The Consumer Protection Act is being Reviewed to make it more Effective


 

Consumer Redressel Machinery will be Further Strengthen – Prof. K.V. Thomas

 

The Government gives very higher priority to consumer protection and it is taking all steps to further strengthen consumer redressel fora. The Consumer Protection Act is being reviewed to make it more effective. A range of reforms have been proposed in the Act for this purpose and to speed up grievance redressing process. Awareness campaign is being planned to make common man more assertive about his or her rights as consumers. Department of Consumer Affairs is also exploring the possibility of producing tele-serials educating and empowering the consumers of their rights and responsibilities, as tele-serials have a mass appeal. This was stated by Prof. K.V. Thomas, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and public Distribution while addressing the conference of the Presidents of State Commissions and the Secretaries in-charge of Consumer Affairs of the States/UTs here today. The Minister reiterated that States should make use of financial assistance provided by his Ministry for strengthening consumer protection mechanism in their states.

 

Full text of Minister’s address is as follows:

 

“It gives me immense pleasure to be amongst you on the happy occasion of celebration of ‘World Consumer Rights Day,’ today. I also express my gratitude to all the dignitaries present here, who have been magnanimous enough to be a part of this celebration by being present here despite their multifarious commitments. As the world celebrates this day by endorsing and dedicating it to the guidelines for consumer protection adopted by the United Nations in 1985, it becomes imperative that celebration of this day does not become just an annual feature in our country. Emerging signals indicate that India is going to be among the top three economies of the world sooner than later. It cannot be denied that consumer is an important facet of a country’s economic order, as consumerism is manifested economically in the chronic purchasing of new goods and services. Therefore, whether a country succeeds as an economic power depends on the quality of goods it manufactures and services it provides. Here, the certifying authority is the consumer. A country that does not satisfies its consumers on the quality of products and services cannot aspire to be a world economic power.

 

I would like to briefly touch upon the initiatives of the Department of Consumer Affairs in ensuring that we have an energetic consumer protection movement in the country – to protect the consumer, to make him aware of his rights and responsibilities – thereby indirectly contributing to a vibrant economic order in the country. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted to provide better protection of the interest of the consumer, to establish consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumer disputes with little hassle for the consumer, with the provisions of the Act being compensatory, instead of being punitive or preventive in nature. The Act has been a landmark in social welfare legislations. You would be happy to know that the Act’s completion of 25 years of its existence in the service of the consumer was marked by the release of a special commemorative postage stamp by our Respected Rashtrapati ji on 29th November, 2012. Successful campaigns like “Jago Grahak Jago” have achieved high recognition with the consumers. These campaigns are undergoing changes to keep up with the times, and of late, I have been complimented for the improvement in the content and quality of these advertisements issued by the Department through print and electronic media. The Department of Consumer Affairs is also exploring the possibility of producing tele-serials educating and empowering the consumers on their rights and responsibilities, as tele-serials have a mass appeal which we can make the most use of. Another intervention is the creation of Consumer Welfare Fund 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 the rural areas. Similarly, Legal Metrology Act has been passed in April, 2011 for the benefit of consumers laying down specific standards in weight and measurement.

 

But, our efforts do not end here. As we progress, as the economy develops, it throws newer challenges for us to face. I may like to reiterate here that the success of consumer protection movement in the country relies on smooth and successful cooperation between the Central and the State Governments/UTs. You all will agree that a co-operative approach will result in uniform implementation of consumer protection laws and rules across all jurisdictions. There are no two opinions when it comes to protection of consumers, and together we can achieve that goal. I am happy to inform the audience that a range of reforms in the Consumer Protection Act has been proposed by the Department of Consumer Affairs, which I am sure, will have an effect on the laws administered by the States/UTs. These changes, it is hoped, will further benefit the consumers and speed up grievance redressing processes.

 

Last year, on the same occasion, I expressed the collective concern on various issues on which unfortunately many States/UTs had been found wanting in proactive efforts. To cite a few, many States/UTs do not have an exclusive Department for consumer affairs, and setting up of the State Commissions, District Fora and the State Consumer Protection Councils, the District Consumer Protection Councils have not taken place in many States/UTs. I would once again reiterate that such States/UTs make use of financial assistance provided by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India to strengthen consumer protection mechanism in their States/UTs. They can make use of software provided by the GOI free of cost and the training facilities meant for staff handling help lines. One thing we must keep in mind is that consumer fora at all levels do not become like Civil Courts with litigations terrorising consumers from approaching them. The fora must be consumer friendly. Other connected issues like uniform and reasonably good pay scales to members of consumer fora, separate cadre for the supporting staff and selection of competent persons as Members need our immediate attention. All these and other issues, I am sure, will be discussed in the Business Session scheduled for tomorrow so that we could come to an understanding of our strengths and weaknesses to be able to grow strong in the area of consumer protection.

 

Now, I would like to broach upon the 26th Report of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution on “The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2011.” While presenting its report to the Lok Sabha after examination of the Bill introduced in Lok Sabha on 16.12.2011, the Committee had made several observations which need to be addressed by us, by the Central Government as well as the States/UTs. My Secretary, Shri Pankaj Agrawal, had already sent a letter on 20th February, 2013 to all the Chief Secretaries of the States/UTs, drawing their attention to the concerns expressed by the Committee, observations which have to be looked into by the concerned States/UTs. Mainly these issues relate to non-functioning of fora at various levels in some States/UTs, vacancies in the fora, need for uniformity with regard to remuneration to the President/Members and staff of fora, non-maintenance of data relating to disposal and pendency of cases, its monitoring mechanism, the need for meetings of Consumer Protection Councils to be held periodically, etc. I would request all the States/UTs to kindly act upon the observations of the Committee and favour us with their Action Taken Reports immediately so that amendments to this important Act could see the light of the day. I am sure, with all your cooperation we will be able to provide a healthy and strong consumer protection mechanism to the people of the country.

 

With these words, I would like to conclude my address and hope that this Conference will prove to be an occasion where challenges lying ahead are not just understood but accepted in right and collective earnest to be tackled to ensure strong economic progress in the country.”

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