Understanding Basic Consumer Rights

The other two are National Consumer rights day celebrated on 24th of December in commemoration of the enactment of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 in India and the State Consumer Rights Day on 29th of August in commemoration of J & K State Consumer Protection Act, 1987.
Understanding Basic Consumer Rights

Today is 15th of March. On this very day in 1962, the then U.S President John F. Kennedy in an address to the US congress, formally addressed the issue of Consumer rights.  He was the first world leader to do so and thus 15th March came to be eventually celebrated as world consumer rights day globally. Besides this, we have two more consumer rights days to be celebrated in a calendar year in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The other two are National Consumer rights day celebrated on 24th of December in commemoration of the enactment of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 in India and the State Consumer Rights Day on 29th of August in commemoration of J & K State Consumer Protection Act, 1987.

Consumerism became a dominant socio-economic paradigm in modern societies particularly after the end of Second World War. This was mainly due to a huge middle class that came to fore coupled with heavy urbanisation due to which demand for consumption of goods and services received a huge boost. With the continuous rise in the purchasing power of the public in general and the middle class in particular, consumerism was firmly entrenched in our society both as a necessity as well as luxury. It was owing to this changed cultural scenario that consumer protection movements started to come into being which finally culminated in enactment of Consumer Protection Acts at various levels throughout the Globe.

The Consumer Protection Acts lay down an executory and adjudicatory framework for ensuring the violation of Consumer rights are properly dealt with thus paving way for Consumer Protection. But efficient and appropriate Consumer Protection is only possible when the Consumers themselves are well aware about their rights in the first place. This is where the Consumer Protection Days have a role to play. The celebration of these days can serve as a great channels for consumer awareness vis-à-vis their rights. So on this occasion of World Consumer Rights day, let us try to have a brief understanding of our basic Consumer Rights.

The Jammu and Kashmir Consumer Protection Act, 1987 provides for 6 rights to every Consumer. These are;

1. Right To Safety: Right to Safety means right to be protected against the marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property. This right protects a consumer from sale of goods and services which can prove hazardous like, for instance, defective electrical appliances or expired food products.
2. Right to Information: The right to be informed vests upon the consumer the right to know price, quality, quantity, purity, potency or standard of the products or services amongst other relevant information such that he/she is able to protect himself/herself against abusive and/or unfair practices. The producer or provider of services must provide the mandatory information at a proper place and at prominent display.
3. Right to Choice: This right ensures availability, ability and access to products and services at competitive prices and assurance of satisfactory quality and service at a fair price from which the consumer can choose to his satisfaction. The consumer should not be forced by any retailer or distributor or any other agency to buy a particular brand only. He should be free to choose any product or service as per his requirement and choice.
4. Right to be Heard or Right to Representation: This right envisages that consumer interest receives full and sympathetic consideration at the appropriate fora. As per this right, the consumers have the right to be duly represented in consumer policymaking bodies. Also the providers of services and goods like Companies  must have  fully functional Consumer Complaint cells
5. Right to Redressal:  This right is the heart of consumer protection. As per this right a consumer has the right to have proper access to appropriate machinery that ensures fair settlement of his just claims and redress to their complaints. The redressal includes compensation in the form of money or replacement of goods as per the satisfaction of consumers.
6. Right to Consumer Education: The right to consumer education means that the consumer has a right to acquire knowledge and proper information about their rights. It is the responsibility of establishment to disseminate such education among the consumers.

Besides these 6 rights, the UN Consumer Bill of Rights defines two more consumer rights viz Right to Satisfaction of Basic Needs and Right to a Healthy Environment.

Most of the Consumers are aware of about one or two of their rights at best and totally ignorant of their rights at worst. Until and unless they know and understand their full rights, consumer protection will remain a hollow concept in its implementation. And no matter how dedicatedly the executing agencies carry out their legal and statutory mandate, an ignorant consumer will always remain in the danger of being provided with goods and services that are deficient and inadequate. Consumer protection, in a wholesome sense, is possible only by an organic collaboration between Consumer education and Punitive action, thus it becomes a huge imperative to educate and aware consumers of their rights.

Thus let us hope the celebration of this year's World Consumer Rights day heralds a beginning for Consumer awareness and Consumer Protection.

(Dr Shabir Ahmad Mir is Assistant Controller, Legal Metrology Department, District Shopian)
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