adulteration or high prices, there is a dire need of establishing a Consumer Court where consumers could file suits and get justice in time.
As a result, we are forced to adopt consumer culture. Consumer culture is a profit-oriented business which invites black marketing, food adulteration and malpractices in the consuming items. In order to save consumers from being cheated by adulteration or high prices, there is a dire need of establishing a Consumer Court where consumers could file suits and get justice in time.
In Consumer Court, the tort cases are filed at low fee and there is no court fee as such. Consumers are encouraged to appear in their own matters. Unlike the civil courts, the compliance of procedural laws or evidence laws or technicalities is minimal in Consumer Courts. The functioning of Consumer Court is very simple and expeditious. An application written by an aggrieved on a plain piece of paper would work perfectly. As a result, it ensures speedy and effective administration of justice.
The highest law of the land in its Article 44 envisages that “each consumer shall have the right to quality foodstuffs and services.” This clause expressly secures the interests of the consumers by outlaying the manufacturing and supplying of substandard products of daily use.
The second clause provisions: “A person who has suffered from sub-standard object or services shall have the right to be compensated.” It means this provision seeks to guarantee relief to the consumers in case of physical or emotional loss suffered by them due to sub-standard products.
As rights of consumers have been acknowledged as a fundamental right, the superior Courts by invoking Articles 144 (High Courts’ power to issue writs, orders, directions or determinations) and 133 (Supreme Court’s power to issue writs, orders, directions or determinations) can award exemplary punishments to protect the rights of consumers.
Consumers in Nepal face problems like buying low-quality products at high rates. They are misled by advertisements and warranties. At times, it’s seen that the consumers are badly looted by doctors, contractors and private hospitals. In absence of Consumer Courts, the companies or private mafias are at freedom to sell their substandard products with impunity. Millions of poor and innocent people are at the mercy of these outliers.
In a bid to protect the rights of subjects, Article 47 casts an obligation on the state to make legal provisions within three years of commencement (i.e. September 20, 2015) of Constitution for the effective enforcement of the rights mentioned under the chapter of Fundamental Rights. But, the state is yet to give effect to this clause. In doing so, the state is not only failing to secure a constitutional democracy but also allowing the outliers to take a narrow escape.
The Supreme Court of Nepal in the case of Advocate Shankar Limbu v. The Government of Nepal was of the opinion that the observance of international law is essential for the effective implementation of domestic (i.e., civil) laws.
In this context, the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection is a valuable set of principles adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1985 to protect and promote the rights of consumers globally. It’s high time the Himalayan Republic took cognisance of this resolution and set up consumer courts in every district or province.
The Consumer Protection Act 2054 (1998) is a welcome legislation in this direction. Section 18 of the Act provisions for the penalties wherein it’s provisioned that an outlier would be punished for a maximum term of 10 years of imprisonment. It has been mandated that the government of Nepal would be plaintiff in cases under this Act (Section 19). While dispensing the suit, the summary trial procedure is to be followed, says Section 21. But the cases are supposed to be filed at District Court itself, which is already flooded with hundreds of thousands of litigations.
Although we have sufficient legal frameworks, the challenge lies in implementation.
It’s unbecoming to rule out the effectiveness of the Consumer Courts. The Consumer Court would be a specialised tribunal to look after the cases relating to the violation of rights of consumers and speedy justice could be expected from them.
This scribe went to have a cup of milk tea in a restaurant yesterday. He found that the restaurants charge inapplicable taxes or add the food items that were never ordered. Also, he found that the price of green vegetables is not uniform. The same vegetable is available at different prices at different locations. It seems the law and order is unworkable in the capital city itself. At the time of Dashain, the great festival of the country, the prices of food items, vegetables or other daily needs go high in an unprecedented manner. But who notices?
The basic question this scribe tries to raise through this writing is: Do we really resort to law at the instance of infringement of our rights? Are we prepared to invoke the laws which favour us as consumers? Or, have we become habitual of this system so much that we have forgotten our rights and duties?
Secondly, if the state has no courage to protect the rights of consumers, then why has it made provisions of fundamental (inalienable) rights? Do fundamental rights provide a mere piece of documentary guarantee?
The service providers—be it retailers, banks, cellular networks, hospitals, shopping malls, schools or colleges—hardly value consumers. Once consumers expect the regulatory authorities or law to resolve their issues, the people would not be bound to stay at the mercy of companies or service providers. And it would succeed to disseminate a message that legal route ought to be the last resort.
The provincial governments could make necessary rules (by invoking Section 30 of Consumer Protection Act, 1997) for the protection of rights of consumers and to slam unfair trade practices, restrictive trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers.
People should raise their voice strongly against unscrupulous exploitation of their rights and value their hard earned money to form a culture of accountability and honesty. It’s high time the consumer became more vigilant before they go shopping.
We are not gullible to be exploited by the service providers or companies, nor are we innocent fools to be misled and misled.
The writer is an LLM graduate.
Published on October 10, 2018