Call on Consumer Day to protect consumer rights

KATHMANDU: On the eve of Consumers’ Day which falls on March 15, consumer rights groups today demanded an umbrella law to protect consumers. We want an umbrella law and a separate mechanism to implement consumer laws and regulations effectively, said Dr Gopal Prasad Dahal of the Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights-Nepal (FPCRN) in an interaction programme here.

Presenting a paper on ‘Role of Consumer Rights Protection Authorities’, he suggested the government promulgate a consumer-centric umbrella law. “The law should guarantee four basic rights — right to be safe, right to choose freely, right to be heard and the right to be informed,” he said.

Decades-old laws are not sufficient to protect consumers from today’s market-related complexities or problems, and an umbrella law is needed, said Jyoti Baniya, general secretary of FPCRN. “The government can’t revise dozens of laws now. So, an umbrella law is the only an alternative,” he said. Last year, FPRCN had demanded a consumer court. “We are not abandoning that demand but facilitating it through a new demand,” he explained.

Government authorities also have supported the new demand for an umbrella law. Authorities in the Department of Drugs (DoD), Department of Commerce (DoC), Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DoFTQC) and Department of Standards and Measurement (DoSM) backed the concept saying laws related to their fields are old and can’t cope with modern problems.

“I personally agree to the concept of an umbrella law,” said Jeevan Prabha Lama, director general of DoFTQC. “Let’s work it out,” she requested consumer groups and the government authorities. Director generals Dr Sita Ram Joshi of DoSM and Radha Raman Prasad of DoD echoed her stance. “Laws related to standards and measurement are weak and we need alternatives,” said Dr Joshi. “How can a three-decade old law solve present problems,” he asked. The government promulgated Standards Measurement and Weights Act in 1969 under which people can be subjected to a Rs 1,000 fine as punishment for violating the law.

Other laws like Essential Services Act 1957, Nepal Standards Act 1980, Black Marketing and Certain Other Social Offences Act 1978 and Drug Act 1980 have become outdated. “We can’t go ahead with these laws,” said Dr Joshi. He urged consumer rights activists to suggest possible ways out to tackle fraud in weights and measurement. “Can we apply Consumer Protection Act?” he asked. This law promulgated in 1998 has stringent penalty provisions.

In a separate programme organized by Sewa Nepal, senior advocate Krishna Prasad Bhandari urged financial institutions to empower the youth for their better future. “If we invest in the youth today, it will make for a prosperous society tomorrow,” he said in the programme attended by bankers. This year’s Consumer Day’s slogan is “Our Money: Our Rights”.

Advocate Dinesh Tripathi urged consumers to start a consumer movement for their rights. “We must rise for our rights,” he said.

Price hike slammed

KATHMANDU: Consumer rights groups have slammed the hike in price of essentials goods. Issuing a joint press statement, National Consumers’ Forum (NCF) and Madhes Consumers’ Forum (MCF) criticized the government for the rising price of sugar — one of the essential goods listed in Black Marketing and Certain Other Social Offences Act. The government had fixed Rs 80 per kg for sugar when it was available for Rs 75 per kg in the market, breaking the backbone of the consumers, they said. The consumer groups have also criticized state-owned Nepal Telecom saying NTC is intentionally cheating consumers by providing sub-standard services. NCF and MCF have urged the government to stop carteling and black marketing by enforcing strong laws. The state should protect the consumers first rather than the handful of traders and entrepreneurs, they said.

Four pillars of consumer rights

• Right to be safe

• Right to choose freely

• Right to be heard

• Right to be informed

Source: Consumers Bill of Rights, USA, March 15, 1962