Consumers participate in the marketplace by using a particular product. Had there been no consumer no company would exist. The status of consumer is more or less pathetic as far as consumer rights are concerned. You can take examples of shopkeepers weighing less than he should, company’ making false claims on packs. Then there are local sweetmeat sellers adulterating raw materials to produce the laddoos or barfis. You can recall the case of dropsy because of adulterated mustard oil. No matter how bad quality you get, chances are you will get a rude response from the shopkeeper if you dare to complain.
If you have traveled by railways then you can recall the horrible taste of almost all foodstuffs being sold in trains and on platforms. Even the food supplied by the rail pantry is of horrible quality.
India has long tradition of food adulteration, black marketing, hoarding, underweighing, etc. It was from the 1960s that the consumer movement began in India. Till the 1970s, consumer movement was mainly restricted to writing articles and holding exhibitions. But there has been an upsurge in the number of consumer groups in recent times.
The level of dissatisfaction with the sellers and service providers was such an extent that the consumers had no choice but to raise their voice. After many years of organized struggle, the government was forced to take notice and finally the Consumer Protection Act (COPRA) was enacted in 1986.
Right to Be Informed: A consumer has the right to have correct information about a product. There are rules which make it mandatory to mention ingredients and safety features on the pack of a product. Proper information helps a consumer to make informed buying decision. A pack of a product also needs to mention the MRP (Maximum Retail Price) and a consumer can complain if the seller asks for more than the MRP.
Right to Choose: A consumer has the right to choose from different options. A seller cannot just offer to sell only one brand to the consumer. The seller has to offer various options to the consumer. This right is usually enforced through laws against monopoly trade.
Right to Seek Redressal: If a consumer gets affected by false promises made by the producer or suffers because of manufacturing defect; he has the right to seek redressal. Suppose you took a mobile connection and the bill shows many hidden charges which were not explained to you earlier. Or the mobile company activated a ringtone without your permission. Then you can go to the consumer court to put your case.
The consumer movement in India has led to the formation of various organisations locally known as consumer forums or consumer protection councils. They guide consumers on how to file cases in the consumer court. On many occasions, they also represent individual consumers in the consumer courts. These voluntary organisations also receive financial support from the government for creating awareness among the people.
If you are living in a residential colony, you might have noticed name boards of Resident Welfare Associations. If there is any unfair trade practice meted out to their members they take up the case on their behalf.
Consumer Courts: This is a three-tier quasi-judicial system. The district level court deals with cases involving claims upto Rs. 20 lakh. The state level court deals with cases between Rs. 20 lakh and Rs. 1 crore. The national level court dealt with cases which involve claims exceeding Rs. 1 crore.
If a case is dismissed in district level court, the consumer can also appeal in state and then in National level courts.
24th December is celebrated as the National Consumers’ Day. It was on this day that the Indian Parliament enacted the Consumer Protection Act in 1986. India is one of the few countries that have exclusive courts for consumer redressal. The consumer movement in India has made significant progress in recent times. At present, there are more than 700 consumer groups. Out of them, about 20-25 are well organized and are recognized for their work.
The consumer redressal process is becoming cumbersome, expensive and time consuming. The lawyer’s charges in some cases work as deterrent. Sometimes, the long delay de-motivates a person and he may even stop pursuing the case.
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