Anyone who consumes and uses any goods and services are deemed as consumers. As per the prevailing legal regime, the ultimate price of the goods and services and burden of taxes are eventually transferred to the consumer. Despite bearing all the costs, however consumers remain currently unable to get qualitative goods and services.
The right of a consumer to obtain quality goods and services is enshrined as a fundamental right under the Constitution of Nepal. In addition to this, the rights of a consumer are provided for in the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 2075 and the Consumer Protection Rules (CPR) 2076, which was published last month.
Rights of consumers
The CPA has ensured different rights to consumers among which one of the fundamental ones is the right to consumer education. The CPA reiterates the basic right of every consumer to standard goods and services. Such goods and services should be made easily available to consumers.
Consumers have the right to choose qualitative goods and services at competitive prices. Consumers also have the right to know about the price, composition, purity and quality of the goods and services. In addition, the CPA provides that consumers have the right to be secured of good health and life after consuming such goods and services. If a consumer is not satisfied with the goods purchased from a seller, any consumer may return the goods within seven days or take other similar goods equal to that price or the payment of the amount which was paid while purchasing such goods.
Consumers have also been provided the right to pursue remedies against inappropriate businesses and operations, along with the right to compensation. This includes the right to fair hearing before concerned authorities.
The CPA provides that any person can file a complaint before the Inspection Committee, Department or Investigation Officer, if the rights provided under the CPA are infringed. The Committee, Department or Investigating Officer may further investigate the issue and take appropriate action under the CPA.
For compensation, the CPA provides that any consumer who has suffered any injury, loss due to any defect in the goods or services may file a complaint with the Consumer Court against the producer/ seller/ exporter/ distributor within six months of such injury, loss. Due to the lack of the formation of Consumer Court, cases are being filed at District Court or District Administration Office. Currently, the Government is planning to set up Consumer Court in each of the seven provinces.
Liabilities of different stakeholders
The Government of Nepal is the body for determining the standard and quality of goods and services. It is mandatory for producers to label their products. The label should contain the important details such as the name, address of the producer, ingredients, quantity and weight of the goods, quality of the goods (if quality of goods is determined), mode of using the goods and side effect likely to occur due to the use of such goods, expiry date, maximum retail price, batch number and date of manufacture of the goods, guarantee or warranty of such goods, precautions and others as prescribed by laws. The label must be either in Nepali or English. In case of imported goods such liability falls on the importer.
The CPA has envisaged the liabilities of producer, importer, transporter, storage, seller, service provider separately in order to make them liable for the goods supplied to consumer. For instance, the seller has the liability to demonstrate the goods in an accessible manner, along with price of the goods. The seller should ensure that the goods are kept in a condition which will enable the consumer to enjoy the product and sell the goods without discrimination to anybody. Similarly, the transporter has the liability to ensure that the goods are transported in safe manner so that the consumer can enjoy the same. The goods are to be transported in a condition which maintains the standard of goods.
If anyone among the producer, importer, carrier, hoarder, seller, service provider are found not fulfilling their liability, they could be subjected to imprisonment ranging from three years to five years or fine ranging from Rs three to five lakhs only or both. This is a new practice in the context of Nepal. No such provisions for making the producer or importer, carrier or hoarder or seller or service provider liable were there in the earlier Act.
Consumer rights at the time of COVID-19
In context of the current pandemic, goods ought to be made easily available to consumers. In the wake of the news that masks, gloves, sanitisers and medicines are not being made easily available, in addition to the above, recourse also lies under the Black Marketing and Some Other Social Offences and Punishment Act, 2032 (1975). Under the said Act, activities such as black-marketing, profiteering, hoarding and artificial shortage, adulteration of medicines and selling of medicines are punishable with fines from Rs. One to ten lakhs and imprisonment from one to ten years.
In conclusion, consumer rights as enshrined in the CPA are progressive. However, its effectiveness lies in its implementation. Despite having proper legal mechanism to address illegal practices such as black marketing, it is still a recurring phenomenon during the COVID-18. For effective implementation of these laws, it is imperative to spread education and educate our consumers.