It’s been four years since the Sindh Consumer Protection Act was passed – nine years behind Punjab. The provincial government kept dragging its feet on implementation until the Sindh High Court (SHC) intervened, and acting on a constitutional petition moved by a private citizen issued directives to the government to do the needful. According to a press report, 29 consumer courts, six of them in Karachi, were recently established at district level. Around mid-January, the SHC Chief Justice Ahmad Ali Shaikh had appointed civil judges and judicial magistrates as presiding officers for the new consumer courts, but the government is yet to fulfil its part of the responsibilities. Except in one case, these courts are not fully functional due to lack of proper infrastructure and staff. Even the central consumer court in Karachi is short of staff, furniture and other facilities.
Furthermore, the provincial government is yet to set up consumer councils comprising representatives of consumers, associations of trade, industry, and the service sector. Like in Punjab where they are functioning well, these bodies are to play a vital role towards creating awareness among consumers about their rights and making recommendations to the relevant authority for better and effective implementation of the law. And the proposed Provincial Consumer Protection Council has an added responsibility, that of collecting information about dangerous products and defective services that need to be removed from the market. What prevents the government from forming these councils seems to be sheer lack of interest, for the usual excuse of financial constraints does not work in this case.
Stopping fraudulent and deceptive business practices is a serious matter in all developed countries. The need to do that cannot be emphasised enough in a society where cheats and unscrupulous sellers of goods and services hoodwink consumers on a daily basis, without worrying about any liability. Under the present law, culprits can be held to account for a variety of violations, such as not displaying prices at business place, non-issuance of purchase receipt, non-compliance with return and refund policy, and most important of all: false, deceptive or misleading representation. Consumer courts are an effective and expeditious forum for redressal of consumer grievances. Litigation is free of cost as complainants can plead their cases in person. If and when fully implemented, the law cannot only provide justice to individuals but also help establish fair practices on a wider scale, improving the quality of goods and services available in the market. The Sindh government as well as those in the other provinces must give the issue the priority it deserves.