Consumer Protection Law: A Neglected Gem
A consumer, as defined by Section 2(c) of the Islamabad Consumer Protection Act 1995, is any person who buys goods or services, or hires goods or services for consideration paid, or partly paid.
The same Act also establishes the Consumer Protection Council which is responsible for promoting, protecting and determining the rights of consumers.
As per the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection (1985), a consumer has eight basic rights:
- the right to basic needs;
- the right to safety;
- the right to be informed;
- the right to choose;
- the right to representation/to be heard;
- the right to redress;
- the right to consumer education; and
- the right to a healthy environment.
Similar legislation is present for other provinces including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the form of the Consumer Protection Act 1997, the Punjab Consumer Protection Act 2005 and the Sindh Consumer Protection Act 2014. Each province has also established a Consumer Court headed by the District and Sessions Judge/Additional District and Sessions Judge, as well as respective Consumer Protection Councils.
Violators of consumer rights may be punished by the court with imprisonment which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to PKR 100,000, or with both, in addition to damages or compensation as may be determined by the court. The Consumer Court may also adjudicate upon matters to impose repayment of consideration to the consumer and even order compensation for legal fees incurred by the consumer. No court fee is charged for filing a case related to the protection of consumer rights.
Consumers may file a complaint with the relevant District Consumer Protection Councils as well. All District Coordination Officers are also authorized to hear these complaints.
With the appropriate legislation in place, punishments determined and remedies offered, why are our consumers still reluctant to enforce their basic rights?
The process of filing a complaint is fairly simple. To file a complaint before the relevant authority/Deputy Commissioner, a consumer can simply write to the authority on plain paper. The relevant authority may fine the violator (if found in violation) up to PKR 50,000. This form of complaint is applicable where:
- the violator has not disclosed full information about the goods or services given to the consumer; or
- where no receipt has been issued; or
- prices have not been exhibited at the relevant place of business.
Alternatively, to file a complaint in the Consumer Court, the complainant must serve a fifteen-day legal notice on plain paper to the provider of a defective product or faulty service, as the case may be, stating therein that the seller should redress the damage suffered by the consumer and consequently pay damages to the consumer within fifteen days of receipt of legal notice, otherwise the consumer may file a claim for redressal of their grievance before the relevant Consumer Court.
The legal notice should be served to the service providers or manufacturers/sellers of a product through registered post and acknowledgement of receipt should be kept as proof.
If the matter is not resolved during the legal notice period, the consumers may file a case/claim for redressal of their grievances before the Consumer Court within subsequent fifteen days.
The case may be filed by the consumer simply by writing about the incident in chronological order on a plain piece of paper and attaching copies of any receipts and evidence, or through a lawyer.
Consumer cases have recently picked up pace and are even being reported in the news, such as the Karachi Consumer Court’s decision to fine the popular e-commerce vendor Daraz for selling faulty products. It is commendable that consumers are realizing their rights and enforcing them accordingly, however, there is still room for further enforcement.
The effect of enforcement is that it not only promotes the protection of consumers, it also improves the competence and efficiency of manufacturers and vendors. There does exist hope for a consumer culture similar to that of the United States or Europe where manufacturers are held liable for all faults and shortcomings in their offerings.
It is also pertinent to mention that false advertisements and fraudulent offerings, such as the promise to give possession of property, also fall within the purview of consumer protection, subjecting violators to the same punishments as mentioned before.
We encourage consumers to acknowledge and embrace their rights and enforce them to create a culture of corporate accountability against large-scale manufacturers and vendors, in order to minimize super-profits and unfair trade practices that some of them may take part in.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organisation with which he might be associated.