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KARACHI: After passing a law for the protection of consumers about three-and-a-half years ago, the provincial authorities finally came up on Wednesday to inform the Sindh High Court that a summary has been floated for the establishment of consumer protection councils and six consumer courts at the division level in the province.

However, they further sought at least eight to 10 months for establishment and complete functioning of the consumer courts in Sindh.

In compliance with an Aug 28 order of the SHC passed on a petition against non-implementation of the Sindh Consumer Protection Act, 2014, the secretary agriculture, supply and price department filed a compliance report along with other documents before a two-judge bench of the SHC headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar.

Implementation of relevant law pending since 2014

The report said that on the directives of the court, a meeting was convened on Aug 31 under the chairmanship of Sindh chief secretary to resolve the issue of consumer courts and councils.

Following the meeting, the agriculture, supply and price department had already taken a number of steps including moving a summary to the chief minister to accord approval to notify the constitution of consumer councils and six consumer courts in the first instance in Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Shaheed Benazirabad, Larkana and Sukkur, it added.

The report further stated that the director of supply & prices has been notified as the “authority” as required under section 2(c) of the Sindh Consumer Protection Act, 2014 while the drawing and disbursing officers (DDO) have also been declared for six consumer courts.

It maintained that the registrar of the SHC has been requested to approach the district and sessions judges at Larkana, Sukkur and Shaheed Benazirabad to accommodate the consumer courts in their respective judicial complex/courts while private buildings were also under the process of acquiring suitable spaces on a rental basis for the purpose.

The compliance report further said that a proposal for framing of recruitment rules for newly created posts for consumer protection courts were under process at the Services, General Administration & Coordination department whereas the law department has been asked to take up the issue with the SHC about the appointment of six judicial magistrates as judges of the proposed consumer courts and to assign additional charge to the magistrates for the remaining 23 districts as presiding officers of consumer protection courts till the regular judges were appointed.

It added that an amount of over Rs47 million had been allocated for the purpose while additional funds were being earmarked for purchase of physical assets/furniture and fixtures.

However, the provincial authorities sought a deadline of at least eight to 10 months for the establishment and full functioning of the consumer courts in Sindh.

The petitioner, Advocate Tariq Mansoor, also raised an objection regarding setting up consumer courts at division level, instead of district level as mentioned in the law. The bench directed the provincial authorities to come up with second compliance report by Oct 11.

Earlier on Aug 28, the bench had directed the Sindh chief secretary to convene a meeting of the departments concerned for the establishment of consumer courts in the province and sought a report within two weeks on a petition against non-implementation of the Act.

The petitioner moved the SHC last year and contended that the provincial assembly had passed the law in 2014 to protect and promote the rights of citizens and to redress consumers’ complaints at the earliest, but despite a lapse of around three years neither consumer courts nor a consumer protection council had been established by the provincial government which, the petitioner said, itself was a violation of the law and the Constitution.

He further argued that setting up a council as well as courts in every district of the province was mandatory under the law, but the provincial authorities had so far made no efforts in this regard and had been depriving citizens of their due rights as consumers.

The petitioner pleaded to direct the Sindh government to establish a provincial consumer protection council and consumer courts in every district of the province and issue necessary notification and rules for their working.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2018