Public awareness is key to protect consumers’ rights

Yogendra Gauchan holds the position of director-general at the Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumers Interest. In his exclusive tete-a-tete with ceotab.com, he divulges his views on various vital aspects regarding the rights of Nepali consumers. Excerpt:

 How serious is the government towards protecting the consumers’ rights in Nepal?

Although there are a lot more left to be done to safeguard the consumers’ rights, the government has made some serious efforts in this regard.  For instance, such rights are considered fundamental rights of Nepali people in the current constitution. A year back, a new Consumer Protection Act was also enacted to replace the old one.  A number of the provisions stipulated by the old act could be implemented due to various reasons. So, the new act was brought to address the vital issues related to the protection of consumers’ rights.

All in all, the head is moved by the department for ensuring the welfare of general consumers by complying with the spirit of the constitution and the said act.

Every year in the festive season, general customers tend to suffer anomalies like an excessive hike in the prices of essential commodities, artificial shortage, black marketing. In this regard,   how well the market monitoring activities are going on this year?

For the last month and a half months, the commerce ministry and the department together have been working rigorously to ensure smooth supply, price stability and selling of quality products in the market.

All the concerned agencies from seven provinces are engaged in market monitoring activities all over the country to shield the general consumers from being duped by unscrupulous traders/businesspersons.

   In the previous years, the department used to mobilize just four teams for market monitoring activities, especially during the festive season. But this year as many as seven teams have been deployed to inspect almost all types of goods that are in high demand during the festivals. In addition, the department has also formed one rapid response team that will be mobilized based on the complaints/information received on the malpractices in the market.  

There are growing complaints that the department does the market monitoring just to show off as the general consumers continue to be duped. What is your take on this?

The department is making genuine not fake efforts to control the malpractices that directly hamper the general consumers. And, such efforts are also yielding some results.  For instance, the price of goat meat has come down to Rs 1,250 per kilogram from Rs 1,400 after the recent market monitoring.    

However, I must admit that the market is still not totally free from various anomalies.  And, for this, it would be foolhardy to solely hold the department responsible. It does not have control over every component that influences the market. For example, the market price of daily commodities has recently gone up due to the government revising taxation rate, imposing the quarantine on the import of live animals and rising production costs, among others.

Another important point is that the efforts made by the department alone are not being sufficient to completely curb the rampant anomalies in the domestic market.  Apart from the central government, both the provincial and local governments should also make endeavours in this regard.  There is a need to arrange the necessary resources like manpower, working guidelines, and working mechanisms to implement the notion of consumers’ welfare at the provincial and local levels. 

The department in recent days has been penalizing the wrongdoers by imposing fines, but it seems not so effective to control the market anomalies. How do you look upon this problem?

The new Consumer Protection Act allows the department to slap on-the-spot cash fines ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 30,000 against any wrongdoer.

 If the guilty firms do not deposit the amount of fine in the given government account, we are authorized to even scrap their licenses.

In line with the new Act, the department has been taking actions against the importers, manufacturers, service providers and wholesalers who are found to be engaged in unscrupulous activities. Similarly, we have rigorously been keeping tabs on the traders related to meat, fish, apparels, edibles, vegetables, and fruits.

 In addition, we have also ventured into the monitoring of new markets pertaining to beauty parlour, boutique, furniture and construction materials. So far, our market monitoring activities have yielded desirable outcomes. However, in some cases, we have been facing the unwarranted pressure exerted by the politically driven unions and associations while taking actions against the fraudulent traders.

In your opinion, how can the market monitoring be made more effective and efficacious?

Raising public awareness is the first and foremost factor required to make market monitoring truly effective. The existing legal provisions allow the general customers to directly submit their complains through the hotlines of the department, Hello Sarkar, District Courts, District Administrative Offices and  Prime Minister’s Office, among others, if they are cheated. However, a majority of those who fall prey to the market fraudulence seem quite reluctant to do so.      

In this context, making every general consumer well aware of their rights is the need of the hour.