Price Hike and Consumer Rights Protection: Revisiting the Legal Regime
The right to food or the daily basic necessities is incorporated as one of the judicially unjustifiable Fundamental Principles of State Policies in our Constitution. But that does not necessarily close all the avenues to redress the flat omission on the part of those concerned. Within the penumbra of right to life, the entitlement of an effective access to daily necessities could be dovetailed. Nonetheless, various laws of our country expressly provide some quite strict measures against price hike as well as for the protection of consumer rights. The strictest of them is the Special Powers Act 1974. The Act makes hoarding or dealing in black market a punishable offence within section 25 for which there could be punishment like death penalty or life imprisonment or rigorous imprisonment extending till 14 years as well as fine. Now, within the meaning of "dealing in black-market" it includes "selling or buying anything for purposes of trade at a price higher than the maximum price fixed by or under any law, or, otherwise than in accordance with law". Further, within the definition of section 2(f)(vi) prejudicing the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community is considered to be a "prejudicial act" for which there could be detention orders. So, the malicious practice of stocking goods with intent to disrupt the supply chain or with intent to sell at a higher price is punishable offence.
Apart from the above legal mandates, the Consumer Rights Protection Act 2009 provides for some protective approaches in terms of ensuring that consumers are not faced with any malicious price rising practices in the hands of traders. Before this Act, the area was dealt by several laws focusing upon specific subjects. This Act mandates a holistic approach indeed by including mandates as to adulteration, inconsistent pricing, deceptive advertising, false representation of goods and services and improper weighing or measuring. Under sections 38 and 39 of the Act, the non-showing of price list for products and services is a punishable offence. Under section 40, whereas the selling at higher price than that fixed is punishable with up to one-year imprisonment or fifty thousand taka fine or both. So, the Act prescribes punishment against improper price rising with malicious motive. Within the ambit of "consumers" all those who buy goods or services aiming at consumption are included. And all those practices that deprive a consumer from his/her rights of consumption are "anti-consumer rights practices". So, when someone does hoard or increase the price to deprive consumers from a smooth flow of goods or services, those are essentially anti-consumer rights practices.
Some initiatives of providing fair business and trade practices have been taken by the 2012 Competition Act. The law aims at preventing monopolisation that hampers the free and fair flow of trading. The Competition Commission establishes via section 5 is vested with the duty of ensuring "Trade Freedom" along with eradicating market prices that goes against fair practice. So, this law could be an effective way of restricting the syndicates or cartels market grasping along with allowing a competitive marketplace where traders can make profit and does not hamper consumer rights at the same time.
In terms of protecting consumer rights, the Mobile Courts have proved to be very successful though the functioning of the Court has faced backlashes due to its non-judicial formation and awarding penalty unilaterally. Nonetheless, we cannot totally deny the beneficial contribution of this mechanism in safeguarding consumer rights at present. Price hike is indeed a social vice that hampers the social equity and to ensure that the underprivileged segment of people is not injuriously impacted by it, the abovementioned legal mandates should see proper implementation.
The Writer is a Student of Law, University of Dhaka.