INTRODUCTION (By Alok and Amit Dubey)
In the era of consumerism, consumer is the king. Companies have throat cut competition to reach consumers to sell their products and services. The competition between the companies benefits consumers. When we approach the market as a consumer, we expect value for money, i.e., right quality, right quantity, right prices, information about the mode of use, etc. but sometimes, consumers are cheated by the companies or they receive defective goods or deficient services.
The Government understood the need to protect consumers from unscrupulous suppliers, and several laws have been made for this purpose. We have the Indian Contract Act, the Sale of Goods Act, the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Act, the Indian Standards Institution (Certification Marks) Act, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, the Standards of Weights and Measures Act, etc. which to some extent protect consumer interests. However, these laws require the consumer to initiate action by way of a civil suit involving lengthy legal process which is very expensive and time consuming.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted to provide a simpler and quicker access to redressal of consumer grievances. The Act, for the first time introduced the concept of consumer and conferred express additional rights on him. It is interesting to note that the Act doesnt seek to protect every consumer within the literal meaning of the term. The protection is meant for the person who fits in the definition of consumer given by the Act. We understand that the Consumer Protection Act provides means to protect consumers from getting cheated or harassed by suppliers.
The question arises how a consumer will seek protection? The answer is the Act has provided a mechanism whereby, consumers can file their complaints which will be entertained by the Consumer Forums, with special powers, so that action can be taken against erring suppliers and the possible compensation may be awarded to consumer for the hardships he has undergone. No court fee is required to be paid to these forums and there is no need to engage a lawyer to present the case.
WHO IS A CONSUMER?Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act says that consumer means any person who (i) 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, and includes any user of such goods other than the person who buys such goods for consideration paid or promised or partly paid or partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment when such use is made with the approval of such person, but does not include a person who obtains such goods for resale or for any commercial purpose; or (ii) hires or avails of any services for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment, and includes any beneficiary of such services other than the person who hires or avails of the services for consideration paid or promised, or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment, when such services are availed of with the approval of the first mentioned person; Explanation for the purposes of the sub-clause (i), commercial purpose does not include use by a consumer of goods bought and used by him exclusively for the purpose of earning his livelihood, by means of self-employment. A consumer is any person, business, firm or governmental unit that chooses goods and services, spends money on them, and uses these goods and services primarily to satisfy their own wants. From birth, everyone is a consumer in one or the other way. A right consumer is an individual who purchases articles consciously, ominously with due non negligence, superiority, utility and also looking at its real monitory value, essentially and return value. Today when very rapid and unprecedented changes are occurring at the global, national and local markets, the business environment in India has undergone topsy-turvy changes. Liberalization, privatization and globalization have affected the working of many organizations all over the world. In this competitive world of business, organizations are now becoming highly dynamic and sensitive towards consumer needs and the whole of consumer delight. The traditional product first and customer next approach, is reversed to customer first product next approach. It means sellers market shifted to buyers market. This way the needs of customers come in focus in an organization. In the modern content, Consumer delight is considered to be the ultimate goal of any organization. The idea of consumer protection owes its origin to the efforts of John F. Kennedy. 15 March has a historic importance as it was on this day in 1962, when the Bill for Consumer Rights was moved in the US Congress. During his speech President John F. Kennedy had remarked:
If a consumer is offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and national interest suffers. John F. Kennedy had equated the rights of the ordinary American consumer with national interest. He gave the American consumer four basic rights:
RIGHTS OF CUSTOMERS1. The Right to Safety: To be protected against the marketing of goods which are hazardous to health or life. 2. The Right to Choose: To be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of products and services at competitive prices and in those industries where competition is not workable and Government regulation is substituted, an assurance of satisfactory quality and service at fair prices. 3. The Right to Information: To be protected against fraudulent, deceitful or grossly misleading information, advertising, labeling, or other practices, and to be given the facts s/he needs to make an informed choice. 4. The Right to be Heard: - To be assured that consumer interests will receive full and sympathetic consideration in the formulation of Government policy, and fair and expeditious treatment in its administrative tribunals.
CONSUMERS EDUCATIONKennedy recognised that consumers are the largest economic group in the countrys economy, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. But they were also the only important group who were not effectively organised, whose views were not heard. Therefore, the Federal Government, by nature the highest spokesman for all people, had a special obligation to the consumers needs. Thirteen years later President Gerald Ford felt that the four rights constituted in Kennedys Bill of Rights were inadequate for a situation where most consumers are not educated enough to make the right choices. So he added the Right to Consumer Education, as an informed consumer cannot be exploited easily. While these rights served the interest of the American consumer well enough, they did not cover the whole gamut, because a global consumer did need, apart from them, other welldefined rights like basic needs, a healthy environment and redress.
The Consumers International (CI), former International Organisation of Consumer Unions (IOCU), the umbrella body, for 240 organisations in over 100 countries, expanded the charter of consumers rights contained in the US Bill to eight, which in a logical order reads: 1. Basic 2. Needs 3. Safety 4. Information 5. Choice 6. Representation 7. Redress 8. Consumer 9. Education 10. Healthy Environment This charter had a universal significance as it symbolised the aspirations of the poor and disadvantaged. On this basis, the United Nations, in April 1985, adopted its Guidelines for Consumer Protection
CONSUMERS AWARENESSConsumer awareness is the mental state of a consumer showing his or her capability of choosing and also justifying the values of the commodity for which he or she has paid. Consumers form the largest economic group in any country. They are the pivots of all the economic activities. But the very same consumers are the most unaware or voiceless group in most of the countries of the world. The consumer of today has no power to order where he can make his purchase at will. Instead, whenever he turns he sees only a sellers market. The sellers attitude towards consumer is also of take it or leave it. The Indian consumer is well aware that all is not well with its world today. Food adulteration is graving fast. He is never sure that he receives correct weights and measures, so many and so ingenuous are the ways used to cheat him. Prices keep rising and in times of shortage, profiteering takes place. As for rations, they are also of low quality. The Government, Industry and the Consumers form the three main partners in the venture of National Development. While the Government provides the capital resource, industry utilizes the capital for producing goods and consumer procures the goods paying money for their benefits and facilities. Thus, in laymans understanding, money gets converted to products which in turn get reconverted back to money for an everlasting and constantly growing cycle operation, through the agencies concerned viz. Government, Industry and Consumers. But this is not as simple as stated. In any cycle operation, there can be many blocks. For example, bad counterfeit money is not accepted and circulation gets limited to good money only. Similarly good products get circulated better than bad ones. In other words, good quality products get better acceptance from the consumers who are the buyers. So consulting consumers and satisfying their needs is essential for developing quality services.
CONSUMERS CHANGING NEEDS AND PREFERENCESEvery individual is a consumer and he affects and is affected by a