Consumer Rights Is Basic Human Rights

Advocate Jyoti Baniya

Chairperson of Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights-Nepal

Advocate Jyoti Baniya is the Chairperson of Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights-Nepal. In an Interview with INSEConline’s Editor Ramesh Prasad Timalsina, Baniya, also the member of INSEC shares about the importance of protecting the rights of consumers. Here is an edited excerpt from the conversation with Baniya:

What are consumer rights?

The right of the consumer is called the right to livelihood. Consumer rights are also fundamental rights. Consumer rights are defined as what kind of rights consumers have when purchasing goods or taking services. The right to choose, the right to be heard, the right to consumer information, the right to a fair hearing, the right to compensation, the right to education, the right to a clean environment and the right to access basic goods and services are defined as consumer rights worldwide. These rights are reserved for the people in need.

What is the reason behind the government bodies being more active in monitoring the market around the festive season?

There are four or five reasons for the festival-centric monitoring. This is not the first year of such monitoring. This has been happening every year. The best time to sell goods and services is during the holidays. From Mid-August till November is a time of festive holidays. Families who do not observe Dashain also consume a lot of goods and services at this time. This period is also not favourable for vegetables hence vegetables grown in a tunnel is only available in the market. As it is the immediate month after monsoon, the market becomes unbalanced due to floods and landslides. Therefore, more activism is seen at this time which is also a need of the period. We, the consumer rights activists, are preparing for this from March. Our activism also increases the pressure on government officials. It is natural for them to feel overwhelmed by the pressure of work. Earlier, there was only one government level. At present, there are 761 government levels. The local market management of 753 local governments has been ensured by the constitution within a single authority. The domestic offices are under the supervision of the government. The Directorate of Industry, Commerce and Consumer Protection is located in all seven provinces. The work of the association should be to protect the interests of the consumers. The Assistant Chief District Officer is responsible for this. Sometimes they have a ‘target’. Generally, the target is less than 100, but during this time the target is more than 300. Due to which it is natural to see more monitoring. Not everyone knows this target. Failure to achieve the target might mean that the authority is teaming up with the businessman therefore there is a lot of monitoring during the Dashain festival.

The citizens are also responsible for consumer rights, isn’t it? The constitution also talks about responsibilities along with rights.

Article 44 of the constitution mentions about the rights of consumers. It is written in the fundamental right that every consumer has the right to receive quality goods and services. Similarly, it has been said that there will be a right of compensation in case of loss due to substandard goods and services. The United Nations has issued guidelines for consumer protection. Each member state has an obligation to comply with this directive. Member nations should submit a review of the progress of their work each year. It says the government has a responsibility to keep the market clean and protect consumers. We now have 761 governments. The government is also responsible for the implementation of fundamental rights. Therefore, the first responsibility for the realization of consumer rights lies with the government. The local government has the responsibility of managing the local market, protecting the interests of the consumers and conducting consumer education as per schedule number 19 of the constitution. So far, 33 municipalities have started practicing it. There is a situation where they have started to work in their areas through the Local Market Management Act. The serial no. 11 of schedule six deals with matters related to provincial trade and business. The law has been made only by Bagmati province. The Bagmati Provincial Assembly has enacted the Provincial Trade and Business Act. The association has issued the Consumer Protection Act. It also has very good themes. As it is gradually implemented, many rights of consumers are ensured.

Do you mean that it will be achieved slowly?

No. Consumer rights are a basic human right. There can be no greater human right. Consumer rights are interrelated with civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights. So, it should not be looked as a separate right. The right to representation is also a consumer right. Although seemingly a political right, the United Nations has defined the right to representation as the right of the consumer. This is just an example. There are many such issues that look like other rights but are interpreted as basic rights of consumers.

What should be done next?

Consumers in our country are aware but not active. First step is to complain. Only active consumers complain. If the consumers visit them once or twice then they will start taking charge of the complaint and will also become aware of the flow of goods or services. The biggest thing is the awareness of the consumer and consumer active trader or service provider. Promoting co-ordination and co-operation with the communications sector can also be a great leap forward in awareness. We are asking the government to work only by signing an agreement with the media. The government is not listening. Sooner or later, the government should listen to this and put it into practice. They cannot always ignore us. Gradually changes are taking place. Legal management is being done. More action is needed to implement it.