LAHORE - Pakistan is considered to be an over-legislated country where a law can be found to address almost any issue. Only the will to enforce these laws is absent.

Though a law for protection of consumer rights is present there, after the Punjab Assembly passed Consumer Protection Act 2005, the enforcement mechanism is not without faults. It is making the consumers suffer at the hands of sellers who have no fear of being penalised.

It may be surprising for many but the truth is that millions of consumers of gas and electricity in the country do not fall under the jurisdiction of the consumer courts. Technically, if a person wants to wear clothes properly pressed, an electric iron would be needed, as he cannot afford moving out with wrinkled clothes. Likewise, a person who has weak eyesight needs contact glasses, but if he does not find something of good quality he can claim it before the competent authority.

But the lack of mechanism and, most importantly, the lacunae in the Consumer Protection Act do not provide any remedy for affected consumers. Moreover, the inaction of the authorities is adding to the woes of consumers.

In Pakistan, it is very common that despite having money in pocket, a person does not get quality product or gets charged double of the original price of a product. At the same time, there are three different authorities in Punjab including Punjab Food Authority, Punjab Consumers Protection Council and the food inspectors. Food inspectors, however, work with district governments.  All these above authorities are responsible for the protection of the consumers’ rights and they all are working sans cooperation among them. Such lack of coordination leaves the consumers falling prey to the exploitation by sellers. The other important aspect of this troika is that it has no equal powers and authority. This imbalance of powers exposes poor vision of lawmakers and non dispensation of justice at the lower level. In Punjab, there are 11 consumer councils working in big cities and each of the council has 10 to 11 employees including a senior most officer with designation of Assistant Director. This is also called the District Consumers Protection Council.

This 11-member Council has no powers except of spreading awareness among the members of the society or of finding out faults in products available in the markets. If one of the officials goes to a market, checks the items and imposes fine, he has no delegated-powers to do so under the said Act.

Likewise, no procedure to penalise the offenders has been described in Consumers Protection Act 2005. Many times, the suggestions were given to the lawmakers to amend it but they never considered them. An affected person, who wants to get remedy of his grievances, is utterly confused whether he should file a suit or application. Both the criminal and civil laws are involved in filing an application before the Consumer Court. Even the lawyers are clueless what procedure should be adopted for filing a complaint on behalf of their clients.

Subsequently, the confusion regarding application of the laws continues which needs clarity through effective legislation. This is a big defect in the legal system which does not allow the consumers’ courts work diligently.

Surprisingly, there is no definite procedure for the prosecution of cases before the consumers’ courts. These courts are special courts which are established for the greater service of people who are victims to substandard, low quality, broken and below specification market items; particularly household appliances. But unfortunately, these courts will lose their credibility unless the lacunae in the said Act are removed with comprehensive legislation. No doubt, the District Consumer Court Lahore is working, creepy crawling though. And it is perhaps the result of this insufficient legislation in the law under which it came into being.

Presently, there are 1900 cases which are pending before the District Consumer Court despite that only 5 to 7 cases are filed on daily basis. People are still unaware about it, but the performance of court would be really an eye-opener when majority of them will come to know of its existence. A presiding officer hears the cases of four districts including Lahore, Qasure Sheikhupura and Nankana Sahib. The court is set in a building rented for Rs 110,000 per month and is situated in a locality where nobody could realise its existence - in Riwaz Garden. The salary conditions of court staffers are quite atrocious and no other allowances are being paid to them. The court comprises a small room with no place for lawyers to sit and wait for their turn. Stationary, chairs and other articles which are much needed are also not provided timely. Even the photocopier in the court is also nonfunctional, exposing the inadequacies of legal system and authorities concerned.