Re-looking the consumer protection regime in India

“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. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”                                                                                 

-Mahatma Gandhi

We buy a variety of goods and services in our day-to-day life. Consumers participate in the marketplace by using a particular product. Had there been no consumer no company would exist. Whatever we buy we pay for it and derive satisfaction from its consumption and use. But sometimes we do not feel satisfied with the product we buy. This may be on account of poor quality of the product, overcharging by the shopkeeper, lower quantity of contents, misleading advertisement, and so on. 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 sweet-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. Should we allow these practices to continue? Obviously not;then is there any remedy for such malpractices? The answer lies in the concept and practice of consumer protection, the rights and responsibilities of consumers, legal provisions and  mechanism for settlement of consumer grievances. In the early law, the doctrine of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) was the philosophy of the law of sales. Today it has been replaced by “let the seller beware”. As a result of this change of legal philosophy, business is heavily regulated on behalf of the consuming public. Many corporations today have a department of consumer affairs. Product liability suits are already a part of tort law.

To provide cheap, speedy and simple redressal to consumer disputes, quasi-judicial machinery is set up at each District, State and National levels called District Forums, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission respectively. There are 604 District Forums, 35 State Commission, States and Union territories. Women, the youth and the rural populations, all need to be accommodated in any planning ahead for a sustainable, healthy and meaningful life for India’s ‘tomorrow’ consumers. Procedural simplicity, speedy and inexpensive redressal of consumer grievances as contained in the Consumer Protection Act are really unique and have few parallels in the world. Implementation of the Act reveals that interests of consumers are better protected than ever before. However, consumer awareness through consumer education and actions by the government, consumer activists, and associations are needed the most to make consumer protection movement a success in the country. Positively, TV programmes have begun to discuss the problems of consumer protection and consumer’s movement and a separate cell for consumer protection has been formed in the Ministry of Food and Supplies.

The protection of consumers is not only a responsibility of the State but also a mandate against commercial and business entities. A satisfied consumer base is essential for the successful existence of commercial enterprises. At the same time consumer matters must be taken care of by the use of Information and Communication Technology in India. An online environment must be provided to take care of consumer rights and disputes in a transparent, efficient and hassle free manner. The consumer dispute resolution essentially requires use of “Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism” (ADRM) as well as “Online Dispute Resolution Mechanism” (ODRM). Although ODR in India has started gaining   momentum yet there is lot to be done.

Author: Jinendra Parakh, Co-founder and Executive Editor (Analysis) 

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