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Consumer rights : Where do we stand ?
two decades long or a bit more than that we have frequently been hearing
about human rights in our country. And there are many individuals and
organisations who are very much engaged in working in the sector of human
rights. No doubt human rights are democratic rights. At the same time
consumer rights are the integral part of the human rights. And all of
us know how the consumer rights are being abused in our country. Almost
everywhere in the world consumers are highly honoured, taken full care
of their rights. It is told that consumers are the kings. But in our country
it is quite reverse.
What we generally observe in our country is that consumers are treated
negligently. While consumerism has become a strong movement and consumer
organisations are highly powerful in the developed as well as in many
of the developing countries including our neighbours, a great majority
of the consumers in our country are still in the dark about their basic
rights and obligations as consumers. Due to mass illiteracy, particularly
the poor and the disadvantaged section, the consumers are not aware and
conscious of their rights and responsibilities as consumers. In fact,
consumerism is still a new concept in Bangladesh and the very term Consumer
Rights is not known even to the great majority of those whom we are literate.
In the absence of appropriate and adequate protective laws, standards
and effective implementation of existing laws consumers in our country
are helplessly being cheated and exploited by some dishonest businessman
and vested interest groups. The innocent, simple and illiterate consumers
are revolving in a vicious circle of food and commodity adulteration,
cheating in weighing & measures, hoarding and artificial price-hike.
In the service sectors, the consumers are deprived of their legitimate
services even after paying increased costs. The physicians are not sincere
in their duties and responsibilities and do not adhere to minimum ethics
in their professional practices. Incidence of death due to wrong treatment
or intakes of adulterated and counterfeit drugs are often published in
the newspapers. Surprisingly the drug administration is silent.
The transport sectors are more dangerous and horrifying. No one can be
assured of safe-return home. In the absence of good road transport system
and due to lack of effective implementation of existing traffic laws,
road accidents have been increasing at an alarming rate causing heavy
tolls of lives and damage to property. Defective bus, minibus, auto-rickshaw
and rickshaws are plying on the road with excessive passengers and often
causing accidents resulting in death and damage to lives of innocent passengers.
In case of water way every year we see the overloaded launches capsizing
and killing hundreds of people.
In the name of open market economy foods and commodities are being imported
freely. But how much do we know about the standards and quality of these
imported commodities? Are we sure that these imported products have undergone
any safety and standards tests by any appropriate authority in the testing
laboratories? Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) conducted a survey
on packaged biscuits of 66 brands (both imported & locally produced)
made of 33 companies in July 2003. The survey revealed that 76% did not
have BSTI certification marks and proper labelling, 86% had no expiry
date on the label, in 83% cases weight was not mentioned and in 83% cases
the sellers are taking more price.
CAB conducted another survey in August- September 2002 on 51 brands of
Jams and Jelly of 31 companies and it was found that 52% of Jams and Jelly
did not have BSTI certification marks, 13.72% did not mention ingredients,
23.52% did not mention date of production and date of expiry and in 54.90%
cases retail price was not mentioned on the label.
Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute (BSTI) is beset with numerous
problems. It is not well equipped with modern facilities for testing products
and commodities. The efficiency and integrity of the officials of BSTI
are often questioned by the general consumers. Services of BTTB, DESA,
WASA, Bangladesh Biman, BRTC, BTV and Bangladesh Betar hardly meet consumers
expectation. Rights are being abused in day to day life. Still they keep
In the developed countries there are adequate laws to protect the consumers
against violation of their rights and interests. There are separate consumer
courts in those countries to deal with cases of violation of consumers'
rights and interests. In India, Consumer Protection Law was enacted in
1986 with subsequent modification in 1992. Under this law consumer courts
were established all over the country to try cases instituted by the consumers
for violation of their rights involved in the purchase and use of commodities
and services. Instances are there that physicians had to compensate the
patients for medical negligence and wrong treatment, trades and businessmen
had to redress the grievances of the consumers by replacing or refunding
money to the buyers for defective goods and commodities.
In Malaysia, Srilanka and even in Nepal consumer protection laws are in
prevalence and being effectively implemented for protection of the rights
and interests of the consumers of those countries.
But unfortunately in Bangladesh we do not have Consumer Protection Law
as such even after prolonged advocacy and lobbying with the government
and policy makers during the last one decade. But very recently the draft
Consumer Protection law has almost been finalised in a meeting under the
chairmanship of additional secretary, commerce Mr. B. R. Khan and hopefully
it will go to the cabinet for final approval very shortly. However, there
are some conventional laws in existence in the country, but these laws
are so outdated that little or no protection is provided to the consumers.
These laws are also inadequate and do not meet the present needs. The
most prominent amongst these laws are :
Bangladesh Food Ordinance, 1959
2. Bangladesh Pure Food Rules, 1967
3. Bangladesh Essential commodity Act, 1978
4. Bangladesh Drug Control Ordinance, 1982
5. Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institute Ordinance 1984
6. The Breast Milk Substitute (Regulation of Marketing ) Ordinance, 1984
Among rules and ordinances BSTI ordinance 1984 has been amended will be
implemented soon. The most interesting features of these laws are that
aggrieved consumers can not sue the violators themselves. It is only the
designated government officials empowered under these laws, who can initiate
and sue the violators. Besides, provision of penalty or punishment is
so negligible that nobody cares to abide by the rules under these laws
and as such there is no effective implementation of the laws. As a result
the consumers in Bangladesh are completely dependant upon the mercy of
the business houses, the professionals and the vested interest groups.
Faruque is General Secretary of Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB).