PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU
GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF CONSUMERS
Dr. P.J. Sudhakar, Addl. Director General (M & C), PIB, Hyderabad.
India has been observing 15th March since 1989 as the National Consumers’ Day. This day has a historic importance as it was on this day in 1962, when the Bill for Consumer Rights was moved in the US Congress. During his speech President John F. Kennedy had remarked: “If a consumer is offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and national interest suffers.” Considering the importance of Kennedy’s speech to the US Congress on this day, and the resultant law, the Consumers International (CI) took a decision in 1982 to observe 15 March as the World Consumer Rights Day from 1983. Peculiar though it may sound, 15 March is not observed as a special day in the world’s largest and most pulsating consumer society - the US. But in India the Government, adopted 15 March as the National Consumer’s Day. Gandhi had rightly said that “a customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work - he is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to serve him.”
During the year 2015, the World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) is focusing on consumers’ rights to healthy food. The Consumers International has accordingly decided to make helping consumers choose healthy diets the theme of World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) 2015. All consumers deserve the right not just to food, but to healthy food. The rise in diet related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers represents a major international public health crisis. The number of overweight and obese people continues to rise. The impact of poor diets on health now exceeds that of smoking. The impact of obesity on global GDP is equivalent to the cost of war, gun violence and terrorism. The availability and affordability of unhealthy foods, the marketing practices of large international food companies and the lack of information available to consumers makes it increasingly hard to choose a healthy diet.
The definition of Consumer right is 'the right to have information about the quality, potency, quantity, purity, price and standard of goods or services’, as it may be the case, but the consumer is to be protected against any unfair practices of trade. Out of the various laws that have been enforced to protect the consumer rights in India, the most important is the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. In general, the consumer rights in India are: (i) The right to be protected from all kind of hazardous goods and services; (ii) The right to be fully informed about the performance and quality of all goods and services; (iii) The right to free choice of goods and services; (iv) The right to be heard in all decision-making processes related to consumer interests; (v) The right to seek redressal, whenever consumer rights have been infringed; and (vi) The right to complete consumer education.
Consumer Protection Act, 1986
One of the most important milestones in the area of consumer protection/consumer movement in the country has been the enactment of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (COPRA). COPRA has succeeded in bringing about revolutionary judicial reforms by providing juristic quasi-judicial courts solely for redressal of consumer grievances (where a price has been paid), for adjudication within a limited time frame of 90 to 150 days. Government is mulling amendment to the Consumer Protection Act to address the problem so that the pious objective espoused by the Government could be achieved. The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 was enacted to ensure the easy availability of essential commodities to consumers and to protect them from exploitation by unscrupulous traders.
Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies
Consumer Forums have been established across country at the different levels with view to provide speedy, less expensive and simple (hassle-free) dispute redressal to the consumers. For achieving the objectives, section 9 of the Consumer Protection Act provides three tier dispute redressal agencies.(a) ‘National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission’ established by Central Government by the notification. This Court is known as “National Commission”; (b) ‘State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission’ established by State Government with prior approval of the Central Government, by notification. And this Court is known as “State Commission”; and (c) Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum established by the State Government in each district of the State by notification. And this Court is known is ‘District Forum’. The Act is proposed to set up the hierarchy of three redressal agencies. (1) National Commission, (2) State Commission, (3) District Forum. All these agencies are quasi- judicial in terms of nature and power.
Consumer movement is a socioeconomic movement to protect the rights of consumers in relation to the goods purchased and services availed. The Department of Consumer Affairs is entrusted with administration of the Consumer Protection Act and implements measures to strengthen the Consumer Fora established to ensure speedy, affordable and simple dispensation of justice to consumers.
Consumer Protection Councils
The Consumer Protection Act 1986 also provides for a Central Consumer Protection Council, which is an advisory body making recommendations to the Department of Consumer Affairs on protection of Consumers’ rights. The Act provides for Consumer Protection Council at State and District level as well.
The objective of consumer cooperatives has been to eliminate the middleman and to provide daily needs to consumers at reasonable prices. Consumer cooperatives have received support from the Government, as they help to check rise in prices of consumer goods. Consumer Cooperatives have a four-tier structure comprising primary stores, wholesale/Central stores, State Consumer Cooperative Federations and the National Consumer Cooperative Federation.
The scheme of ‘Computerisation and Computer Networking of Consumer Fora in the country, (CONFONET)’ was launched during the 10th Plan period in March, 2005 at a cost of Rs.48.64 crores. The scheme had been extended during 11th Plan period with a total outlay of Rs.25.69 crores. Under the scheme, the Consumer Fora at all the three tiers throughout the country were to be fully computerized to enable access of information and quicker disposal of cases. The project is being implemented by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) on a turnkey basis. The scheme has been extended during 12th Plan period with a total outlay of Rs.70 crores.
Consumer Grievance Redressal Cell (CGRC)
Consumer Grievance Redressal Cell (CGRC) was set up in 2002 for addressing the complaints made by the customers. The categories it deals with are high prices being charged for products and selling of goods those are defective; handling grievances that are received by the PMO and the Cabinet Secretary regarding customer issues; and handling the complaints that are published in the newspaper. 2272 complaints were received by the Redressal Cell till 31st March 2007. Both CGRC and CCC do not possess the authority to solve the complaints of consumers or take necessary actions. They have to forward those complaints to the higher authorities.
Consumer Welfare Fund
The Central Excise and Salt Act, 1944 was amended in 1991 to enable the Central Government to create a Consumer Welfare Fund where the money which is not refundable to the manufacturers, etc. is being credited. Consumer Welfare Fund was created in 1992 with the objective of providing financial assistance to promote and protect the welfare of the consumer, create consumer awareness and strengthen consumer movement in the country, particularly in rural areas.
Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS)
The Bureau of Indian Standards was set up as a statutory organization under the Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1986 taking over the assets and liabilities of the Indian Standards Institution (ISI) that came into existence in 1947. BIS is formulating need-based Indian standards. It also harmonizes national standards with international standards in order to facilitate adoption of international standards by all segments of industry and business. The Scheme for Hallmarking of Gold Jewellery was launched in April 2000. The objective of the Scheme is to protect consumer interest by providing third party assurance the consumers about the purity of gold in jewellery/artefacts. The scheme for Hallmarking of Silver Jewellery/artefacts was launched in October 2005.
‘Jago Grahak Jago’
An Initiative towards Consumer Education and Awareness: This slogan ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ has now become a household name as a result of publicity campaign undertaken in the last 4 years. The campaign has used all possible medium that may be required to reach out to consumers. In the 11th Five Year Plan the total allocation has been significantly revised upwards to Rs.409 crores.
Internet Usage for Consumer Awareness
We are a young country with more than 70% population under 35 years of age. The youngsters are using internet in a big way for various purposes and also happen to be the major consumers. Realizing this, a major initiative is being taken to spread consumer awareness through the internet medium. All the print advertisements of the Department were also uploaded on the website of the Ministry i.e. www.fcamin.nic.in.
National Consumer Helpline
The Department of Consumer Affairs has launched National Help Line and the Toll Free Number 1800-11-4000 which is being operated by Delhi University for counseling the Consumers to redress their grievances. The timing of toll free number facility is available to consumers from 9-30 A.M. to 5-30 P.M. on all the working days (Monday to Saturday) The helpline also operates the Number 011-27662955-58 on which normal call charges apply.
* 15th March is being observed as World Consumer Rights Day across the globe every year.