BLATANT DISREGARD FOR AUTHORITY AMONG TRADERS IN THE MARKET BECAUSE OF THE SAFETY NET POLITICAL PARTIES PROVIDE THEM WITH
KATHMANDU: Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumers Interest (DoSMPCI) regularly monitors the market in order to flush out duplicity, low-quality consumer products, and mostly to identify traders who are involved in unethical practices. The first monitoring exercise for 2017 started on June 6 with special effort from the Ministry of Supply (MoS) who directed its officers to engage in market inspection in the Kathmandu Valley.
On the sixth day of the inspection on June 11, when the inspection team reached Sagarmatha Meat Product at the Baniyatar, Kathmandu — a meat shop — it was found that the shop was flouting hygiene and safety standards and was selling unhygienic toxic meat products to buyers. The team found toxic compound ‘sodium nitrate’ in the meat products which were on the shelf ready to be sold to consumers. Sodium nitrate is used in meat products to increase their shelf life. This, however, does not ensure freshness of the products. The official report provided by the inspection team claims that they have seized a packet of sodium nitrate, 200-gm of rotten meat products along with 480-gm of sausages from the shop to be taken to the laboratory for inspection. The meat shop has since been sealed.
On the same day another meat shop in Gongabu was sealed for selling stale chicken meat to consumers.
These incidents that pose direct harm to the consumers’ health is not a one-off occurence. Every year DoSMPCI conducts monitoring programmes and every year a large number of trades in the market are sealed. This shows that the traders in the Nepali market are constantly involved in such malpractices.
Experts say that lack of appropriate punishment provision for traders found flouting the rules is the main reason behind this recurring problem in the market.
On June 5, DoSMPCI called in various traders, retailers, and consumer right activists to inform (or warn) them before beginning the monitoring exercise. The traders were informed that the week-long market inspection would be more stringent than the usual traditional market monitoring they have faced in the past. They were also informed that aids will be carried out on all firms, small and big, and action will be taken on-the-spot against the offenders. Despite being informed prior the traders took no measures to clear their stocks, run internal quality checks or to even
discard inconsumable products. This highlights the lackadaisical approach traders have towards consumers’ wellbeing and the nonchalant behaviour towards authority.
Many consumer rights activists are of the opinion that negligence of the traders towards market monitoring by the government shows blatant defiance of authority. This is prevalent in the market because of the safety net political parties provide to these dishonest traders.
Consumer Rights Activist, Prem Lal Maharjan claimed that the traders disregard the government’s authority and the consequences they would face for such grave crimes. He said, “We see this breach of ethics and dishonesty in traders because they have the cushion to fall back on in case they are found guilty. This kind of non-compliant attitude of the traders stems from the political protection they enjoy.”
Consumers are completely dependent upon the traders for the daily requirements. Traders are the direct links connecting consumers to products they consume. The distribution channels in the market, therefore, must be without doubt of the highest level; these channels must adhere to the safety, hygiene and health rules as laid down by the law. However, in Nepal, these multiple distribution network are found flouting these rules and regulation and in the process reaping profits. Moreover, with many players in the market and lax monitoring, there is plenty of scope for unfair trade.
The recent inspection report of DoSMPCI indicates that syndicates, cartels and thugs are rampant in markets throughout the country. However, previous records show that the authority has never penalised the culprits who harbour the syndicates, cartels and black marketing in the country.
Last year’s report of market inspection shows DoSMPCI was on legal process of filing cases in the court against 13 traders out of 2,493 firms.
“Our first priority is to intervene in prevalent immoral practices with a focus on creating healthy competition in the market,” said Kumar Prasad Dahal, Director General of DoSMPCI. He told THT Perspectives that everyone should be aware of consumers’ rights and protection laws, and the department, this time, will not let culprits get away lightly.
Officials of the DoSMPCI said that they have already sealed 13 stores and have begun to take legal actions to penalise them during one week (June 6- June 12) special market inspection conducted by the department.
Pressure for impunity
According to a source in MoS, there are very often calls and pressure coming from various political parties to sanction impunity and protect criminals. Dahal claimed that many people tried to exert pressure on them to disclose the names of the guilty firms.
He said, “During the monitoring exercise, I got several calls. I avoided all of them knowing that someone somewhere in the structure with the ability to wield political power are trying to dissuade me from my job.”
Maharjan claimed that, in the past, a large number of dishonest traders have been sanctioned impunity under political pressure. He said, “The government should be transparent in the activities they conduct. It should be free from political influences and must be fair to the consumers who pay taxes.”
Public transport monitoring
The recent monitoring found inefficiencies not just limited to consumers goods and products but also came across discrepancies in the public transportation system of the country. The market inspection team found 121 public vehicles out of 247 that were monitored to be cheating passengers by collecting extra fares.
Sajha Yatayat — the government associated public transport service established with an aim to intervene the syndicates — was also found charging passengers more than the rate fixed by the government. Dahal said, “We have levied a fine of Rs 5, 000 to seven Sajha buses. It is shameful that a government’s initiative such as Sajha Yatayat is also involved in this immoral activity.”
Need for stronger policy
Dahal said that the existing Consumer Rights Protection Act 1995 is not well-equipped to address the problem faced by consumers on a daily basis. He informed that the government is preparing to introduce a new Consumer Right Protection Act which is expected to strengthen the law regulating market inspections. He assured that the new Act will surely ensure the right of the consumers with more effective inspection. He said, “We have already prepared the draft of new Consumer Right Protection Act. We are only awaiting the cabinet’s and the parliament’s approvals.”
Currently, Consumer Right Protection Act 1995 allows monitoring body to file cases in the district courts. However, consumer cases are piled up in the less priority section. What this means is that the delay caused in addressing these cases give the culprits the chance to seek impunity which in most cases is granted.
A version of this article appears in print on June 18, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.