Daily Star Home  

<%-- Page Title--%> Consumer Corner <%-- End Page Title--%>

  <%-- Page Title--%> Issue No 107 <%-- End Page Title--%>  

September 7, 2003 

  <%-- Page Title--%> <%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>

Consumer rights : Where do we stand ?

Quazi Faruque

Perhaps 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 mum.
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 :

1. 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.

Quazi Faruque is General Secretary of Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB).


      (C) Copyright The Daily Star.