Mahfuja Mukul: Traders create instability in the commodity market at different times. Artificial crises are created, various manipulations are done including illegally charging high prices. Ordinary people fall into misery due to their actions. In that case, even if the government takes action against unscrupulous traders, the law is not properly enforced. Most cases are limited to fines and lawsuits. As a result, traders continue to commit the same crime. Consumers are angry about this.
They say the syndicate is getting stronger because of the lack of proper enforcement of the law. The Special Powers Act carries the maximum penalty of death, even life imprisonment, and a minimum sentence of 14 years.
Lawyers claim that trade syndicates and hoarders are getting exemptions by bypassing the death penalty law. The Ministry of Commerce, the National Consumer Protection Department, the Competition Commission and the Food Department take action against unscrupulous traders.
Discussions on this started after the crisis of edible oil was created in the country. The soybean oil crisis has been raging across the country since the month of Ramadan. Traders started stockpiling oil to raise prices. As a result, the Consumer Rights Protection Department launched a campaign after Eid to keep the market normal.
At this time, huge quantities of soybean oil were found in different parts of the country. But unscrupulous traders were fined and released. There are cases somewhere. However, the lawyers of the Supreme Court think that it is not right to impose a fine. They are talking about bringing them under tougher punishment. Lawyers say it is important to pay fines as well as imprisonment. This can keep the market stable.
Up to the High Court in the instability of the market for essential commodities. There is also a writ petition. As a result, the rule seeks to know why the failure of the concerned government authorities to stop the illegal syndication business by destabilizing the market by increasing the prices of essential commodities on March 15 will not be declared illegal. At the same time, the Bangladesh Competition Commission was asked to find the culprits and take legal action against them.
The High Court also issued a rule seeking to know what steps have been taken against stockiest for setting up monitoring cells and formulating policies to control soybean oil and commodity prices. At the same time, action was taken against those involved in the syndicate.
The High Court asked the secretary of the commerce ministry, secretary of the home ministry and the Bangladesh Competition Commission to submit a report on the matter by April 28.
A bench of the High Court comprising Justice Farah Mahbub and Justice SM Moniruzzaman passed the order on March 15, the day of hearing and order of the writ petition.
Advocate Syed Mohidul Kabir and Advocate Syeda Nasrin were present in the court on behalf of the petitioner. Advocate Monir Hossain was with them. Deputy Attorney General Pratikar Chakma represented the state. He was accompanied by Assistant Attorney General Asaduzzaman and Assistant Attorney General Abul Kalam Khan.
Petitioner’s lawyer Syed Mohidul Kabir told that the High Court has directed to take legal action against the stockiest of essential commodities.
He said the rule sought to know why the Bangladesh Competition Commission would not be directed to take legal action against the miscreants who destabilized the market.
Besides, why not make necessary regulations as per section 21 (1) of the Competition Act, 2012 to prevent illegal allied business, as well as ration card in OMS (open market sale) policy for sale of products like rice, pulses, wheat, sugar, onion and edible oil. The rule also asks why the provision should not be included. The rule also asks why the inaction and failure of the National Consumer Rights Protection Department should not be declared illegal.
The Commerce Secretary, Home Secretary, Food Secretary, Chairperson of Bangladesh Competition Commission, Director General of Consumer Protection Department, Chairman of Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) and President of FBCCI, the apex body of traders were asked to respond to the rule.
Supreme Court advocates Monir Hossain, Syeda Nasrin, Syed Mohidul Kabir and Mohammad Ullah filed the writ petition in the High Court on March 8 after the Soybean oil price hike was brought to the notice of the High Court. The lawyer said that the hearing will be initiated.
Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) senior lawyer. “I think they (businessmen) are committing criminal offenses,” Khurshid Alam told. He is in favor of filing a case against the stockists under the Criminal Code, not under the Consumer Protection Act.
He said it should go straight to action, to criminal proceedings. Otherwise, they will not be stopped just by paying a fine.
Supreme Court lawyer Syed Mohidul Kabir said the competition commission had filed the case a few days ago. My point is that despite the provision of maximum punishment, they are releasing a small amount of punishment or fine, it is not a proper application of the law. The High Court said to punish according to the law. But the commission sued eight shops or dealers in one day for the formality. They did not actually enforce any law.
He further said that the hearing of the rule was scheduled to be held on April 28 in view of the writ petition seeking directions to control the prices of daily commodities. But the hearing did not take place. The writ petition may be heard next week. So, my idea is that the Competition Council has filed a case in a hurry.
The Supreme Court lawyer said that the Consumer Rights and the Competition Council are both parties to the writ petition. But they are enforcing a law of 2017. The law does not have too many penalties, only a few days. Neither of them was sentenced to life imprisonment or to 14 years imprisonment under sub-section two of the Twenty-Five Special Powers Act or the Twenty-Five One. That means their situation is like a fishing game.
Mohidul Kabir, a lawyer working on safe food, said the large oil reserves found in Khulna should have been prosecuted under the Special Powers Act. Besides, the rate at which oil was received in different districts could also be sued under this law. But that did not happen.
On May 12, a mobile court of RAB recovered 263,000 liters of edible oil in Khulna. At that time, three companies were fined Taka one lakh 60 thousand.
Asked about the raids across the country, the lawyer said the minimum punishment for the highest crime is what kind of provision it is. The government has also responded to the writ petition. But the state did not present it in court. It was supposed to be brought on April 26, but it was not brought. Maybe not because of Eid. But I hope it can come now.
Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, a Supreme Court lawyer, told that the consumer rights law gives them administrative power in the law. However, they were not given the power to sue. As a result, they are subject to administrative punishment, which is limited to a maximum fine of two lakh rupees.
“They have nothing to do with it,” he said. But it is not the proper measure. There is a network in the field under consumer rights, they can do research on these issues if they want. The law also stipulates that there should be a sub-committee on market control under the Deputy Commissioner (DC), which will monitor the market. There are many such laws. But we are not seeing anything effective.
Regarding the Special Powers Act, he said that this Act has provisions related to stocks. There is no need to face the consumer department in implementing it. Only law enforcement can take the necessary steps. They can sue the stockholder. They may face trial. In addition, the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of an area or an official of any government department or AC land can take action.
The lawyer also said that at present, traders can also cause chaos with wheat. He said that a case could be filed under the Special Powers Act.
Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua further said that there is a Competition Act-2012 (Competition Commission Act, 2012). There is also a commission under it. Their job is to see that no one can monopolize the market, so that there is competition in the market.
He said if the commission was given the power to sue, they could play an important role. But since the Commission does not have this power, there are provisions in the Special Act which should be properly enforced.
What is in law
The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009 provides for a maximum of one year imprisonment and fine for the temporary closure of factories, shops, warehouses, failure to sell and supply the goods properly. However, this law does not mention anything about stockpiling and black market. Therefore, there are questions about the application of the law against illegal hoarding and sale on the black market.
The Special Powers Act of 1984 deals with the punishment of illegal stockpiling and black market. Section 2 of the Act defines stockpiling as “the act of storing or storing more than the maximum number of things permitted by a person at any time.”
The same section defines black-market transactions as “the sale or purchase of something for the purpose of trading at a price higher than the prescribed maximum price.”
Regarding punishment, section 25 (1) of the law states, “Anyone found guilty of hoarding or black-marketing offenses shall be punishable by death, life imprisonment or 14 years’ imprisonment, as well as a fine.” Provided, however, that if the person accused of hoarding proves that he hoarded for any purpose other than for financial or other gain, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months and with fine.
Section 25D of the same law states, “It would also be an offense to attempt or co-operate in acts which are considered a crime under the Special Powers Act.” Article 34 (a) of the law relates to the execution of the death penalty.
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