In a country like Bangladesh, we often see businessmen illegally making profits by using various techniques of syndicate during specific incidents/occasions such as holy Ramadan, Eid, Puja, Christmas, flood, heavy rain, etc. To make such kind of profits, sometimes the capitalists create an artificial crisis in the retail market by stocking the goods on a large scale. Consequently, consumers face numerous challenges to meet up their needs. This artificial crisis of goods is not new to us and the general people of Bangladesh are living with this dilemma since the inception of the country.
To overcome this predicament, in 2009, the government of Bangladesh has enacted the Consumer Rights Protection Act (CRPA) and since the establishment of this Act, the government is providing their limited logistic support and human resource to execute the Act appropriately and consistently. For example, it is very common to see the executive magistrates are imposing a limited amount of fine against the unlawful activities of the manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, or somebody, else. Considering the activities of the mobile court, it is to observe how the big fishes are dealing with the limited amount of fine and the CRPA. As of section 38 of the CRPA, a person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 (one) year, or with fine not exceeding Taka 50 (fifty) thousand, or with both for not showing the price list of the goods. Similarly, the mobile court may impose fine of not more than 50 thousand taka for selling or offer to sell any goods, medicine, or service at a price higher than the price fixed under any Act or Rules, states section 40 of the CRPA. The main purpose of imposing fine is to prevent the wrongdoers from doing unlawful activities, but the question is whether this limited financial penalty can change the behaviour of the wrongdoers or not? Based on the practices, it seems that for a wholesaler or importer, it is not a big deal to pay 50 thousand taka as fine as far as he/she does not have to go to prison. Thus, an importer or a wholesaler is pleased to pay fine again and again rather than to change their inhuman habit to cheat with the general people. As a result, it became a common habit of paying fine, and in return, the people are suffering continuously. Along with many past incidents, we are yet to forget the synthetic onion crisis of 2019 created by some unscrupulous businessmen. Nonetheless, the crisis that we have faced last year was in peacetime; but during this Covid-19 pandemic, while the whole nation is fighting against the unseen virus, some unethical businessmen are taking advantage of this vulnerable situation.
To counter this crunch, many executive magistrates are trying to find out the culprits and imposing fine under the CRPA for their involvement in illegal businesses. Nevertheless, it seems that the CRPA itself is not enough to fight against the culprits during this coronavirus crisis. Thus, we may need to think of other related laws which can impose some form of harsh punishments to prevent the businessmen from doing illegal businesses in this intense situation. The Special Powers Act is one such law.
Section 25(1) of the Act defines the offence of hoarding or dealing in the black-market, which is punishable with death, or with imprisonment for life, or with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to fourteen years, and fine. However, if the person accused of such offence proves that he was hoarding for purposes other than gain, whether financial or otherwise, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, and shall also be liable to fine.
Moreover, under section 25(C) of the Special Powers Act, a person shall be punishable for adulteration of, or sale of adulterated food, drink, drugs which may extend to five years of imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine, whereas, the same offence has lesser punishment under section 41 of the CRPA 2009 which may extend to 3 years of imprisonment or with fine not exceeding Taka 2 (two) lacs, or with both.
In legal jurisprudence, there are several aspects of punishment and one of the aspects under deterrent theory is not only to prevent the wrongdoer from doing the offence again but also to make the culprit as an example for others who have similar tendencies to do offences. Thus, sometimes we need to impose some form of harsh punishment so that others may take a lesson. Considering the current scenario of Bangladesh, we may think of applying the Special Powers Act along with the CRPA to control the market during this coronavirus outbreak. No matter what, during this pandemic, the government should not let any syndicate regulate the market which creates an artificial crisis in the market.
The writer is faculty member, Department of Law, Notre Dame University Bangladesh.