“Customers are the most important visitor on our premises, they are not dependent on us, we are dependent on them. They are not an interruption in our work. They are the purpose of it. They are not outsiders in our business. They are part of it; we are not doing them a favour by serving them. They are doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.” – Mahatma Gandhi.
World Consumer Rights Day is observed on 15th March every year to raise awareness about consumer needs and rights, the need to protect and respect consumer rights, the demand to protest against market abuses and social injustices which undermine the rights of the consumer. World Consumer Rights Day is an occasion dedicated to highlighting the power of consumers and their rights for a fair, safe and sustainable marketplace. The theme for this year’s World Consumer Rights Day is Tackle Plastic Pollution as the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the rise of single-use plastics which includes face masks, gloves, etc. World Consumer Rights Day is inspired by President John F Kennedy when he addressed the issue of consumer rights to the Congress on 15th March, 1962. He declared four basic consumer rights – right to safety, right to be informed, right to choose, and right to be heard. These rights got expanded to more rights which were added by the United Nations, such as, right to redress, right to satisfaction of basic needs, right to consumer education, and right to a healthy environment. The United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985 and were revised in the year 2015. The guidelines set out the main characteristics of effective consumer protection legislation, enforcement institutions and redress systems. According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, a consumer is a person who buys goods or services for personal, family or household use, with no intention of resale, a natural person who uses products for personal rather than business purposes.
In India, the Consumer Protection Act, a social welfare legislation deals with the promotion and protection of the rights of the consumer. According to P.K. Majumdar, the object of Consumer Protection Act is to promote and protect the rights of consumer such as the right to be protected against marketing of goods which are hazardous to life and property, the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity standard and price of goods to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices, the right to be assured, wherever possible, access to an authority of goods at competitive prices, the right to be heard and to be assured that consumers interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums, the right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers, and the right to consumer education. Currently, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 has been repealed and it has been replaced by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, with the intention to expand the scope of consumer rights and cover the field of e-commerce, direct selling, tele-shopping, etc. Some of the new provisions under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 are – establishment of Central Consumer Protection Authority, strict norms for misleading advertisements, strict norms for product liability, changes in the pecuniary jurisdiction, greater ease to dispute resolution, addition in the clause of unfair trade practice, unfair contract, alternative dispute resolution through mediation.
The Department of Consumer Affairs is one of the two Departments under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution. It was constituted as a separate Department in June 1997 as it was considered necessary to have a separate Department to give a fillip to the consumer movement in the country. The department has been entrusted with the following work- implementation of Consumer Protection Act, 2019, implementation of Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 2016, implementation of standards of weights and measures – the Legal Metrology Act, 2009, regulation of packaged commodities, the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supply of Essential Commodities Act, 1980, monitoring of prices and availability of essential commodities, direct selling, training in legal metrology, the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1952, laying down specifications, standards and codes and ensuring quality control of bio-fuels for end uses, consumer cooperatives, and national test house. A website INGRAM (Integrated Grievance Redressal Mechanism) has been launched by the Department of Consumer Affairs to create awareness, advise and redress consumer grievances and act as a central registry for lodging consumer grievances. The portal is an alternative dispute redressal mechanism. In case, the consumer is not satisfied, he can approach the appropriate Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission. The Department of Consumer Affairs has launched this portal for bringing all Stakeholders such as Consumers, Central and State Government Agencies, Private Companies, Regulators, Ombudsmen and call centres etc. onto a single platform. The portal will also help in creating awareness among consumers to protect their rights and inform them of their responsibilities.
The consumers have a right to be heard at appropriate forums and the right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers. Consumers can file complaints in the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions (National, State, and District Levels) seeking redressal of their grievances. The consumers have to get a know-how about the consumer laws and their rights in order to take informed decisions so that they do not fall prey to unfair selling techniques. A complaint can be instituted in a District Commission within the local limits of whose jurisdiction, the opposite party ordinarily resides or carries on business or has a branch office or actually and voluntarily resides, or the cause of action arises or the complainant resides. The District Commission ordinarily functions in the district headquarters and may perform its functions at such other place in the district, as the State Government may, in consultation with the State Commission, notify. The District Commission has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration does not exceed one crore rupees. The State Commission has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration, exceeds rupees one crore, but does not exceed rupees ten crore, complaints against unfair contracts, where the value of goods or services paid as consideration does not exceed ten crore rupees, appeals against the orders of any District Commission within the State, and to call for the records and pass appropriate orders in any consumer dispute which is pending before or has been decided by any District Commission. The National Commission has a jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration exceeds rupees ten crore, complaints against unfair contracts, where the value of goods or services paid as consideration exceeds ten crore rupees, appeals against the orders of any State Commission, and to call for the records and pass appropriate orders in any consumer dispute which is pending before or has been decided by any State Commission where it appears to the National Commission that such State Commission has exercised a jurisdiction not vested in it by law or has failed to exercise a jurisdiction so vested or has acted in the exercise of its jurisdiction illegally or with material irregularity. Every order of a District Commission or the State Commission or the National Commission, as the case may be, shall be final if no appeal has been preferred against such order under the provisions of the Act. The District Commission, the State Commission or the National Commission shall not admit a complaint unless it is filed within two years from the date on which the cause of action has actually arisen.
The consumers have a right to be protected against marketing of goods which are hazardous to life and property. The purchased goods or services availed of should not only meet their demands but fulfil their interests as well. Before purchasing any product, the consumers must focus on the quality and guarantee of the product. Those products must be bought which are quality marked products like ISI, AGMARK, etc. For example, the safety valve with pressure cookers needs to be of good quality otherwise the cooker will burst, causing a lethal accident. The consumers also have a right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity standard and price of goods to protect them against unfair trade practices. Consumers must get all the information about the product or service before making a final decision. This will help the consumers to choose the right product or service which is not suffering from any defect or deficiency. Therefore, the best services must always be provided to the consumers by remembering the words of Jim Rohn – if you make a sale, you can make a living. If you make an investment of time and good service, you can make a fortune.
Muneeb Rashid Malik is a student of law.