Consumers’ rights at their lowest ebb

By Madhav Timalsina

A large number of Nepali consumers tend to go on a shopping spree during the festive season.  Whether it be daily consumables (like rice, pulse, oil, ghee, vegetables, etc) or apparels or electronic devices, all such products are consumed in high quantity in such season.  But, unfortunately, this is also the period various malpractices also run rampant in the consumer market.

Madhav Timalsina, President, Consumers’ Rights Investigation Forum

Such illicit acts include excessive price hike, selling of substandard products and artificial shortage, among others.    Like in the festival period of the previous years, the general public this year seems to be hard hit by the manipulations of fraudulent traders/businesspersons.  In fact, some traders have been going to the extent of violently defying the laws to fulfill their ulterior motive. The recent manhandling of the government’s market monitoring team at Ranjana Trade Center in New Road is a case in point.  

When the team belonging to the Department of Supply Management entered the Center, it found that four clothing shops operating there were selling the apparel without keeping the price lists for cheating the customers. So, the team set off itself to slap the on-the-spot cash penalty on them as per the legal provisions. But the offenders instead launched an assault against the government officials to escape the fine.

The concerned authorities are making some efforts to keep the erring traders on tabs, but it does not seem sufficient to shield the general consumers from the nasty trapping of such traders.    In fact, the situation is such that whatever little attempts being made in this regard are also backfiring. The activities of the fair-price outlets being run by the government to facilitate the general consumers in the ongoing festive season attest to this fact.  The essentials being sold through such outlets are ironically dearer than the ones available at a number of departmental stores. For instance, sugar costs Rs 72 a kg while the product is available at Rs 58-71 per kg in the stores such as Big Mart, Bhatbhateni Superstore and Salesberry, among others.  

Another anomaly is that the limited number of such shops has been established to facilitate the consumers residing only in Kathmandu not other parts of the country.

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, the Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumers Interest, the Bureau of Standards and Metrology, concerned District Administration Offices, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Department of Drug Administration and the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control are among the main government agencies authorized for carrying out market monitoring.

Unfortunately, the market monitoring being carried out by the government during the festivals has proven nothing more than a ritual. There are some valid reasons behind this.

Firstly, the government monitoring teams put only retailers under the scanner by overlooking the importers, wholesalers, and distributors, who interestingly are those involved in a majority of the instances related to market malpractices.      

Secondly, the monitoring activities are directed to the market of only a limited number of edible items. The government is shying away from inspecting a huge number of the outlets of electronic products, apparels, sweets, meat, and vegetables—the fast-selling items in the festivals.

Thirdly, there is not only a lack of strong coordination and collaboration among the government bodies but also they suffer the dearth of resources needed for effectively inspecting the market.

On the other side, the concerned authorities are being utterly lackadaisical towards effectively implementing the laws like Joint Market Monitoring Directive-2012 and Consumer Protection Act 2018- meant to safeguard the consumers’ rights. Such a tendency of the government, indeed, smells fishy to many. It is widely suspected that the government officials are more bent to serve the vested interest of shady traders/businesspersons at the cost of general consumers.

The protection of consumers’ rights is such a crucial topic that has been unequivocally guaranteed by as supreme law of the country as the constitution. The political and bureaucratic leadership must be well aware of this fact and act accordingly. If they continue to turn blind eyes to the plights and predicaments of general customers, it is bound to backfire.