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SELF HELP THROUGH CONSUMER PROTECTION Dr. Sheetal Kapoor** “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”, said Gandhiji. Consumers today want value for money, a product or service that would meet reasonable expectations, should be safe in use and full disclosure of the product specification. These expectations are termed as ‘Consumer Rights’. 15 March is observed as the World Consumers’ Day. Consumer Protection Act, 1986 The most important milestone in Consumer Movement in the country has been the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Act has set in motion a revolution in the field of consumer rights, that perhaps cannot be paralleled anywhere else in the World. The Act applies to all goods and services unless specially exempted by the Central Government, in all sectors whether Private, Public or Co-operative. The Act enshrines all the consumers rights which are internationally accepted. As per the Act, the consumer protection councils have been established at Central, State and District levels to promote and protect the consumer rights. They are: Right to Safety: To be protected against the sale of goods and services which are spurious/ hazardous to life. Right to information: To know the quality, quantity, weight and the price of goods/services being paid for, so that one is not cheated by unfair trade practices. Right to Choose: To be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices. Right to be heard: To be heard and to be assured that the interest would receive due consideration at appropriate Right to Seek Redressal: To seek legal redressal against unfair or restrictive trade practices or exploitation. Right to Consumer Education: To have access to consumer education. The success of consumer movement depends upon the level of consumer awareness generated among the masses about their rights and responsibilities.It has been observed that where literacy rate is high and social awareness is better, the consumer can not be easily exploited. Being a nodal department for Consumer Protection, the Department of Consumer Affairs has taken several steps to strengthen consumer movement in the country and protect consumer interest by involving State Governments, Voluntary Consumer Organisations, and Consumer Activists etc. Consumer Protection in India received a shot in the arm in recent times with the Department of Consumer Affairs, introducing new schemes like setting up of Consumer Clubs in schools and the launching of Jagriti Shivir Yojana for spreading consumer awareness. The setting up of a National Consumer Helpline in Delhi University, to be run by the students and faculty with financial assistance from the epartmentis a major step in this direction. It has a toll free number 1800-11-4000, which allows a consumer anywhere in the country having a problem to ring up this number and get proper advice. Children are the backbone of any society. Children in India constitute 18.7% of the World kids population and one-third of our country’s population is under the age of 15 years. Thus in India, children form a massive 30% of the total population and this segment is growing at a rate of 4% per annum. This means a huge target market of 300 million is available to advertisers and they are already focusing on the kid channels. A survey by A C Nielsen UTV’s research partner showed that an average child watches TV for about three hours on week days and 3.7 hours on weekends, the time spent on television goes up with age, and the preferred language of viewing is Hindi across all age groups. Apart from the programmes children also view a lot of the advertisements. In India the advertising expenditure per year on products meant for children but purchased by parents, like health drinks, is 12 to 15 per cent of the total Rs. 38,000 million. Ad expenditure per year on products meant for children and also bought by them such as chocolates is seven to eight per cent. By promoting awareness among them the Consumer Movement in the country will be further strengthened. Courts Many schemes have been started by the Government to empower the Indian Consumer. Like setting up of Consumer Courts. To provide simple, speedy and inexpensive redressal to consumer grievances . Under the Act, a 3-tier quasi-judicial machinery have been set up at national, state and district levels. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) referred to as National Commission is the apex consumer redressal forum and located in New Delhi. Each state has a Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission known as the State Commission. Similarly, every district in the country has a Consumer Dispute RedressalForum known as the District Forum. Consumer -On Line Another intervention is the “Consumer Online Resource and Empowerment Centre (CORE Centre)” for providing consumer related information, guidance and an online consumer complaint redressal mechanism. It is being run by the Consumer Coordination Council (CCC), which is a coalition of 51 consumer organizations of this country. The country now has exclusive special law to protect the interest of the consumer with a foolproof redressal mechanism in case of defective goods and unsatisfactory services. Hence the welfare of consumers now remains in their own hands. If the consumers are responsible, vigilant and are able to assert their rights and responsibilities, resist/reject substandard goods/services wherever required and do not hesitate to seek justice through consumer courts if needed, the manufacturers, traders and service providers cannot afford to take them for granted while selling a product or rendering service on payment or to adopt any unfair trade practice. An alert consumer aware of his rights and responsibilities not only can protect himself but can also make consumer sovereignty a reality. A Brief History March 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.” John F. Kennedy had equated the rights of the ordinary American consumer with national interest. He gave the American consumer four basic rights such as, right to safety, right to choose, right to information, right to be heard. Kennedy recognisedthat consumers are the largest economic group in the country’s economy, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. But they were also the only important group who were not effectively organised, whose views were not heard. These were the political circumstance in USA when the US economy was growing after the second world war and the middle class was expanding. As consumers faced exploitation by business, Kennedy the politician used consumer rights as a political opportunity during his election campaign. He received support from the American public. When he was elected as US President he took a series of steps to ensure the implementation of consumer rights. Therefore, the US Federal Government, by nature the highest spokesman for all people, had a special obligation to the consumer’s needs. Thirteen years later President Gerald Ford felt that the four rights constituted in Kennedy’s Bill of Rights were inadequate for a situation where most consumers are not educated enough to make the right choices. So he added the Right to Consumer Education to these rights. An informed consumer cannot be exploited easily. The Consumers International (CI), formerly known as International Organisation of Consumer Unions (IOCU), the umbrella body, for 240 organisations in over 100 countries, expanded the charter of consumers rights contained in the US Bill to eight, which in a logical order reads: 1.Basic Needs 2.Safety 3.Information 4.Choice 5.Representation 6.Redress 7.Consumer Education and 8.Healthy Environment. This charter had a universal significance as they ymbolised the aspirations of the poor and disadvantaged. On this basis, the United Nations, in April 1985, adopted its Guidelines for Consumer Protection. *Reader, Department of Commerce, Kamala College University of Delhi Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely her own and not necessarily reflect the views of PIB.
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