STRAIGHT TALK

According to the UN guidelines on consumer protection 1985, a consumer has eight basic rights, which are as follows; Right to Basic Needs - Right to Safety - Right to be Informed - Right to Choose - Right to Representation /be Heard - Right to Redress - Right to Consumer Education - Right to Healthy Environment.

The Government of Punjab enacted Punjab Consumer Protection Act (PCPA), in 2005 to provide protection and promote the rights and interests of the consumers and in order to raise the standards of goods and services in the province, by removing defective products and faulty services from trade and commerce.

Consequent upon such legislation, District Consumer Courts and District Consumer Protection Councils were set up in eleven districts, which covered the province, while Directorate of Consumer Protection Council, Lahore serves as a headquarter of said institutions.

A consumer may file case/claim before the Consumer Court, which is headed by the District & Session Judge/Additional District & Session Judge. The violator may be punished by the court, with imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to Rs100000/-or with both in addition to damages or compensation as may be determined by the court.

A consumer may also file a complaint for violation of provision of following sections of said Act before the Authority (DCO) who, on being satisfied that such is the case, may fine the violator that may extend to Rs50,000/(Rupees fifty thousand only):-

Director, Punjab Consumer Protection Council, (PCPC), states that the function of the PCPC is protection and promotion of consumer rights. The dishonest elements in society are booming by exploiting consumers through defective products and faulty services without effective checks.

Such unscrupulous elements also cause threat to the health and security of the community. It is the basic responsibility of all regimes to protect the people from the deep-rooted exploitation in such unchecked market system.

In this context, Government of the Punjab has taken initiatives to protect the rights of consumers against defective products and faulty services through the enactment of Punjab Consumer Protection Act and strengthens it through Directorate of Consumer Protection Council, Consumer Courts & Consumer Protection Councils, in order to provide prompt justice to masses of the province for alleviating their grievances against defective products and faulty services.

A civilized society believes in the fundamental importance of consumer protection and consumers are the largest stakeholders in any country, as they have the power to make or break a brand.

Only enactment and enforcement of consumer laws by the government does not suffice. It always requires an enthusiastic response from the citizen's side. The consumers should register their complaints in the Consumer Courts or before any other Authority, as the case may be, to mark the power of consumers and to protect their rights.

On violation of any provision of the Act, a consumer may file a claim for damages in a Consumer Court for which no court fee is required.

For alleviation of following grievances a consumer can file a complaint before Authority: Non-issuance of receipt, Non exhibition of price list, No mention of date of manufacturing, expiry of ingredient, and non-disclosure of qualifications.

Complaints can be made to Consumer Court Authority (District Coordination Officer). The procedure for this is: Serve a 15-day legal notice to plain paper, to the provider of defective product(s) or faulty service(s), stating therein that he will redress the damage suffered by consumer due to defective product(s) or faulty service(s) and consequently pay damages to the consumer within fifteen days of receipt of the legal notice, otherwise the consumer can file a claim for damages in the Consumer Court.

Legal notices should be served through acknowledgement. If matter is not resolved through legal notice then consumer can file a claim for damages in the Consumer Court within subsequent fifteen days. Claim can be filed by the consumer himself or through a lawyer.

"Damage" means all damage caused by a product(s) or service(s), including damages to the product itself and economic loss arising from a deficiency in or loss of use of the product(s) or service(s).

The manufacturer of a product shall be liable to the consumer for damages caused by a characteristic of the product that renders the product defective when such damage arose from a reasonably anticipated use of the product by a consumer.

A provider of service shall be liable to a consumer for damages proximately caused by the provision of service that have caused damages.

A consumer can file a claim for damages before a Consumer Court. Damages can be claimed according to sufferings or losses. There is no limit in this regard.

Consumers should observe the following in order to protect their rights; Check date of manufacturing / expiry of the product(s) before purchase - Read ingredients / component parts / instructions of the product(s) / service(s) - Insist about rate list / price catalogue of product(s) / service(s) - Always get a receipt of product(s) / service(s) purchased / hired - Ask for the capabilities or qualifications of the service provider, along-with the quality of the tools he intends to use for provision of the services - Ask about return and refund policy. Check design and standard of the product(s) - Check for the product's safety / warning. A pre-requisite for filing a claim in Consumer Courts is 15 day legal notice. However, an aggrieved person may file appeal in Lahore High Court, Lahore within 30 days of final order of the Consumer Court

An appeal can also be filed before Government (Secretary, Industries, Commerce & Investment) within 30 day against the order of Authority

One important thing which separates this welfare oriented legislation from others is that justice is available free of cost and within limited/short time period to general masses for resolving their grievances against defective products and faulty services.

Sadly, though the Sindh Government approved the Consumer Protection Law in 2015, it has failed to establish Consumer Courts, which are an essential part of CPL. Helpline Trust has repeatedly requested the Chief Minister, Sindh and the Commissioner, Karachi, to establish Consumer Courts, but so far we have not succeeded.

(trust@helplinetrust.org.pk)