‘New Consumer Protection Act meek and full of flaws’

- Rajesh Khanal, Kathmandu

Nov 15, 2018-

Consumer rights activists have said that the on-the-spot cash fines launched by the government were full of flaw and reflects favoritism and leniency towards unscrupulous traders.

They said that the old consumer protection law was much better than the new Consumer Protection Act 2018 implemented by the government in mid-September this year.

For example, the Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumers Interest, had recently caught Bhadrakali Oil Store in Gothatar for giving short measures to its customers and was slapped with on-the-spot cash fines of Rs200,000.

As per the new law, business firms can appeal and get 50 percent discount on the fine. Accordingly, the oil store deposited Rs100,000 into the government’s account and started resuming business as usual. Prem Lal Maharjan, president of National Consumers Forum, said that the new law was like a give-and-take policy under which it has given adequate room for opportunist monitoring officials to settle the issue by taking bribes.

“It was proved with evidence that the fuel store was cheating customers. Irony is that it is still operating.” Such practices may thrive in the coming days, he said.

Under the old Consumer Protection Act 1998, there was provision of jail term of up to 15 years and penalty of up to Rs500,000, or both. The new law has reduced the jail term to a maximum of three years and cash penalty of up to Rs300,000.

What’s new in the present law is that the monitoring officials can fine dishonest traders on-the-spot.

Although the new law talks about the consumer court, it has failed to set up a permanent body. However, in a case where a consumer seeks compensation against the harmful effect of substandard products, the government’s authority can form a temporary bench to look after the specific case.

“It’s lengthy and full of hassles,” Maharjan said, adding that there should be a prompt response.  “All these procedural hassles show that it is less likely that any one will file case against the dishonest traders,” he said. “So, the present law is more lenient to opportunist traders.”  

Since the new Consumer Protection Act 2018 was implemented, Bhadrakali Oil Store, two dry fruits sellers, one grocery shopkeeper and a meat seller have been fined Rs5,000 each for selling substandard food items.

 Yogendra Gauchan, director general of the department, said that there is less chance of misappropriation of the fined amount as traders have to deposit the fine into the government’s account directly. “As the monitoring officers do not receive the cash directly, there is less chance of embezzling the money.”

According to him, those traders who cheat consumers by taking high price and selling substandard products or lower than expected quantity are fined Rs200,000-300,000 while those failing to produce invoice are slapped with a cash penalty of Rs5,000-20,000.

In case of not having proper labeling on the sold item or selling date expired products, the department would file cases at the court.

However, the new law has maintained that if any trader wishes to review the department’s action, they can file a complaint at the department by depositing half of the penalised amount. If the traders are found repeatedly conducting similar offense even after facing the cash penalty, the department can double the fine amount, he said.

Published: 15-11-2018 10:06

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