Peshawar: Six months ago, Hamayun Khan bought medical accessories from a pharmacy outside Hayatabad Medical Complex. As is common practice with patients who often get a list of things from doctors that may not be used up entirely in a surgery, he told the proprietor at the pharmacy that he will return some the unused accessories. The proprietor agreed, as most do because they are aware this is how it works with patients, especially if they are poor.

When Khan, 30, went back to the pharmacy to claim refund for kits not used in surgery, the proprietor refused to reimburse the money.

“I was refused a refund even though the receipt clearly said a customer could return anything bought from the shop within three days of purchase,” said Khan.

Turned away by the shopkeeper, Khan decided to take the case to police. It was at a local police station where he had gone to register case against the pharmacy proprietor that he learnt about the consumer rights court.

“I rushed to the Judicial Complex in Peshawar when a police officer told me I could find justice at a separate court working to protect consumer rights,” says Khan, who hails from Chagharmati in Peshawar’s outskirts.

In addition to the one in Peshawar, there are fifteen consumer rights courts operating in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkwa. Before 2015, there were only seven, based in the seven divisions of the province. Divisions are the third tier of government, between the provinces and districts.

Even though Pakistan has several laws that deal indirectly with consumer protection, the first ever instance of one that specifically sought to safeguard consumer rights was the Islamabad Consumer Protection Act passed in 1995. This act was enacted for the Islamabad Capital Territory only. Consumer protection being a provincial subject, presently all four provinces have laws dealing with consumer rights. These are: The NWFP Consumer Protection Act of 1997, the Balochistan Consumer Protection Act of 2003, Punjab Consumer Protection Act of 2005 and the Sindh Consumer Protection Ordinance of 2007.

According to Deputy Director Consumer Rights Protection and Industrial Development Syed Ahmad Nasim, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government decided in 2015 to establish ten consumer rights courts at divisional level. These courts were established and facilitated by KP ministry of industries.

Before that the consumer rights protection staff had to visit all districts courts that fell under their divisional jurisdiction.

“It was hard to hear cases related to a whole division through a single court so in 2015 ten more consumer rights courts were established, increasing the number of courts to seventeen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” Nasim told News Lens.

Districts Chitral and Kohistan do not have any consumer rights court. The districts without courts, says Nasim, are catered to by consumer rights courts in districts adjacent to them.

Meanwhile, all it took Hamayun Khan was to fill a simple application form to get the process rolling at the consumer rights court in Peshawar. He found the process quick and easy. “There were no formalities attached to filing a case in the consumer rights court. All I had to do was write an application stating my complaint on a simple paper and submit it to the court.”

According to Hamayun, he represented himself in the court where his case was decided after a couple of hearings. The proprietor of the pharmacy did not turn up at the last hearing and the court ordered police to recover the amount Hamayun had paid for the medicine. The court handed Hamayun PKR 1200 after police recovered the amount.

“The process is not complicated at all,” said Hamayun. “One can always engage a lawyer but I chose to fight the case myself.”

Figures provided by office of the Deputy Director Consumer Rights Protection and Industrial Development, 822 cases related to consumer rights violations have been decided in Peshawar district between July to November 2015. Record available at the Consumer Rights Court in Peshawar reveals that 46 cases were filed in the month of December 2015 alone. The court still has 704 cases pending before it from last year. It decided 301 cases in 2015 and 157 the year before it. The data shows that since its establishment in 2013, the Consumer Rights Court in Peshawar has decided almost 500 cases and complaints.

The court register shows that in Peshawar 10 to12 cases are filed by consumers every day, most of them related to WAPDA against over-billing and other complaints. It also reveals that beside the 50 percent complaints about WAPDA, 20 percent of the complaints relate to the Suigas Department.

“Only around 50 percent of the court decisions are carried out while the rest goes into contempt of court because they are not followed up by those against whom consumers have filed cases,” said a source at the court, who wished to stay anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to media. “Consumer rights courts receive fewer cases compared to other courts because of lack of awareness and education among the people.”

The source said that the court in Peshawar received far more cases from Hazara Division where the society was more literate than the rest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said the fact that authorities had achieved 82.40 percent of annual targets for Abbottabad by collecting PKR 821000 between July to November against the target of PKR 995833 shows that community of the district was more aware of their consumer rights compared to rest of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He said Peshawar fared comparatively better when it comes to consumer rights cases than districts like Malakand, Kohistan and Chitral where the ratio of cases was very low because consumers were not aware that they had courts to protect their rights.” The court has also received cases against cellular companies in Peshawar.

Deputy Director Consumer Rights Protection and Industrial Development Syed Ahmad Nasim said the Ministry of Industry in KP had assistant directors visiting shops, gas stations, hotels and other consumer hubs to check prices and quality of goods and services. “If they find something below the mark or in violation of fixed prices, the management is fined on the spot.”

The courts, however, face budgetary and structural constraints. In Punjab, for example, the allocated budget of around Rs65 million was not released on time last year, depriving as many as 360 contractual employees in different grades, of their salaries. This is despite the fact that consumer courts contribute to provincial exchequers in the shape of fines. Moreover, courts remain attached to the department of industry, looking up to it for matters relating to consumers. There are also problems with settling of cases that often remain pending for a long time. In 2015, the Lahore’s Consumer Court fined a well-known child specialist for medical negligence in treating a three-month-old. The court judgement asking the doctor to pay Rs 44 million as penalty came after almost eight years of both parties seriously contesting the case.

The Peshawar court structure shows that the deputy commissioner of a district is one of the focal persons for consumer rights courts, responsible for all its operations in the field. The health department and the deputy commissioner office are also responsible for publicity of consumer rights courts. There are also consumer protection councils at the district level.

However, officials associated with consumer courts attribute the small number of cases to lack of awareness of people. The fact that the office of director consumer protection and industry has little or no budget for publicity of these courts only exacerbates the problem. The office does not have a media unit and it was only in December 2015 that it was decided to launch a helpline for consumers and to coordinate with other departments as it is dependent on others for quality control and laboratory work.


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