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June 22, 2003 

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Consumers are worst victim of cheating

Quazi Sabnam

He moved from one pharmacy to another for a rare medicine badly needed for his ailing father. Azad finally found the medicine at a well-known drug store. He hurried back to hospital. His high spirit faded after the surgeons said they could not use the medicine because its use date had expired long ago. The man returned to the store only to be told that it has no other sample of the drug. The storekeeper shocked Azad by refusing to take back the date-expired drug either.

Selling date-expired medicines, foods and beverage is too common in Bangladesh and this goes unbridled and often unprotested because of the government's too week mechanisms to regulate the market and bring the perpetrators to book.
Institute of Public Health, a government organisation, recently conducted a survey on medicines available in the market and found 70 percent of them of poor quality. Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) also carried out a survey on it and found huge date-expired medicines being sold in the market. It also detected that some medicines have reprinted and faked expiry dates on their packets.
Sakera Rahman works in a private firm, where her colleagues regard her as a woman ready to fight for civic rights. One day she bought a shampoo from the city's New Market and asked the sales assistant to give her cash memo. The shopkeeper refused to give. While using the shampoo, Sakera found it fake. The next day she returned to the shop, but the shopkeeper flatly told her that the shampoo was not bought from his shop.
The CAB survey conducted during August-September 2002, detected that 76 percent biscuits, 51 brands of jam-jelly and almost all brands of ghee are significantly inferior as per the BSTI set standard. It also revealed that most products have no manufacturing and expiry dates and price tags. And even there is no mention about the ingredients used in products. Talking about the quality of goods sold in Bangladesh market, a BSTI official said, "We are consuming palm oil fat in condensed milk and its food value is very low. There are even condensed milk in the market, which has no milk ingredients and nutrition value." He also said that most people think the used bottles of mineral water cannot be reused because of re-fixation of caps. But a group of dishonest businessmen have invented the techniques of re-fixing caps. First, they fill the bottles with unsafe water and then heat the cap and re-fix it to the bottle.
Consumers are provided not only low quality goods. There is another hazard they have to face unusual price hike. This is also violation of consumer rights. Another survey says the living standard rose by 8.52 percent in 2002 although the income level of the people remained almost the same.
Economist Prof. Muzaffer Ahmad said, "In other countries, there are many options for the consumers. We don't have that kind of luxury in our country. If the price of a particular item marks a rise on the international market, we need to look for substitutes instead of hiking the price locally. It's a violation of consumers right to raise the prices of essential commodities beyond the buying capacity of the commoners." Prof. Muzaffar said that the farmers would be benefited little with the increased price because the prices of agri-inputs also increased simultaneously. "We have to consider the income level of our own country. We can't give examples of our neighbouring countries like India and Pakistan because their income levels are higher than ours," he told the News Network correspondent.
The present scenario of consumer rights in Bangladesh is not encouraging. Under public pressure, the government moved to formulate a law in this regard nearly a decade ago. But the proposed law, "Consumer Protection Act," is still a draft and nothing else. To elicit suggestions and recommendations for improvement or modification of the draft law, a two-day international workshop on "Consumer Rights in Bangladesh" was held on 12-13 January. Organised by the Ministry of Commerce, the workshop was addressed by experts from home and abroad, including India, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
A good number of recommendations came from different experts and the audience as well. The major recommendations included bringing public and private educational institutions under the purview of law and minimising disparity in education in rural and urban areas. The experts also suggested avoiding incomplete description of goods and false promises in commercials, development of a national food safety policy and taking steps for the training of paramedics and ensuring food safety apart from modifying the rules, regulations and ordinances on food quality control.


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