Sunday January 23, 2022

Kids’ deaths spark debate on absence of consumer courts

November 13, 2018

The deaths of two children due to allegedly consuming unhygienic food at a restaurant has sparked a debate on the non-implementation of the existing consumer protection and food laws as well as the absence of consumer courts.

Consumer rights campaigners and civil society activists have said that an overwhelming majority of Sindh’s residents is unaware of consumer rights, thus encouraging manufacturers of substandard products to play havoc with people’s lives.

On February 25, 2015, the provincial assembly had passed the first-ever Sindh Consumer Protection Act 2014, empowering the government to establish consumer courts in every district as well as to set up a consumer protection council.

The objectives of the law are to protect and promote the rights and interests of consumers as well as to swiftly redress all their complaints.

The law states that if a manufacturer fails to perform or in any way infringes the liabilities under the law, they will be punished with imprisonment of up to two years, a fine up to Rs100,000 or with both in addition to damages or compensation. However, even after the passage of almost four years, the law is yet to be implemented in the province. There is also not a single district where a consumer court has been established.

Similarly, last March 8, the provincial legislature had passed the Sindh Food Authority Act 2017 to ensure the provision of safe and hygienic food to the people. The law states that a food safety officer can initiate action against anyone who manufactures, stores, sells, distributes, imports or exports any food item that is not of standard or is misbranded. The violator may face imprisonment for up to six months, a fine up to Rs1 million or both.

The law also applies to those who manufacture, process or keep food in unhygienic or unsanitary conditions. Therefore, such people will face the same punishment. A year after the bill was passed, the government appointed the first director general of the provincial food authority.

A number of rights groups have been pressuring the Sindh government to implement the consumer protection act, set up consumer courts and make the Sindh Food Authority completely functional due to increasing cases of unhygienic and contaminated food.

Amer Ejaz, executive director of the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, told The News that one of the reasons behind unhygienic food, price hikes and low-quality education and health facilities is the government’s indifferent attitude as regards safeguarding consumer rights and food. “Consumer courts can protect consumers from low-quality products and help create a consumer-friendly environment in the province.”

He said that Sindh’s residents do not have any legal forum to turn to if an enterprise violates their rights as a consumer. “Once the consumer courts are established in all the districts of the province, they will punish shopkeepers involved in specific violations regarding prices, quality and quantity, leading to a relatively friendlier environment for consumers.”

He said that compared to the Sindh government, the Punjab administration had taken some steps to protect the rights of consumers as well as to ensure food quality. Mir Zulfiqar Ali, a civil society activist associated with the Workers Education and Research Organisation, said the country’s political parties generally take their consumers for granted and are least concerned about their rights, especially regarding food.

“It is high time that the civil society, citizens and media in collaboration with the government should launch a campaign to make people aware about consumer rights.” Criticising the government for not implementing the existing laws, he said that the provincial assembly had become a graveyard of passed bills.