In 2008, the caretaker government passed an ordinance regarding consumer rights, which was the first legislation in pursuance of protection of consumer rights. Consequently, the ordinance gave birth to the Consumers' Rights Protection Act (CRPA) in 2009.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, this country has seen a surge in the e-commerce activities, which brought up the concern as to what extent our consumer rights protection mechanism is up for the job.
Considering the current business practices in Bangladesh, it can be said that almost all the sectors are experiencing consumer rights violations. Furthermore, questions can be raised about the effectiveness of the authority upon whom the duty of above-mentioned protection lies.
That being said, there are also concerns regarding the feasibility of the procedures provided by the Act as the victims of consumer rights violations may face different difficulties while filing a complaint under the CRPA.
Moreover, the accountability of the procedure can also be subject to question. In this article, an attempt has been made to highlight a few legal limitations of CRPA that have the potential to hinder consumer rights.
Moving to the first point, s.2(22) of the CRPA provides the definition of services but excludes free services. It leads to the argument that if a person suffers by consuming free services (e.g. free foods) or gets a defective free product, he or she will not be able to avail any remedy under the 2009 Act.
Considering modern day business ethics and marketing policy, such a backdated practice needs to be revisited since such free offers are possibly inducing the consumers to buy products from the sellers which is ultimately benefiting their enterprises (i.e. increasing sales).
Apart from that, one of the main limitations of the said Act is the low efficiency of the redressal mechanism that was brought into existence through the Act itself. It is also pertinent to mention that a defect of the 2009 Act is the 30-days limitation period for lodging a complaint under s.60.
Considering the number of complaints received by the authority in the past decade, it can be assumed that mass people are not adequately aware of the existing remedy mechanisms such as the procedure to file a complaint under the CRPA.
Hence, the question appears whether the 30-days limitation period is adequate or not. The answer would be "probably not". Therefore, such provision needs to be revisited as it has the potential to prevent access to justice once the limitation period is over.
In addition to that, the said Act does not let consumers to avail any remedy through criminal proceedings. Rather it requires the endorsement of Directorate General or any officer empowered by him or a District Magistrate or any Executive Magistrate empowered by the District Magistrate provided that the aggrieved person wishes to pursue the same.
Therefore, such a mechanism can be branded as a bureaucratic one, which not only has the potential to demotivate a consumer from availing his or her rights but also creates substantial opportunities for corruption.
Dr Rumana Islam in her paper (i.e. Critically looking into the Consumers' Rights Protection Act, 2009) has pointed out that the Act fails to recognise a 'rights based approach'.
According to Rumana, most developed countries have given immense importance to the protection of consumer rights in their legal system. Therefore the right based approach makes itself as one of the core features of the consumer rights legal regime.
From a reasonable perspective, it should be the case (i.e. emphasising the protection of the consumer rights) since consumers are one of the driving forces of economic development and steadiness. That being said, although CRPA provides a list of "anti-consumer right practice" under s.2.(20), it arguably fell short of defining the rights of a consumer. On that account, it gives an impression - who is being protected?
At the first glance of the Act, it seems to be giving emphasis on the doctrine of "caveat emptor" (i.e. let the buyer be aware) whereas most of the developed countries have shifted their focus on the protection of consumer rights for long term success of a community.
So, it is high time for us to adopt the same for the growth and steadiness of the economy of our country, which requires revisiting the consumer rights redressal mechanism and proper supervision.
Md Noor-E-Ashfaq Shaon is a Junior Associate at Nurul Alam & Associates.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.