The Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) has proposed a separate department or ministry to protect the rights of consumers. This proposal needs due consideration. The commerce ministry takes care of businessmen’s interests and is normal for the ministry to be more attentive to businessmen’s rights, since the businesspeople are the pillars of the country’s exports and imports. But consumers’ rights cannot always be protected while also upholding businessmen’s rights. There is an obvious conflict of interest.
Looking at the history of subcontinent, we bear the legacy of Pakistan more than that of India in terms of the central ministry’s structure. We took on Pakistan’s bureaucratic organogram after our independence. That was a wrong decision. We understood the importance of breaking away from the Pakistani bureaucratic structure but failed to make changes. The proposal made by CAB has given us a chance to look back.
Indian policymakers were able to form a separate ministry for consumers’ affairs in 1947. We think, India took the right decision at least structurally from the very beginning. Someone might argue that change in bureaucratic structure may not always bring positive results. Discussion about doing away with corrupt business syndicates has come to the fore many times to stave off recurrence of situations such as recent onion price hike. Yet consumers get no respite from such tricks of unscrupulous business syndicates.
CAB president Golam Rahman was a veteran bureaucrat. He contends that a separate ministry would be helpful to coordinate between different ministries which currently look after consumers’ rights. Protecting the rights of citizens is fundamental of democracy and state mechanism. We have to look for new avenues when those rights are endangered. The recent onion crisis and other such crises have made one thing very clear—the commerce ministry has more or less failed to face any emergency effectively relating to commodity crisis. The consumers were always the victims. Failure of government’s prompt action in onion export may have some connection with the commerce ministry’s apathy towards consumers’ interests.
There is no single mention of the word ‘consumer’ in the list of commerce ministry’s Allocation of Business which specifies 31 works of the ministry. There are two points named Price Advising Boards and Price Control, but the people haven’t seen any effectiveness of them. In comparison, India’s consumers’ affairs ministry has two departments. There are 35 consumer related issues in their Allocation of Business.
It is evident that consumer related issues would get more focus if there was a separate ministry. A minister would be responsible towards the consumers. We can at least expect a department dedicated to consumers rights under the commerce ministry if setting up a separate ministry is not possible right now.