Consumer Protection – Policy and Practice

April 17th, 2009

Round Table Discussion- ‘Consumer Protection- Policy and Practice’ by Mr. Brij K.Taimni – Hon’ble Member National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) and Former Secretary, GOI; Dr. P.D.Shenoy- Hon’ble Member, NCDRC; Mr. Joy Basu- Advocate Supreme Court of India and Mr. Bejon Misra- Executive Director, Consumer VOICE; in India International Centre Annexe, Lodhi Road, New Delhi-3

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Consumer Protection means to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers and for that purpose to make provision for the establishment of consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumers’ disputes and for matters connected therewith. It extends to the whole of India except to the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Broadly speaking consumer has been defined to be a person who buys goods and hires / avails services for a ‘consideration’ paid or promise to be paid, within certain limitation. It does not include a person who avails of such services for any commercial purposes.
  • Consumers by definition include us all. They are the largest group in the economy, affected by almost every public and private Division….but they are the only important Group whose views are often not heard. There are four basic consumer rights as Right to Safety; Right to information; Right to Choice; Right to Representation.
  • The print or electronic media plays an important role and influences our minds. The oft-repeated cliché – The Consumer is King – has become meaningless, as the consumer is neither king nor slave, but rather a bonded labour because of his unwritten bondage to mass media.
  • The rights of the consumer also include the right to be protected against marketing of goods hazardous to life and property; the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of the goods to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices; the right to be assured where possible, access to an authority of goods and competitive pricing; the right to be heard and to be assured that consumer interests will be given due consideration at appropriate fora; the right to seek redress against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; the right to consumer education.
  • Consumers are important for sheer survival of industry and services as in today’s times. It is therefore, only fair to expect manufacturers, producers, providers of services to be more sensitive to the needs of the consumers and also be fair and transparent in their dealings with the consumers.
  • Competition is the best friend of the consumer, while subsidising him is the surest way to kill a consumer. It is the market forces and the consumers’ free choice that must drive the market. Protection of any kind must be eschewed.
  • Healthcare is the biggest challenge today. Till our citizens are not healthy, till we do not ensure their safety, we will never have a progressive and a prosperous country.
  • Is the food that we consume safe? Nobody is talking about the health and safety of the consumer; nobody wants to touch that subject because they know they can’t make money, their profits would diminish. There should be comprehensive mandatory labelling for an informed choice to the consumer.
  • We must demand quality goods and services. One does not get anything unless one asks for it. Each one of us has to be recognised as a responsible citizen demanding quality goods and services. Any wrongdoing anywhere should immediately be brought to light and action taken against them. There should be an organised voice.
  • We have to build institutions. These institutions have to be built on trust, transparency and accountability towards the consumers.
  • One must also learn never to expect anything from the government nor be dependent on its funds. The consumer movement has to be self-sustained and independent.
  • Awareness remains a key challenge in spreading the message of consumer protection.
  • The unique feature of the Consumer Protection Act is that the consumer can by himself, approach the fora constituted under the Act.
  • The performance of certain state commissions even after receiving grants leaves a lot to be desired. The problems of infrastructure are a major challenge; a lot still needs to be done.
  • Judicial delays constitute another challenge.
  • The qualification of the members holds special significance. Perhaps this is the only law enacted in the country which makes it mandatory to have one lady member at all levels.
  • Up to Rs20 lakhs, one can go to the district forum (about 600 district forums), the State Commission for beyond Rs20 lakhs and up to Rs1one crore, and the National Commission for beyond rupees one crore.
  • The reach of consumer courts has not grown exponentially, though the growth has been incremental enough so that the system is also in a position to absorb that incremental growth. Aspirations in terms of the success of the consumer courts have risen hugely and an increasing number of people have begun approaching consumer courts.

 

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