Nepalis frequently report that an upsurge in consumer fraud alerts them to the approaching festival season.
In a search on Agad Venture’s warehouses in Balaju on August 24, a team of government food quality inspectors discovered employees repackaging old pasta, sewai, cookies, chocolate, soya beans, biscuits, and over a dozen other sorts of packaged food products that had expired.
After seizing the relabeling machine, the chemicals used in label printing, and a slew of documents, the officials secured the two warehouses with barbed wire. One person was apprehended by the authorities, but the company’s director escaped.
Workers at Summit Commercial in Sanobharyang, Thailand, were caught red labelling cosmetics and chemicals used to clean automobiles on August 2, according to inspectors.
The directors of the company, Abhinash Agrawal and Indian citizen Mahabir Gujar, are currently under investigation by the police.
The public has been made aware of multiple instances of dishonest business practises in the previous few months, as is common shortly before Nepal’s most important festivals begin next month, when opportunist dealers attempt to take full advantage of the buying frenzy, according to industry insiders.
In the run-up to the festivals, “consumption of food and non-food items increases by nearly threefold, and the resulting increase in turnover increases the possibilities of unscrupulous operations,” according to Jyoti Baniya, chairperson of the Consumer Rights Forum.
“This is the time of year when consumption grows dramatically, resulting in an imbalance between supply and demand,” he explained.
In the midst of frenetic shopping activity, another hallmark of the advent of the festival season is the practise of overcharging.
Consumer rights groups believe that price increases in vital items as a result of a lack of market monitoring could have a significant impact on consumers during the festival season. Price increases have been observed in practically all commodities in recent weeks, ranging from edible oil and spices to legumes and sugar, among other things.
Rights organisations claim that the increase in costs is a result of artificial means.
Wholesalers and retailers have reported that the price of edible oil, one of the most necessary products in every kitchen, has climbed by more than Rs100 per litre and is continuing to rise at an alarming rate.
Consumer rights activists claim that producers have hiked the price of edible oil by 15 to 25 percent on their own initiative, without consulting the government.
According to dealers, mustard oil is now selling for Rs290-300 per litre, whereas it was selling for Rs170-185 per litre at this time last year. The price of sunflower oil has increased to Rs265-270 per litre from Rs165 per litre a year ago, while the price of soybean oil has increased to Rs250 per litre from Rs150-155 per litre a year ago.
During the previous four to five months, sugar has increased in price by Rs20 per kg, bringing it to Rs90-95 per kg. Sugar is predicted to rise to Rs100 per kg as a result of the imbalance between demand and supply caused by the frenzied buying for the upcoming holidays and celebrations.
Rice has also seen a spike in price, with the price of a bag increasing by Rs50-200, depending on the variety.
Shivaraj Sedai, a spokeswoman for the Department of Commerce, Supply, and Consumer Protection, stated that, despite market monitoring, consumers were subjected to false price spikes, and that the number of relabeling instances had increased, which was a source of concern for the department.
“Traders set the pricing of commodities, which are then traded.” However, if they have raised rates in violation of the law, they will face legal consequences. According to Sedai, “we have been conducting a ‘intelligence’ check.”
The Central Investigation Bureau has provided assistance to the department in the form of intelligence inspections of the marketplace. According to Sedai, province and municipal governments, on the other hand, are not seen to be very active when it comes to market inspection.
Given its trade-based economy, Nepal is reliant on food and non-food imports from other nations to meet its basic needs. Consumer rights groups claim that the lack of scrutiny on imported goods by large dealers has resulted in an increase in the number of relabeling cases, which have a direct impact on human health.
Keeping the approaching festivals in mind, Sedai stated that the department intends to increase its inspection team by 25 people in order to better serve them. Approximately three to four inspection teams, each consisting of a minimum of four inspectors, have been dispatched to the valley by the department.
Madhav Timalsina, head of the Consumer Rights Investigation Forum, stated that in order to address consumer issues, a clear national consumer policy must be in place.
Many complaints have recently been lodged by consumers who have purchased goods online; but, due to a lack of legislation, individuals continue to be taken advantage of, he noted.
Aside from that, due to the lack of a consumer court, the claims brought against producers and sellers are often dismissed without consideration. “As a result of the government’s failure to take harsh action against violating traders, labelling issues have recurred. According to Timalsina, “opportunist traders have thrived as a result of slack enforcement,” which has increased their confidence.