Are we getting what we deserve?

Stakeholders rue outdated and ineffective laws as Nepal celebrates World Consumer Rights Day

Kathmandu, March 14

World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), which falls on March 15, is being observed in Nepal with various programmes to increase the level of awareness among consumers and discourage activities of consumer exploitation. Both the government and consumer rights organisations have announced a series of events, including rallies, road shows and public debates to mark the WCRD on Wednesday.

Undoubtedly, such programmes of the government and other organisations aim to protect consumers’ rights in Nepal. However, whether the objectives of such programmes are achieved in the country is questionable as consumers continue to be in the dark regarding their rights and traders blatantly bend the rules to a make a fast buck.

Prevalent situation

Nepali consumers are often forced to compromise on the quality and quantity of products and services delivered in the market. Most times they are overcharged and even the concerns of a few who raise their voices fall on deaf ears. Majority of firms and businesses that the government bodies regularly inspect in the market have been found to be delivering products and services with some sort of defects either in the quality or quantity.

Nepali consumers are also at the receiving end of rampant hike in gasoline price, arbitrarily fixed transportation fares, and adulterated food products, among others.

It is, in fact, a paradox that the government observes WCRD every year with commitments to assure consumer rights when it recently increased the price of cooking gas and has failed to implement its own decision made a year ago to reduce public transportation fare.

Moreover, the monitoring teams of the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DoFTQC) have time and again found unsafe water and adulterated milk being supplied in the market.

Similarly, market monitoring teams of the Department of Supplies and Consumer Welfare Protection (DoSCWP) have found more than one instance of businesses, including renowned supermarkets, of selling date-expired products.

Where is the problem?

Stakeholders say that the major challenge in ensuring consumer rights in Nepal is the weak implementation of existing laws.

Though Nepal has laws like Consumer Protection Act, Food Act, Black-Marketing and Some Other Social Offences and Punishment Act that guarantees rights of consumers, these laws are not enforced strictly.

“We have laws. But anti-consumer activities in the market are increasing as government has not done much to implement them. Sporadic inspections in the market are not enough to control anti-consumer activities,” Madhav Timalsina, president of Nepal Consumer Rights Investigation Forum, said.

However, government officials said that existing laws in the country are proving to be a major setback in ensuring and protecting consumer rights in Nepal. They said that while the existing consumer-related laws have not given authority to the monitoring body to take action against companies or persons engaging in malpractices in the market, the necessary procedures to bring the guilty to the books are also lengthy and cumbersome.

“The Consumer Protection Act, 1998, allows the DoSCWP to inspect the market, but it has tied the hands of the department in punishing the traders found to be involved in malpractices,” said Gokul Dhital, director general of DoSCWP.

Purna Chandra Osti, spokesperson for DoFTQC, on the other hand, opined that the problem lies in industrial production system of Nepal.

“Unlike in other countries, industrial products in Nepal are not consumer-friendly. They are not manufactured based on feedback from consumers. If we are to ensure consumer rights, products and services available in the market should be designed only after studying demand of consumers,” he said.

What next?

Countries across the world have been giving high priority to consumer rights after the issue received international recognition from United Nations in 1985. Basically, governments of different countries are actively enforcing consumer-related laws that safeguard the right of the consumers to consume quality products and services. Moreover, they have taken big strides in guaranteeing consumer rights.

Thus, the only way to rectify the situation in Nepal would be in introducing effective laws and ensuring their implementation, according to stakeholders. “Existing government laws have to be reformed and made relevant both in terms of time and context. Majority of our laws were formulated when the domestic market was much smaller and there were only a limited number of businesses,” Dhital said.

In this regard, Minister for Supplies Deepak Bohara, amid a programme held on Monday, had said that the government is amending various consumer-related laws with provisions for stricter punishment to control market anomalies.

Consumer rights activists like Timalsina also believe that reforming existing policies and introducing stricter provisions of punishment for anti-consumer activities would go a long way in ensuring consumer rights in Nepal.

Activists also stress on the need for formation of consumer courts in all districts, which has been limited to government’s plans since almost five years. “Consumer rights-related cases in Nepal are delayed for long in courts. Formation of a dedicated court to deal with consumer issues and cases in all districts will prove a boon to consumers,” Jyoti Baniya, president of Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights, said.