The consumer movement in India is as old as trade and commerce itself. There are references to the concept of protection of consumers against the exploitation by trade and industry, short weighment and measurements, adulteration along with the punishment for these offences. There was, however, no organized and systematic movement actually safeguarding the interests of the consumers. Prior to Independence, consumer interests were considered mainly under laws like the Indian Penal Code, Agricultural Production Grading and Marketing Act 1937, and Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. Even though different parts of India had varying degrees of awareness, in general the level of awareness was low.
It is generally believed that the consumer movement in India as of today is quite strong when it is compared with other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Because of economic inequality, low level of literacy and ignorance, particularly amongst women, the level of consumer awareness is not too high and, therefore, the consumers are not able to assert and protect themselves. They easily get exploited by trade and industry and service providers. With the liberalization process which started in 1991 the entire economic scenario is undergoing a complete change from a government-driven economy to a market-driven economy.Protecting the interests of consumers has, therefore, become one of the paramount concerns of the Government than ever before. Hence, policies are being designed and legislations enacted to protect the consumers’ interest and grant them the right to choice, safety, information and redressal.
A consumer is an utterly helpless fellow.He has no say in the quality or nature of goods that are sent to the market for his consumption. He is a victim of numerous malpractices. He is often made to buy adulterated or substandard goods. Second hand goods are passed on to him as new. Clever businessmen, through glossy salesmanship, misleading advertisements and tall claims about their products, rob the consumer of his hard-earned money. The consumer knows what is happening to him. But except making a loud, individual kind of protest, which has no effect on the mammon-worshipping businessmen, there is very little that he can do to check his systematic exploitation Since a majority of our consumers, particularly in the rural areas, are illiterate, they are not able to distinguish between the genuine and the spurious or the good and the bad. It is mainly these consumers who suffer at the hands of unscrupulous businessmen.
Consumers also suffer from a total absence of awareness among them. They know nothing about their rights; they are ignorant of the laws. First of all, the laws on trademarks, essential commodities, drugs, weights and measures etc., are not very effective. Secondly, the standard of morals in our country being what it is, the businessmen do not find it difficult to steer clear of laws through greasing the palms of the inspection staff. Besides, litigation is such a costly and time consuming affair that no consumer has the courage and patience to throw cudgels on behalf of his ever suffering community.
The basic rights of a consumer were precisely defined by no less a person than the late President John F. Kennedy, who articulated what had long been known in advanced countries and among vigilant, highly educated people. The rights as defined by him are:
1)The right to safety and to be protected against the marketing of goods which are health hazards or pose a danger to life itself;
2)The right to be informed so as to be protected against fraudulent, deceitful or grossly misleading information, advertising, labeling or other such practices and to be given the facts he needs to make an informal choice;
3)The right to choose and to be assured; as far as possible, access to variety of products and services at competitive prices, and in industries in which free competition is not workable and Government regulation is substituted to be assured satisfactory quality and service at fair prices; and
4)The right to be heard and thus to be assured that consumer interests will receive full and sympathetic consideration in the formulation of governmental policy and fair and expeditious treatment in its administrative tribunals.
The interests of the consumer can be protected by making more stringent laws and making the enforcement machinery perform its function honestly and diligently. Among the methods adopted by the Government in its effort to protect the consumer’s interests are: The order requiring display of price lists in shop;
- The orders fixing the limits of stocks of certain commodities
- Which can be stored at one time; The order requiring fixation of price tag;
- Printing weight and prices on cartons;
- Opening of more fair price shops;
- The prescription necessitating a certificate from the Bureau
- Indian of Standards (BIS) regarding the quality of the stuff being sold. There is also the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices
- Act (MRTP) to act as the watch dog of the Indian consumer.
Awareness among the consumers:
Only 20 per cent of consumers in India are aware of the consumer protection law and just 42 per cent of them have heard about consumer rights. Only about 20 per cent of consumers in the country are aware of the Act even after 25 years of its existence. It is the best known act followed by Weights and Measures Act, 1976 and Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. The government has enacted the Consumer Protection law way back in 1986 to protect consumer interest and settle disputes at the central, state and district levels. Only about 14 per cent consumers are aware about the proposed Food Security Act. The awareness is the highest in northern region and the lowest in eastern region. Just 42 per cent have heard about consumer rights and almost 50 per cent of consumers are not even aware about government’s ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ campaign.12 However, these findings are still encouraging considering the fact that five years ago only 18 per cent were aware about the Act, the study said expressing concern that people are gradually losing trust on consumer redressal mechanisms. Consumer’s Responsibilities:
The consumers have a number of rights regarding the purchase of things, but at the same time they have some responsibilities too. It means that the consumer should keep a few things in mind while purchasing them. They are as follows:
1.Consumer should use his right: Consumers have many rights with regard to the goods and services. They must be aware of their rights while buying. These rights are: Right to safety, Right to be informed, Right to representation, Right to seek redressal, Right to consumer education, etc.
2.Cautious consumer/ do not buy blindly: The consumers should make full use of their reason while buying things. They should not take the seller‟s word as final truth. In other words, while buying consumer must get information regarding the quality, quantity, price, utility etc. of goods and services.
3.Filing complaint for the redressal of actual grievances: It is the responsibility of a consumer to approach the officer concerned there is some complaint about the goods purchased. A late complaint may find that the period of guarantee/warrantee has lapsed. Sometimes, consumers ignore the deception of businessmen. This tendency encourages corrupt business practices.
4.Consumer must be quality conscious / Do not compromise on quality: The consumers should never compromise on the quality of goods. Therefore, they should not buy inferior stuff out of greed for less prices. If the consumers behave like this, there cannot be any protection for them from any quarter. It is also the responsibility of the consumers only to buy goods with the ISI, Agmark, Wool mark, FPO etc. printed on them. All these symbols are indicative of the good quality of the goods.
5.Advertisements often exaggerate/Beware of false advertisement: The seller informs the consumer about their things through the medium of advertisement. The sellers exaggerate the quality of their goods. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the consumers to recognize the truth of advertisement.
6.Do not forget to get Receipt and Guarantee/warrantee card: One should always get a receipt or bill for the things purchased. In case a guarantee/warrantee card is also offered by seller, it should also be taken. In case the goods purchased are of inferior quality or some defects appears and bothers the customers, these documents will be of great help in settling all kinds of dispute with the seller.
7.Do not buy in hurry: The first important responsibility of consumers is that they should not buy in hurry. It means that the consumers should make an estimate of the things they want to buy their along with their quantity required by them. They should also take in consideration the place from where to buy the things.
Unfair Trade Practices:
The primary objective of the passing the 1986 Act is to protect the rights of consumers against the unfair trade practices followed by unscrupulous traders. Thus it becomes important to know the definition of the expression “unfair trade practice”. The 1993 Amendment has incorporated a complete definition of the expression with a view to make it an independent source. According to the Act, ‘Unfair Trade Practice’ means a trade practice which for the purpose of promoting the sale, use, or supply of any goods or for the provision of any service. Any unfair method / practice or deceptive practice that is adopted by the traders in promoting their sales or services becomes an Unfair Trade Practice.
SUCCESS OF CONSUMERISM:
Globalization and liberalization of trade and business has resulted in many products and services being available to the consumers. Growth in economy has resulted in increase in the purchasing power of the middle class section, which is the largest segment of the population. This has necessitated giving high priority for the protection of the consumers and promotion of responsible consumer movement in the country. Modern technological growth and complexities of the sellers’ techniques, existence of a vast army of middlemen and unethical and untruthful advertisements have aggravated the situation of consumer exploitation.
The consumer has to be aware of his rights and play a key role. The success of consumerism is a strong function of consumer awareness and to avoid exploitation consumer must become knowledgeable. Many constitutional provisions have been made by government to protect the consumers. Until and unless the consumers avail of these provisions, the protection of consumer becomes inevitable. There is a great need to make them aware of their rights and responsibilities.