By Shraddha Kakade
Every year 15th of March is observed as the World Consumer Rights Day, the minute I hear the term consumer rights, I instantaneously recollect the melody of series of advertisements issued by PrasarBharati in public interest, with the vigilant jingle, ‘JagoGrahakJago’(wake up consumers wake up). Despite these efforts by the Government of India and numerous other voluntary organizations which strive to create awareness about consumer rights among the public, how many of us are aware of our consumer rights?, the legislations available for protection of the interest of the consumers? ¬¬ very few. Majority of us continue to overlook or silently suffer the unfair dealing in our day to day lives, be it the adulteration of food, misleading advertisements, poor quality of services or be it paying more than the MRP price for products, or allowing the vegetable/fruit vendor to use stone instead of weight among others. With increasing number of people shopping online new set of challenges have developed, where consumers no longer see the seller or the product .
Thus this blog is my attempt to understand what rights as consumers we have in India and what are the laws pertaining to the protection of consumer interest.
Why 15th of March?
It was on 15th of March, in 1964 John F Kennedy the then President of United States of America called upon the US congress to accord its approval to the Consumer Bill of Rights. During his speech Kennedy equated National interest with protection of ordinary American consumer rights and 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.” The rights provided through the bill are: i) Right to choice, (ii) Right to information, (iii) Right to safety and (iv) Right to be heard.
Thirteen years later President Gerald Ford added one more right, i.e. the right to consumer education. Other rights were gradually added; Consumer International (Umbrella Organization for 240 consumer organizations in over 100 countries) expanded the rights to further include right to healthy environment and right to basic needs.
Ultimately it was on 9th of April 1985, United Nations General Assembly adopted a set of general guideline for consumer protection and the UN Secretary General was authorized to persuade member countries to adopt these guidelines through policy changes or laws. These guidelines constitute a comprehensive policy framework outlining what governments need to do to promote consumer protection in following seven areas: Physical safety; Protection and Promotion of the consumer economic interest; Standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and services; Distribution facilities for consumer goods and services; Measures enabling consumers to obtain redress, Measures relating to specific areas (food, water and pharmaceuticals) and Consumer education and information programme.
Though not legally binding, the guidelines provide an internationally recognized set of strategy, particularly for governments of developing and newly independent countries for structuring and strengthening their consumer protection policies and legislations. (Singh &Chadah)
Consumer Protection Act 1986
In India the Consumer Protection Act was accordingly passed on 24th of December 1986 based on the guidelines provided by the UN. The objective of this Act was to better protect Indian consumer’s interest, to make provision for establishment of consumer councils and establishment of authorities to settle consumer disputes and address their grievances.
As per the Act, a ‘Consumer’ has been defined as
-Any person who buys goods for consideration, and any person who uses goods with the approval of the purchaser.
-Any person who hires any service(s) for a consideration and any beneficiary of such services, provided the service is availed with the approval of the person who had hired the service for a consideration.
Moreover, the consideration for either the goods or services may be either paid or promised, or partly paid or promised, or provided under a system of deferred payment.
Other than the consumer other complainants may include a registered consumer organization, central or State Government & one or more consumers, where there are numerous consumers having the same interest.
The Act enshrines the following Rights for consumers:
1. The right to be protected against the marketing of goods which are hazardous to life and property;
2. The right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices;
3. The right to be assured, wherever possible access to variety of goods at competitive prices;
4. The right to be heard;
5. The right to seek redress against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumer; and
6. The right to consumer education.
The complaint can be handwritten/typed by the complainant and no stamp or court fee is required, also the rigors court procedures have been done away and replaced with simple procedures allowing consumers to seek easy and inexpensive means of redress.
The C.P. Act applies to all goods and services, excluding goods purchased for resale or for commercial purpose & services rendered free of charge & under contract of personal service. The provisions of this Act cover ‘Products’ as well as ‘Services’. The products are those which are manufactured or produced and sold to consumers through wholesalers and retailers. The services are of the nature of transport, telephones, electricity, constructions, banking, insurance, medical treatment etc. etc. The services are, by and large; include those provided by professionals such as Doctors, Engineers, Architects, and Lawyers etc.
The Act provides a three tier, quasi-judicial consumer disputes redressal Authority (Consumer Courts) at District, State and National level. They are known as District Forums, State Commissions and National Commission. Depending upon the compensation claimed by the complainant he/she can file a case, i.e. For consumer claims up to 20 lakhs District courts, State Commission for above 20 Lakhs but less than one crore and National Commission for claims above one crore.
The Act also provides for councils at district, state and national level, with the aim to help the respective governments in adopting and reviewing policies for promoting, protecting the rights of the consumers also for the purpose of spreading consumer awareness. This council has a broad composition including citizens and number of interest groups, constituted on basis of public-private partnership for better feedback and thereby reviews of the policy.
How does the Act empower you and me?
The consumer protection Act in India is considered as notable social welfare legislation, as we studied above under the provisions of this Act, a complainant can ask for protection of his interest in a wide range of subject, say against bank which refuses to give back fixed deposit after the maturity period, defective electronic appliances, wrong medical treatment being administered, or against educational institutions on the grounds of it being a fake university, for examination not being held or results not given out or against the builder who failed to provide amenities assured in the construction project etc. Thus let us now look at some recent cases in which this Act has helped protect consumer rights:
In Kanpur, in mid-January 2002, a complainant Prince, son of Santosh Kumar had visited Dr R C Gupta while he was suffering from fever. Dr Gupta examined the patient and gave him prescription and advised him to visit the clinic in a week for check-up. However the complainant claimed that despite a week the medicines did not provide any relief and on visiting Dr Gupta’s clinic on stipulated time he complained the same however Dr Gupta only enhanced the dose of medicine prescribed in old prescription. After consulting another Child Specialist the complainant was told that so far he was being given wrong treatment, he is suffering from Meningitis. On January 29, complainant again consulted Dr Gupta and he referred him to a home (Nursing). During examination doctors observed that he was suffering from meningitis and brain TB and so far he received wrong treatment. Owning to the wrong treatment, the complainant got handicapped and lost his eyesight. The complainant had sought a sum of Rs 19 lakh as damages caused by the wrong treatment given by Dr Gupta. The District forum President LB Singh and member Sumanlata Sharma observed that doctor was negligent towards his duties and his act comes under the preview of dereliction of duty, therefore he was liable to pay a sum of Rs 2 lakh as damages to the complainant.
Is awareness enough? What about consumer responsibilities?
It is commendable at one level that we have Acts and Organization which work conscientiously to protect and promote interest of the consumers. We observe that several efforts are made by the Government in this direction, like establishment of National consumer Helpline to inform consumers on actions they can take on consumer protection related issues, establishment of ‘Consumer Online Resource and Empowerment Centre (CORE Centre)’ for providing consumer related information, guidance and consumer complaint guidance mechanism through the online medium, or involving academic institutions in conducting research and programs to enhance public awareness, this all is noteworthy. But education and awareness does not in itself solve problems of apathy. A larger attitudinal change is necessary in our consumption habits thereby making all these changes effective.
Consumers today are not sovereign as much as we would like to believe, we make consumption decisions not always guided by rationale but by factors like branding and marketing. Hence our responsibility as consumers does warrant a mention here. For example: Studies have revealed a large percentage of adolescents in US suffer from obesity owning to growth of fast food culture. Marketing of such food stuff creates association between consumers and the perception of happytimes, enjoyment without quite highlighting the consequences of daily junk food consumption. Today Fast food culture is seeing steep growth in Indian market too, thus it is essential for young consumers to assess what our needs are, eating junk food in moderation (without getting addicted to its fat and sugar) and importantly going beyond spurious marketing veil.
Secondly women consumers have a larger responsibility as they make not only half the world consumers but also make 80% of all purchase decisions for home and children. Marketers being aware of the working women pressures have come up with instant, two minute snacks and similar ideas amidst such developments it is essential for buyers in general and particular women to ensure the nutritional merit of the food product before making the purchase decision.
Having consumer protection legislations and organizations or even aware populace is not enough though. What we need is a consumer culture opposed to unfair dealing, both small and big. ‘Awareness’ accompanied by ‘Alertness’ enables the ‘consumer to be king’ in the true sense.
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=34182
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.consumerhelpindia.com/education.html
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.legalhelpindia.com/consumer-protection-act.html
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.goforthelaw.com/articles/fromlawstu/article82.htm
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://consumergoods.indiabizclub.com/info/consumer_rights
Government of India.(n.d.). Retrieved from http://business.gov.in/consumer_rights/issues_problems.php
Government of India.(n.d.). Retrieved from http://business.gov.in/consumer_rights/issues_problems.php
Singh, S., &Chadah, S. (n.d.).Consumer Protection in India some Reflections.