The elusive Consumer Protection Law, Sindh, had been approved and unanimously adopted by the Sindh Assembly last year on 21st February, 2015, but has not been signed by the Governor of Sindh as yet.

For record, the first Consumer Protection Law had been enacted and approved by the late Iqbal Haider, the law minister, during 1993-1994 period.

Iqbal had introduced the law in Islamabad. NWFP’s Consumer Protection Law came 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 the province. 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 its submission 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 fix fault in the product or service. They may also be directed to reimburse the claimant the price of the product and pay a reasonable compensation.

They may even be required to pay for the actual costs of the legal proceedings.

The Consumer Protection Ordinance, Sindh, (CPLS) had been prepared by the committee,

constituted by Mohammed Mian Soomro, who was the Governor of Sindh from 2000 to 2002, after examining and studying other consumer laws in the region.

A draft of the Law was submitted to Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad in August, 2004, at a Helpline Trust seminar in Karachi and was signed by the governor on August 12, 2004.

However, for reasons unknown, it was never tabled in the Sindh Assembly for ratification and eventually lapsed.

Since then, it has been signed by the governor four times, but again repeatedly lapsed.

However, Helpline Trust has been pursuing CPL for the last 10 years by organising seminars and debates on the subject and has finally succeeded when the Sindh Assembly adopted the CPLS on 21st February, 2015, thanks to the untiring efforts by Ms Sharmila Farooqui, 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 Ms Sharmila Farooqui.

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 would protect the rights of the consumers and protect 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, according to the bill.

The law also bars 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 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 do 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 to cheat the consumers and spurious and sub-standard 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.

And yet, in spite of the blatant flouting of the laws sometimes with deadly consequences, not a single manufacturer or wholesalers has been effectively challenged, prosecuted or punished, thus making our laws seemingly un-enforceable and meaningless.

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.

This will hopefully ensure the enforcement of existing food and PSQCA laws and promote quality, standards and good manufacturing practice, so that citizens receive quality products at a fair price.

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