Tame the inflation, ensure greatest good of the greatest number of Nepalis

Why should we, the commoners, suffer at the hands of the few unscrupulous business people? Should not the state guarantee the greatest good to the greatest number of the commoners?

Jivesh Jha

  • Read Time 7 min.

Jeremy Bentham was of the view that the state’s sole business should be to host plans and policies for maximising the happiness and minimising the pains of its citizens. Introducing principle of utility in his popular work An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) he argued that the object of all legislations must be “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”.

Expounding the theory of utilitarianism, Bentham argued that governmental actions should foster happiness or pleasure and oppose actions that cause unhappiness or harm, when directed toward making social, economic or political decisions. In this respect, he favoured a political structure where the state’s politics and economics are designed for promoting prosperity of the people.

In Nepal,  as inflation has reached the zenith, people have started believing that their money has no value. This has caused rumblings of public dissent. Given uncontrolled inflation, the poor are becoming poorer and the ‘looters’ are becoming richer day by day. This leads to creation of an atmosphere where happiness is ensured only to a smaller number of people—the rich.

This is totally against the vision Jeremy Bentham had espoused in his theory of utilitarianism.

Like many Nepalis, I had great expectations after the promulgation of the new Constitution and formation of governments in federal and provincial levels thereafter. Nepal saw a paradigm shift in the political structure. But people still suffer, probably more than in the past. Accountability, honesty and good governance have become a distant dream. 

Too expensive to live 

The truth of the matter is that in this republic, consumers are cheated on every purchase—be that of mobile phones, vegetables, package goods, land or any other movable properties. For instance, the prices of vegetables, pulses or other food items have gone up by 50 percent. For the commoners, nearly all of the hard-earned money—forget about saving—goes into purchasing the daily necessity goods.  

This scribe prefers not eating out to save money. He brings ration for a month and tries to make it last for two months. Because things are too expensive. All your earnings go in purchasing food items needed for the family. I am sure this is not the case with this scribe only.

Education is terribly expensive here. Most of the private schools demand huge fees (under different heads) and there is no restriction and limitation imposed on them. Neither there is a standard set by the government, nor is there any strict initiative from the part of government to improve the quality of public schools to ensure quality education to the poor and needy sections of society and enable them to compete with their counterparts from private schools. The irony is that nearly all government/public servants and teachers of government schools or colleges educate their children in private schools. 

Photo: NL Today

The inconsistency is not only with fees of private schools. You will find price variation of each and every product or service at every nook and corner. For example, at one place the consumer could purchase onion at Rs 60 per kg while the same amount may be much more expensive in other places. The government has grossly failed to control the malpractices, irregularities and selling of substandard goods in the market.  

Nepal needs Consumer Court

Understandably, there could be no viable alternative of consumerism, privatization, industrialization and capitalism. However, a level of conservation and savings is to be adopted which is adequate to promote the best interests of the worst off members of the society.

John Rawls in his popular work, A Theory of Justice (1972) argues that a free market system must be set within a framework of the political and legal institutions that adjust the long-run trend of economic forces so as to prevent excessive concentration of property and wealth, especially those likely to lead to political domination. 

Because there is no Consumer Court in Nepal, manufacturing companies and private dealers are freely selling their substandard products. Millions of the poor and innocent people are at the mercy of these outliers.

The opposite is true in Nepal. The social and economic inequalities are widening the gap between the haves and have nots day by day.

As a result, we are forced to be driven under consumer culture. Consumer culture is a profit oriented business which invites black marketing, food adulteration and malpractices in the consuming items. In order to keep consumers away from being cheated by adulteration or high prices, there is a dire need of establishing a Consumer Court in Nepal where consumers could file suits and get justice in time.

In Consumer Court, tort cases are filed at a low fee and there is no Court fee as such. Consumers are encouraged to appear in their own matters. Unlike the other courts, the compliance of procedural laws or evidence laws or other technicalities are minimal in Consumer Courts as they are quasi-judicial bodies, or say, tribunals.

Consumer Court functions in a very simple and expeditious manner. An application written by an aggrieved on a plain piece of paper would work perfectly. As a result, it ensures speedy and effective administration of justice.  In one way or the other, Consumer Court lives up to the spirit of ‘justice delayed is justice is denied.’

Article 44 of our constitution states that “each consumer shall have the right to quality foodstuffs and services.” This clause expressly secures the interests of the consumers by prohibiting the manufacturing as well as supply of substandard products of daily use. The constitution also states that a person “who has suffered from sub-standard objects or services shall have the right to be compensated.” It means this provision seeks to guarantee relief to the consumers in case of physical, mental, economical or emotional loss suffered by them due to substandard products.

As rights of consumers have been acknowledged as a fundamental right, the High Court by invoking Articles 144 (High Courts’ power to issue writs, orders, directions or determinations) and 133 (Supreme Court’s power to issue writs, orders, directions or determinations) can impose exemplary fines and punishment to those who cheat the consumers to protect the rights of consumers.

Consumers in Nepal end up buying low-quality products at high rates. They are misled by advertisements and warranty. It has been seen that consumers are ‘looted’ by doctors, contractors and private hospitals. Because there is no Consumer Court in Nepal, manufacturing companies and private dealers are freely selling their substandard products. Millions of the poor and innocent people are at the mercy of these outliers.

What laws say 

The Consumer Protection Act (2018) enacted to enforce the provision of Article 44 of the constitution is a welcome legislation in this direction. Section 41 of the Act envisages that the government of Nepal may constitute a Consumer Court but it’s yet to come into effect. Section 3 provides a bundle of rights to consumers which include, right to easy access to goods or services; right to choose quality goods or services at the fair competitive price and right to be compensated against harm or injury caused with use of goods or services.

For the purpose of protecting the rights of consumers, managing the market in accordance with the market rule and making the market fair and transparent, Section 16 provisions that “no one shall conduct or cause to conduct unfair trade and business activities.”

Photo: Pixabay

The selling of goods or services at high and unreasonable prices is also one of the unfair trade practices of businesses. The law envisions the creation of the Central Market Committee under the leadership of the Secretary of Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies and Consumer Protection Council under the leadership of the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies. Also there are inspection officers to ensure compliance. According to Section 33, the duties and powers of inspection officers include  imposition of restriction on the sale, production of goods or services which are of substandard quality or against the law in place.  

Let us not be exploited by the service providers or companies. Let us not behave like innocent fools and be misled, and misled.

Section 50 provides that compensation may be awarded from the person who has produced, imported, hoarded, transported, sold and distributed or provided such goods or services which are of substandard quality and which has caused bodily, mental, financial, physical or other kind of harm and injury to the consumers. Interestingly, Section 56 provides for a reward to the informant. It has been prescribed that such a person who has provided information about the offence being committed or committed should be rewarded and that reward should be ten percent of the claimed amount recovered or one million rupees, whichever is lesser.

We have sufficient legal frameworks but they are hardly ever unimplemented.

If we had a Consumer Court, it would probably look after the cases relating to the violation of rights of consumers and speedy justice could be expected. We must, therefore, establish Consumer Courts at district level.

Cheated in Janakpur

I was born and brought up in Janakpur. I am very familiar with the market of Janakpur, which is (unofficially declared) the capital city of Province-2.

The restaurants I visit often charge inapplicable taxes or add the food items that were never ordered. Also, I found that the price of green vegetables is not uniform. The same vegetable is available at different prices at different locations. Laws related to consumer rights are openly violated in the provincial capital city itself.

During Chhath, Dipawali, Dashain or other festivals, the prices of food items, vegetables or other daily needs go high in an unprecedented manner. But who cares?   

I want to raise these questions here: Do we really resort to law at the instance of infringement of our rights? Are we prepared to invoke the laws which favour us as consumers? Or, have we become so accustomed to this system that we have forgotten our rights and duties?

If the state has no courage to protect the rights of consumers, what’s the meaning of all those constitutional provisions to safeguard the rights of the consumers? Are the fundamental rights of our constitution mere words and words?

What should be done?

The service providers—be it retailers, banks, cellular networks, hospitals, shopping malls, schools or colleges—hardly value consumers. Once consumers expect the regulatory authorities or law to resolve their issues, the people would not be bound to stay at the mercy of companies or service providers. And, it would be presumed that a legal route is the last resort.

The provincial governments could make necessary rules (by invoking Section 63 of Consumer Protection Act) for the protection of rights of consumers and control unfair trade practices, restrictive trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers.

The people should raise their voices strongly against unscrupulous exploitation of their rights and value their hard earned money to form a culture of accountability and honesty. Consumers themselves should become more vigilant.

Bentham’s theory of greatest good of the greatest number or John Rawl’s theory of “justice as fairness” stands in violation in our case. Here, a section of society, usually a few business people or some elites, determines the fate of the market economy. Their greatest good is being secured directly or indirectly.  Why should we, the commoners, suffer at the hands of the few unscrupulous business people? Should not the state guarantee the greatest good to the greatest number of we the commoners? 

Let us not be exploited by the service providers or companies. Let us not behave like innocent fools and be misled, and misled.

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