In this essay we will discuss about the need for consumer protection.
Consumer protection was not necessary when the world was younger and communities smaller. In the lifestyle of those times unfair trade was almost impossible. The industrial revolution and a shift of population from rural areas to towns and anonymity of urban living gave plenty of scope for malpractices.
In our country, buyers have a very weak bargaining power and cannot assert their right being heard. Consequently, manufacturers and traders are tempted to follow diverse practices which turn out to be unfair to consumers.
To check the onslaught on consumers, a host of legislations were enacted. These include Sale of Goods Act, 1930; Essential Commodities Act, 1955; Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954; Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980; Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1956; Agricultural Products and Grading and Marketing Act (AGMARK), 1937; Indian Standards Bureau Certification Act, 1952; MRTP Act, 1969 etc.
Besides the applicability of the above legislations, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted which was substantially amended by the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 1993 w.e.f. 18th June, 1993.
Consumer means any of the following persons:
A person who buys any goods for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised or under any system of deferred payment. The term includes any other user of such goods when such use is made with the approval of the buyer.
The expression ‘consumer’, however, does not include a person who obtains such goods for resale or for any commercial purpose.
A person who hires or avails of any service for consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment. The term includes any other beneficiary of such services with the approval of first mentioned person.
Consumer protection is needed because of following:
1. We need physical protection of the consumer, for example protection against products that are unsafe or dangerous to his health and welfare.
2. Consumer want protection against deceptive and unfair trade and market practices.
3. Consumers protection is needed against all types of pollution so that they can enjoy a healthy environment-free from water, air and food pollution.
4. Consumer protection is also needed against the abuse of monopolistic and restrictive trade practices. Protection delayed is protection denied.
On the one hand consumers, particularly in India, are unorganised, illiterate and ignorant, poor and backward, relatively uninformed and above all they still have the traditional outlook and attitude to suffer in silence. On the other side, businessmen and traders are organised, well-informed, intelligent and competent sellers. The negative sides of our life have enabled unscrupulous businessmen to exploit consumers in India.
Consumers in modern markets are amateurs whereas the persons confronting them are professional sellers. The consumer choice is influenced by mass advertising and other promotional devices which make people want things which neither they really need nor they can afford.
Consumerism demands due recognition of the following consumer rights by the business as well as by the Government:
1. Right to Safety:
Consumer should have the right to protection of health and safety against goods which are unsafe to life and health/services which are hazardous to life and property, that is appliances, flammable fabrics, dangerous toys, food additive, food colouring, etc.
2. Right to be Informed:
It means right to be informed about quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services, as the case may be, so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices. Consumers should be given all the relevant facts about the product so that they can take intelligent decisions in purchasing. Advertising and labelling on the package can provide objective information to buyers.
3. Right to Choose:
That is right to have access to variety of goods and services at competitive prices. In case of monopolies, say, railways, telephones, etc., it means right to be assured of satisfactory service.
Free competition provides sample choice in the selection of goods and services. It is expected from the manufacturers not to use aggressive selling techniques to sell a particular product without giving the consumer a chance to choose the best among alternatives products available.
4. Right to be Heard:
There should be a provision for standing machinery to ensure feedback of information in business communication to listen to the genuine grievances and complaints from the customers. Such a safety valve is necessary for smooth flow of understanding between sellers and buyers. It can keep sellers duly informed about consumer reactions and feelings.
5. Right to Get Redress:
There should be prompt settlement of complaints and claims lodged by aggrieved customers. This will ensure consumer confidence and provide justice to buyers. Incidentally, it will also enhance seller’s goodwill and reputation. For this purpose a number of consumer courts and agencies have been specifically set up.
6. Right to Receive After-Sale Service:
It is essential in costly and durable goods i.e., mechanical and electrical/electronic appliances.
7. Freedom from Pollution:
It is the latest addition to consumer bill of rights. Community life should be free from various modes of pollution. This will enhance the quality of human life.
There are three alternative ways and means for consumer protection in the market place:
1. Self-help that is, consumers’ unions.
2. Business, by self-regulation and by giving a fair deal to the retailers and consumers.
3. Government, by having special consumer legislation and its strict implementation. Legislation ensures competition, provisions of information to buyers, and fair play through regulation of unfair trade practices.
Self policing is far more superior to state policing in the field of marketing. It is in the self-interest of the business itself. Government intervention takes place only to protect the weaker party in the market (consumers) and to prevent its exploitation by the stronger party (businessmen). “Absence of voluntary business correctives leads to consumer legislation.”
To provide simple, speedy and inexpensive redressal of consumer grievances, the Act envisages a three-tier quasi-judicial machinery at the district, state and national levels. At the district level these are to be district fora as the redressal for. The state government may, if it deems fit, establish more than one district forum for a district.
At the state level, there are to be similar redressal commissions to be known as State Commissions and at the national level, there is a National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission to be known as National Commission.
It is established in each district by the state government. Only those complaints can be filed at this level where the value of goods/services and the compensation claimed is less than Rs. 5 lacs.
Such complaints may be lodged either by the consumer so deceived or through any recognized consumer association. Sample of goods is sent for testing to an approved laboratory. The opposite party is duly informed and is given chance to file its representation.
The District Forum is empowered:
(i) To remove the defects;
(ii) To replace the goods;
(iii) To return the price paid;
(iv) To pay compensation to the consumer for loss or injury.
An appeal can be filed against such order to the State Commission within 30 days.
Only those complaints can be filed with a State Commission where the value of goods or services and compensation claimed is between Rs. 5,00,000 and Rs. 20,00,000. As mentioned above, appeals against the orders of any District Forum can be filed before such Commission.
The State Commission after being satisfied that the goods were defective can issue an order directing the opposite party to either remove the defect; or replace the goods; or return the price paid; or pay compensation to the consumer for loss or injury.
The aggrieved party can appeal against such order to the National Commission within 30 days.
This Commission is set up by the Central Government under the president ship of a Judge of the Supreme Court. All complaints pertaining to those goods or services and compensation whose value is more than Rs. 20 lacs can be filed.
Also, appeals against the order of State Commission can be filed before the National Commission. This Commission shall have the same powers as that of a Civil Court in dealing with cases and follow the procedures prescribed by the national government.
The Commission will ensure that manufacturers comply with safety provisions and pay compensation for loss or injury caused. It has powers to issue orders for recall of defective or unsafe products for replacement or removal of deficiency in service. Such orders are appealable and one can file appeal in the Supreme Court within 30 days.
It can be said that each alternative is a partial solution-consumerism, self- regulation by business and legislation. But it all these collaborate and are well- coordinated, we can reap very good fruits assuring substantial consumer protection and establishing distribution, justice to all.
“The law helps those who help themselves.” Hence consumerism is necessary. Self-regulation by business will minimise the need for extensive government intervention.
To supplement consumerism and self-regulation, we have legislation to restore the balance of power in exchange relationship between buyers and sellers. There is also a consensus of opinion that the best interests of consumers can only be served through an effective cooperation among consumers, businessmen and government and a broad consumer education programme.
If these correctives are actively adopted by all groups, it would indeed be a giant step for consumers and the appropriate response to the phenomenon known as consumerism.