Consumers at risk: An enquiry into the CRPA 2009
Arpeeta Shams Mizan
The bells are tolling, the message is being professed since ever- learn from your history. But we seem to be interested in particularly ignoring this fact. In as early as the 14th century, Sultan Alauddin Khalji revolutionized the subcontinent's economic system to secure the consumers' interests. And now in 2009, let alone progress, it seems we are still struggling in high waters to find the proper current to sail the ship carrying the flag of consumer rights and protection in Bangladesh.
The field of consumer jurisprudence grabbed attention in the 60's of the last century, firstly in the USA. President John F. Kennedy announced to uphold the interest of the consumers. In 1985 the UNO adopted 8 fundamental rights of the consumers based on the Kennedian Principles promoted by Kennedy.
In Bangladesh, this field remained for a long period disorganized. Though there had been quite few isolated laws, those were scattered and in these entire procedural hustle bustle, the system failed to discern the consumers' voice from amongst the huge turmoil.
The demand for a self certain consumer protection legislation began in the early 80's last century. The civil society and various consumer rights promoting organizations raised their voice. The new Chapter began on 6th April 2009 with the adoption of the Consumer Rights Protection Act 2009 (hereinafter CRPA) as a comprehensive legislation in the national assembly. Articles 18 and 15 of our constitution have served as the basement upon which the Act has been formulated.
The purpose of the CRPA 2009 is to define standards and to set up procedures to promote and protect consumer interest. In its preamble the Act stipulates: “...it extends well beyond the mere protection of economic interests of the consumers, to become part of a mere general social policy on consumer affairs.” But a close analysis shows that the Act has failed to develop the existing system, containing so many loopholes. It is now a big question whether this Act will serve as a protecting shield to the consumers. We shall discern the demerits as we proceed.
It is generally considered that an individual consumer, in comparison to the sellers and manufacturers, is weaker in negotiation with the economic forces. In the market system the sellers and manufacturers stand together organized with the buyer standing alone at the other end. Hence is the need for consumer protection legislation.
The CRPA 2009 focuses on certain aspects. Consumer Law's main focus is to be the quality, price, security and safety of products and services. Products are now marketed in such a number and in such manners that it is more difficult for consumers to judge their quality adequately. The advent of mass consumption has resulted in consumers facing an information gap when they enter transactions with the manufactures. The information as to price of commodities and services, consumer rights and procedures is to be easily accessible to the consumers (sec 20, CRPA 2009). But the sovereignty of an individual consumer to redress grievances has been curtailed. He may choose to go to court under other laws relevant to consumer rights. Sec 60 of the CRPA 2009 provides that the DG of the consumer protection council is the only person possessing sole right to file a suit. So the jurisprudential aspect of getting redress in the event of encroachment of rights is disappointingly outplayed by the Act.
The Act provides that any complaint concerning defective product resulting in substantial financial or physical damage must be filed within 30 days. If pondered over the fact, we can see there are many long-term effects which can not be identified readily after using the products. 30 days time span is thus too short a scale. Thus the Act has failed to keep up with reasonableness and medical science.
As per sec 61 of the Act, any exception to the Limitation Act 1908 does not apply to the present Act, if 90 days have passed after the filing of a complaint. In a country like ours, the awareness level is low, the system as faulty and lengthy, and most of the commissions are for but name's sake. It is highly probable that due to system loss or undue influences, the complaints forwarded to the DG may become time barred. If the DG fails to attend the complaint within 90 days, what is to be the next procedure, the law says nothing as to that. In case of such failure, no accountability has been attached to the DG.
Sec 71(1) of the Act stipulates no individual can make any complaint about violation of consumer rights to the court of a 1st class magistrate or the CMM. So the people are placed at the mercy of the Council for enforcing the rights given to them, which would ultimately prove to be a nugatory.
(... to be continued)
Arpeeta Shams Mizan is a second year student of Law, University of Dhaka.