Due to the lack of Consumer Courts and the non-enforcement of existing food laws as well as lack of accountability or legal checks, the gullible citizens are being misled by glossy and misleading advertisements. As such, callous manufacturers and wholesalers continue to play havoc with the health and lives of the consumers.

In other SAARC countries, Consumer Protection is a serious business, especially in India, where the Indian government has given full support to the consumers in this respect. The Consumer Protection Act, India was introduced in 1986 and a separate Ministry for Consumer Affairs was established, which has been very pro active in protecting the interests of consumers.

As such, there are over 3000 consumer courts that deal with approximately 0.5 million consumers’ complaints annually, providing speedy justice and redress to the complaints within 30 days. This positive action by the government has had a tremendous impact on promoting quality and standards and on protecting the interests of consumers. Now there are over 5,000 consumer protection organisations operating in India.

In our country, unscrupulous manufacturers use non-food grade plastics and old, rusted tins for packing cooking oils and refill empty bottles and tins of branded products with sub-standard and counterfeit products.

In this way they are deliberately cheating and poisoning consumers, who think they are buying and paying for branded products.

There are no standardization of PSQCA and Food Laws, with each concerned department having different standards and specifications. This has created a

lot of confusion, both for the government and the law abiding manufacturers, who are being harassed by the food inspectors and making the monitoring of quality of products difficult.

At the same time, some standards are outdated and have to be reviewed.

Professor Dr Atta-ur Rahman, former Minister for Science & Technology, had

constituted a committee under the PSQCA, which used to draw samples of edible oils and bottled water from the open market and send them for quality analysis. The names of those brands, which did not conform to the PSQCA standards, were released to the print media.

Many samples of cooking oil and bottled water had been drawn by the committee and over 47 brands of cooking oils and "bottled waters" had been declared as "Not conforming to PSQCA Standards" and their names were advertised by PSQCA as 'Health Warnings' in many Urdu and English newspapers.

Copies of the reports had also been forwarded to the District Health Officer, and a notice had been served to them to take action against such manufacturers, but without any positive results.

The government has placed over 109 consumer items on the "Government's. Essential Items" list, which include cooking oils, bottled water, beverages, confectionery and biscuits, etc. It is mandatory for all manufacturers of these products and their respective brands to be registered, certified and approved by the PSQCA.

It is also mandatory to display the PSI monogram on the package, together with the batch number, dates of manufacture/expiry and net and gross weight.

Failure to comply with the law is punishable by a fine and imprisonment under the Sindh Ordinance, 2002 and the Pure Food Laws, 1967. Unfortunately, except for a few "socially responsible" manufacturers, most, including some leading "brand names", have totally ignored the Pure Food Laws and the PSQCA requirements and the government has failed to enforce the laws.

Out of over 150 brands of cooking oil and bottled water, only a handful observe the PSQCA requirements. As such, the markets are full of substandard and counterfeit products.

A recent survey carried out by Consumer Protection Council of the Helpline Trust and various NGOs and private survey companies, has revealed that over

40% of the consumer products available in Karachi are either counterfeit, substandard or adulterated. This figure exceeds 60% for other cities of Pakistan. According to a recent survey, most manufacturers of substandard and counterfeit products are unregistered.

As such, they do not pay taxes, electricity bills, etc., due to which the government loses over Rs20 billion per annum in revenue in the form of excise duties, taxes, etc.

 It has been recommended that all advertisements of consumer products in the

print media or on billboards must also clearly display the PSI monogram and its PSQCA registration number. Manufacturers who have not registered their products or brands with the PSQCA, should not be allowed to advertise their products in the print or electronic media nor through billboards.

Counterfeit and substandard products are produced with primary objectives to cut costs while ignoring quality, safety or cleanliness and hygiene. Thus the consumers get cheated apart from risking health problems. Moreover, as there is no "brand protection" or the enforcement of international IPR laws, our image in the international business community has also been tarnished and this has had a negative affect on the investment climate in Pakistan. Consumer Protection Council of Helpline Trust also plans to establish a HALL OF SHAME, in which names of those manufacturers and products who have not registered their products with PSQCA and do not conform to their standards, will be released to the print media.

On our recommendations, the Governor, Sindh, had established a Consumer Rights Council (CRC) to oversee investigation of violations of PSQCA standards, adulteration and counterfeiting, escalating prices, etc, on similar lines of CPLC.

CRC has been authorized to take direct action and file an FIR against the manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of counterfeit and substandard products.

Unfortunately, it has still not taken affective measures to implement its objectives.

Former ministers, Razzak Dawood and Professor Dr Atta-ur-Rahman had fully supported efforts to combat the menace of counterfeit, substandard and adulterated products. Now it is up to the new government, and the city administration and the commissioners to establish Consumer Courts and enforce the PSQCA laws and existing food laws. This will ensure that the consumers and their families get a quality product at a fair price and value for what they pay and are not cheated or poisoned. Helpline Trust has written numerous letters to the Commissioner, Karachi, as

per the directives of Services, General Administration and Coordination Department, but so far no positive results have been achieved. We can only hope that the Commissioner will take appropriate action to protect the interests of the consumers and establish Consumer Courts at the earliest.

(email trust@helplinetrust.org.pk)