KATHMANDU, Nov 30: The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court issued a show cause notice to government authorities today, demanding the reason why the Black Marketing and Some Other Public Crimes and Punishment Act, 1975 was amended to reduce the jail sentence for black marketers.
The five-member Constitutional Bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice Gopal Parajuli, Deepak Raj Joshee, Om Prakash Mishra, Cholendra SJB Rana and Deepak Kumar Karki issued the notice to the government, seeking clarification on the two-year-old amendment that provisions a lower jail sentence than before for those convicted for black marketing.
The amendment came into force from February 25, 2016 and it reduced the jail sentence for various crimes such as profiteering, manipulating the supply of goods, cheating on quality and creating artificial shortages, from between three to 10 years in jail to up to no more than one year.
The bench gives the defendants --the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Minister, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Law and Justice and the Parliament Secretariat-- 15 days to submit their written replies.
The constitutional bench was acting in response to a writ petition filed by advocate Jagannath Mishra, who had challenged the reduction in jail term. He stated that the provision was inserted in the Act in a grave deviation from the principal of consumerism and the constitutionally guaranteed rights of consumers, and accused the government of undermining social justice for consumers as enshrined in the Constitution.
Stating that the government led by KP Sharma Oli amended the Act with an intention of supporting black marketers, the petitioner-accused it of reducing the jail term to ultimately support entrepreneurs who engage in unhealthy business practices.
Stating that the amendment affected not only the provision relating to the sale and distribution of medicines but also provisions relating to the supply of other goods, the petitioner sought the apex court's intervention to put the rights of consumers back on track.
The petitioner also stated that the government hatched a conspiracy to support black marketers with a lighter punishment by amending the Act. Article 52 of the Constitution states that only cases deserving more than one-year jail sentence can be tried in district court and other cases which may deserve lighter punishment will be tried in other quasi-judicial bodies such as the District Administration Office.
“This was nothing but a conspiracy for supporting black marketers and helping them cheat the common people, and it would ultimately defeat the principle of consumerism and social justice for the people,” the petitioner claimed in his petition lodged at the apex court on May 30, 2016.