Consumer Rights were first recognised by US President John F Kennedy on 15th March, 1962 and this day was declared as WORLD CONSUMER RIGHTS DAY.

The elusive Consumer Protection Law, Sindh, was finally approved and unanimously adopted by the Sindh Assembly last year on 21st February, 2015, and signed by Governor of Sindh. However, Consumer Courts have not been established and without the Consumer Courts the Consumer Protection Law is ineffective.

For the record, the first Consumer Protection Law was prepared and approved by the late Iqbal Haider, the Law Minister, during 1993 to 1994, who introduced this Law in Islamabad. The NWFP established its Consumer Protection Law in 1997, followed by Balochistan in 2003 and then Punjab in 2005.

The Punjab Consumer Courts were approved in 2006 and became functional in 2007. These courts are located in 11 districts of Punjab. Complaints about a product, services or a company, can be filed in these courts, just by writing an application, with a copy of the complainant’s CNIC along with receipt of the purchase and submitting it to the District Consumer Court.

If the Consumer Court is satisfied that the product or service complained against suffers from any of the defects or deficiencies specified in the claim, the Court has the authority to direct the manufacturer or service provider to replace or rectify the product or service. They may also be directed to reimburse the claimant the price of the product and pay reasonable compensation. They may even be required to pay for the actual costs of the legal proceedings.  Consumer Protection Ordinance, Sindh, (CPLS), was prepared by a committee set up by Mohammed Mian Soomro, who was the Governor of Sindh during 2000 to 2002. This ordinance was prepared after examining and studying consumer laws in the region.

A draft of the Law was submitted to Sindh Governor Dr Ishrat Ul Ibad in August 2004 at a Helpline Trust seminar in Karachi and was signed by the Governor on 12th August 2004. However, for reasons unknown, it was never presented in the Sindh Assembly for ratification and lapsed. Since then, it has been signed four times by the Governor, but has also repeatedly lapsed, for the same reason.

However, Helpline Trust has been pursuing CPLS for the last ten years by organising seminars and debates on the subject and had finally succeeded in this campaign, by having the CPLS adopted by the Sindh Assembly on 21st February 2015, thanks to the untiring efforts of Sharmila Faruqui, Special Assistant and Minister for Culture and Tourism, Sindh. The Bill was tabled by Sindh Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sikandar Mandhro and was submitted by Sharmila Faruqui.

Ms Faruqui fulfilled the promise she had made to the consumers at a Helpline Trust’s seminar some months back, when she had stated that she will protect the rights of the consumers and guard them from COUNTERFEIT AND SUBSTANDARD products. According to the CPLS, every manufacturer or trader, who sells any goods, shall issue to the purchaser a receipt showing, the date of sale, description of goods sold, the batch number of the product, the original printed retail price, date of manufacture and expiry, the quantity and price of the goods and the name and address of the seller.

The law also debars any person from misleading advertisements or promotion of services through lottery or by way of offering reward for attracting consumers. The bill also provides provision for setting up of a Consumer’s Protection Council, which will have adequate representation of consumers, trade, service and industry.

All these laws clearly define the guidelines to protect consumer interests, but as the old saying goes, “If laws are not enforced, then they will never be obeyed”. Therefore, it is hoped that members of Consumer Protection Council will be selected on merit and after examining their track record and activities in protecting the interests of the consumers.

Moreover, they will be expected to play an active and positive role in enforcing the law and will not allow it to be misused and become a political tool. Obviously, if this happens, then all our efforts will be wasted and consumers will continue to suffer. Presently, callous manufacturers and wholesalers play havoc with the health and lives of the consumers, as some manufacturers, apart from resorting to adulteration, also use non-food grade plastics and old, rusted tins for packing edible products such as cooking oils.  Unscrupulous manufacturers refill empty bottles and tins of branded products with fake material to cheat the consumers. In this way spurious and substandard products are being illegally produced and marketed under popular brand names.

Some manufacturers are also placing the PSQCA logo on their labels without actually registering their products with the organisation. There are many brands of cooking oil and bottled water that have not even bothered to register their products, yet these products are being advertised, marketed and sold as registered without fear of punishment.

According to the Sindh Ordinance, 2001, under the existing pure food laws and even PSQCA laws, all the above offences are punishable by imprisonment and fine. The lack of enforcement of laws has also tarnished our image in the international community and has had a negative impact on the investment climate in our country.  According to a recent survey, the government is also losing billions of rupees every year in the form of non-realisation of taxes, excise duties, etc., as most of these manufacturers of spurious and counterfeit products are obviously not registered and do not pay taxes.

Due to the lack of effective and functioning Consumer Protection, Pakistan has become a dumping ground for food and beverages with close expiry dates. As there is no accountability or legal check, the gullible citizens are being misled by glossy and misleading advertisements.

To focus on these consumer issues, Helpline Trust continues to organise its seminars, with the objective to stress the need for effective and functional Consumer Protection Laws, Consumer Courts and a Consumer Protection Council.

We sincerely hope that with the full functioning of the Consumer Protection Law and Consumer Courts, the consumers of Sindh will be finally protected and receive quality products and services that are according to the specifications on the purchase receipts or contract.

Email: trust@helplinetrust.org.pk

 

Hamid Maker