The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 has a substantial promise in the protection of the interest of consumers in Bangladesh. It is public knowledge that the process of pursuing regular judicial remedies (particularly in the case of civil remedies) in this country is notoriously slow. But the remedies offered through the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP), though may not be sufficient for pursuing substantial claims (because of the ceiling imposed on remedies for various acts punishable under the Act), are expeditious and low-cost. Apart from settling the complaints lodged by the consumers, the DNCRP in concert with the law enforcing agencies often conduct operations on the premises of businesses to check their compliance with the law, and imposes, on the spot, punishments for engaging in delinquent practices. It also performs awareness-raising functions by advertising in print and electronic media, and distributing pamphlets about the rights of consumers and the remedies available to them. With its modest human resources, overall, the functions performed by the DNCRP is not meagre. However, this write-up will discuss a recent practice of DNCRP which is clearly a step in the wrong direction from the viewpoint of protection of the consumers.
One important part of the functions of the DNCRP has been its daily (excluding weekly holidays or other public holidays) press releases which started from September 16, 2014. After this, the DNCRP apparently did not continue this practice for nearly a year and a quarter as can be gleaned from the information available on its website. Daily press releases of the DNCRP commenced again on January 05, 2016. Since then, the daily press release has been an integral feature of its activities. In the past, the press releases of the DNCRP used to present a summary of the activities performed on a particular day. Those also used to present a summary of the punishment imposed upon investigation of complaints lodged by consumers. By no means, the information contained in those press releases was comprehensive. They only included the name of the institutions which were subjected to the punishing measures and a very brief summary (in few words) of the reason for the punishment. This writer has elsewhere argued that such summary was not enough for people to know enough about the common practices harming the consumers and which businesses are the most repeat culprits. In the same write-up, a call has been made for establishing some sort of a systemic report on the measures taken against large public companies which could inform the consumers of the unfair practices by these businesses, which could have exerted a strong pressure on large companies to improve their practices, and therefore, consumers could have benefited.
Instead of any such a step which would be consumer-friendly, the DNCRP has taken a step which withholds information. This trend started on October 30, 2017 and is continuing so far. Its current press releases are limited to the presentation of various numbers, that is, these only report the number of activities undertaken on the day, the number of written consumer-complaints settled, the amount of money paid to the successful complainants, and the money deposited to the treasury of the government. These contain no information whatsoever on the businesses which have been subject to the complaints, or market monitoring activities of the DNCRP.
It has to be emphasised here that the DNCRP is not a court, nor is it like a purely revenue earning body such as the National Board of Revenue (NBR). Hence, its function cannot, and should not, be limited to the market monitoring and punishing non-compliant business activities. Its critical role is in raising consumer awareness and the awareness of consumers about the businesses which are being fined for failing to protect the interest of consumers as required by law. This can play an important role in forcing the businesses to be on their toes. Hence, the withholding of information from public gaze is for sure a regressive step.
Thus, it would be hoped that the DNCRP would not present its press releases in a merely numerical way, which would be useless for the consumers as well as for the media and other stakeholders, such as researchers, for whom the press releases could have been an important source of information. It is sure that the summary information presented through the press releases is not something which is more suitable for the consumers. The rationale behind the DNCRP's one step backward movement is unknown. There is neither any law nor any court order (to the knowledge of the writer), which requires it to withhold information. If the lack of staff is an issue, then it would be hoped that the DNCRP would be supplied with the necessary resources which would allow it to make sure that its press releases have some meaning and do not become just a pointless summary of numbers on the deposit to the treasury and successful complainants.
Dr Islam is an Associate Professor at Department of Law, North South University. The views expressed here are the writer's alone.
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