An enlightened consumer is an empowered consumer. An aware consumer not only protects himself from exploitation but induces efficiency, transparency and accountability in the entire manufacturing and services sector. Realising the importance of consumer awareness, Government has accorded top priority to ‘Consumer Education, Consumer Protection and Consumer Awareness. India is a country, which has taken a lead in introducing progressive legislation for consumer protection.
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.
Consumer Protection Act, 1986
The Act enshrines all the consumers rights which are internationally accepted. As per the Act, 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 fora.
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.
Gandhiji in the light of the above rightly said about consumer and his rights as the following:
“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.”It was therefore most appropriate that the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was processed and enacted in India soon after the UN declaration.
Basic Framework for Consumer Protection
Consumer protection initiatives by the Government hinge on 3 basic parameters. Firstly ensuring a legal framework that comprises of Consumer Protection Act. The Consumer Protection Act enacted in 1986 has been recognised as one of the finest basis of legislation enacted in any part of the world and India can boast of being the only country having such specialised legislation for consumer protection. The CPA has a three tier, simple, quasi judicial machinery at the National, State and District level for hearing cases raised by consumers. Secondly, evolving standards for different products to enable the consumers to make an informed choice about different products. Standards which are the essential building block for quality play a key role in consumer protection. Standard could be on technical requirement (specifications), improved specific standard terminology (glossary of terms), codes of practice or test methods or management systems standards. The standards are set generally by Government or inter-Governmental bodies but world wide it is being recognised that voluntary establishment of standards plays an equally important role for protecting consumers. Thirdly, consumer awareness and education is the main building block for consumer protection.
National Action Plan on Consumer Protection
Consequent upon the 50th National Development Council Meeting, Planning Commission has identified consumer awareness, redressal and enforcement of Consumer Protection Act as a priority agency for action by the Deptt. of Consumer Affairs. The allocation for consumer protection activities was significantly enhanced in the last 2 years of the X Plan.
Consumer Awareness Scheme in the XI Plan
The Consumer Awareness Scheme for the XI Plan amounting to a total of Rs. 409 crores has been approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on 24.01.08. This scheme has been formulated to give an increased thrust to a multi media publicity campaign to make consumers aware of their rights. The slogan ‘जागो ग्राहक जागो’ has now become a household name as a result of publicity campaign undertaken in the last 3 years. Through the increased thrust on consumer awareness in the XI Five Year Plan, the Government has endeavoured to inform the common man of his rights as a consumer. As part of the consumer awareness scheme, the rural and remote areas have been given top priority. In a big country like India, given the scenario of economic disparity and level of education and ignorance, educating the consumers remains a gigantic task. Government has taken up number of activities and schemes in creating consumer awareness in the country as part of this Consumer Awareness Scheme.
Multi Media Publicity Campaign
As part of the Multi Media publicity campaign, the activities being undertaken are:
Publicity through print media using news paper advertisements, to educate the consumers about their rights and responsibilities.
Publicity through electronic medium by telecast of video spots of 30 seconds duration on various consumer related issues such as Grievance Redressal system, MRP, ISI Hall-Mark, Alternate Dispute, Redressal system, weights and measures, Rights of Consumers etc. Issues pertaining to rural and remote areas have been given prominence in the various advertisement spots.
Telecast of advertisement in North Eastern states in Regional languages of 20 seconds and 30 seconds duration on various consumer related issues such as M.R.P. (Maximum Retail Price), Short Measurement, Expiry date on medicine, adulteration, damaged product and redressal system.
The Department in consultation with the Department of Post has disseminated consumer awareness messages through Meghdoot Post cards to reach far-flung rural areas including North East States. A bigger plan of partnership with the Department of Posts to use the vast network of postal department for spreading the message of consumer awareness has been chalked out Calendars containing the message of consumer awareness are being displayed through the vast network of 1.55 lakhs post offices.
The Department through Printed Literature is also creating awareness. A folder entitled “Consumer Awareness Mission” containing the salient features of Consumer Protection Act 1986, Consumer Resource kit as well pocket calendars and posters is being distributed during various events such as IITF, Nukkad Nataks and also through the State Governments at grass root level. The publicity material relating to consumer awareness has also been translated in regional languages and is being disseminated to various State Governments.
Nukkad Nataks are being performed in consultation with Song & Drama division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting . More than 1000 programmes in all the States/UTs have been organised to create awareness at grass root level.
A pilot project National Consumer Help Line initiated can be accessed through a Toll Free Number 1800-11-4000 which is being operated by Delhi University for counselling the Consumers to redress their grievances. The timing of toll free number facility is available to consumers from 9-30 A.M. to 5-30 P.M. on all the working days (Monday—Saturday). Through the various advertisements pertaining to Department of Consumer Awareness adequate publicity has been given to National Helpline so that the affected consumers could seek guidelines/counselling through the national helpline.
In order to reach maximum number of consumers, the Department has telecast video spots containing consumer related information during the popular sports events such as Tri-series cricket tournament, Indo-Pak Series, Indo-Australia Series, Indo- England Cricket Series etc.
India is a country with more than 70% population being under 35 years. The youngsters are using the internet in a big way for various purposes and also happen to be major consumers. Realizing this, a major initiative is being taken to spread consumer awareness through the online medium. The advertisements being brought out by the Department are also being displayed on the website of the Ministry www.fcamin.nic.in.
Advertisements are being carried in journals of Publication Division such as Yojana, Kurukshetra, Bal Bharti, Aajkal and their regional editions. Focussed articles on consumer awareness are being published in these magazines keeping in view their target readership. Employment News, the flagship publication of Publication Division, which is the largest selling career weekly of its kind occasionally publishes articles that are of interest to youngsters in keeping them informed about their rights. The advertisements of Department are also published regularly in Employment News/Rojgar Samachar so that the youth of the country are made aware of their consumer rights.
Participation in India International Trade Fair
Keeping in view the large number of visitors to India International Trade Fair, the Department displayed its activities through a stall in IIPA. Publicity material regarding main provisions of Consumer Protection, Standardisation, Weights & Measures, ISI, Hall Marking and other issues of consumer interest was distributed free of cost. On the spot guidance was also given to consumers during the Trade Fair.
‘जागो ग्राहक जागो’ has become the focal theme through which issues concerning the functioning of almost all Government Departments having a consumer interface can been addressed. To achieve this objective joint campaigns have been undertaken/are being undertaken with a number of Government Departments. The Department had run a joint campaign with Bureau of Energy Efficiency to educate people about energy conservation by having awareness of the BEE star labels. A joint campaign with National Pharmaceuticals Product Authority is being devised to educate consumers about the various issues concerning pharma industry. Similarly, campaigns with Reserve Bank of India, FICCI, Ministry of Urban Development (for real estate sector) and HRD (for education sector) are being planned.
Special scheme on assistance to State Governments/UTs
Considering the fact that active involvement of State Governments in awareness campaign is crucial in taking forward the movement to rural, remote and backward areas, State/UT Governments have been actively associated in expanding the area of consumer awareness. In fact the effectiveness of the scheme is enhanced by the involvement of States/UTs/PRIs. The provision for grant in-aid/support to States/UTs has been one of the key components of the Consumer awareness scheme.
The Department of Consumer Affairs provided publicity material such as posters, audio, video, folders, calendars, and magazines etc. to the State Governments/UTs for distribution through panchayats in the rural areas.
The Future Roadmap
The multi media publicity to educate consumers and make them aware about their rights will have a long lasting impact not only on the end consumers but also on the entire manufacturing and services sector। The scheme will go a long way in introducing greater accountability and transparency in the services provided by the public as well as private sector since the end user i।e। a consumer will be educated and aware enough to ask for best possible services in return of his hard earned money. ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ is thus an initiative which empowers consumers by making them aware about their rights as well as the Grievance Redressal Mechanism