Social Studies – Economics Chapter 5 – Consumer Rights
Worlds Consumers Rights Days – 15th March every year.
What are consumer rights?
The rules and regulations are required for the protection of consumers in the marketplace. Individual consumers often find themselves in a weak position.
The Consumer in the Marketplace
In the market, we are both producers and consumers. If we are producers, we can work in any sector such as agriculture, industry, or services. As consumers, we purchase final goods to use.
Why rules and regulations are needed to promote development?
These could be for the protection of workers in the unorganized sector or to protect people from high-interest rates charged by moneylenders in the informal sector. Similarly, rules and regulations are also required for protecting the environment.
Moneylenders in the informal sector tricks to bind the borrower: they make the producer sells the product to them at a low rate in return for a timely loan; they force a small farmer to sell her land to pay back the loan.
Similarly, many people who work in the unorganized sector have to work at a low wage and accept conditions that are not fair and are also often harmful to their health. To prevent such exploitation, we have to talk about rules and regulations for their protection. There are organizations that have struggled for long to ensure that these rules are followed.
Markets do not work in a fair manner when producers are few and powerful and consumers are scattered. This happens especially when large companies are producing goods. These companies have huge wealth, power, and reach to manipulate the market in various ways. At times false information is passed on through the media, and other sources to attract consumers.
For example, a company for years sold powdered milk for babies all over the world as the most scientific product claiming this to be better than mother’s milk. It took years of struggle before the company was forced to accept that it had been making false claims.
Similarly, a long battle had to be fought with court cases to make cigarette-manufacturing companies accept that their product could cause cancer. Hence, there is a need for rules and regulations to ensure protection for consumers.
The consumer movement arose out of dissatisfaction with the consumer’s unfair practices being indulged by the sellers. There was no legal system available to protect consumers from exploitation in the marketplace.
In India, the consumer movement as a ‘social force’ originated for protecting and promoting the interests of consumers against unethical and unfair trade practices.
Rampant food shortages, hoarding, black marketing, adulteration of food and edible oil gave birth to the consumer movement in an organized form in the 1960s. Till the 1970s, consumer organizations were largely engaged in writing articles and holding exhibitions.
They formed consumer groups to look into the malpractices in ration shops and overcrowding in road passenger transport. Recently, India witnessed an upsurge in the number of consumer groups.
This movement succeeded in bringing pressure on business firms as well as government to correct business conduct which may be unfair and against the interests of consumers at large.
A major step taken in 1986 by the Indian government was the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act 1986, popularly known as COPRA.
Safety is everyone’s right.
Consumers have the right to protect against the marketing of goods and delivery of services that are hazardous to life and property. Producers need to strictly follow the required safety rules and regulations. We purchase many goods and services which require special attention for safety.
pressure cookers have a safety valve. if it is defective, it can cause a serious accident. The manufacturers of the safety valve have to ensure the quality. The public or government should see the quality to be maintained. If we find bad quality products in the market because of the supervision of weak rules.
Information about goods and services
You get all product details about ingredients used, price, batch number, date of manufacture, expiry date, and the address of the manufacturer.
Why is it that rules have been made so that the manufacturer displays this information?
consumers have the right to be informed about the particulars of goods and services that they purchase. Consumers can complain and ask for compensation or replacement if the product proves to be defective in any manner.
if we buy a product and find it defective, we can ask for a replacement within the expiry period. If the expiry period was not printed, the manufacturer would blame the shopkeeper and will not accept responsibility. If people sell medicines that have expired severe action can be taken against them.
Similarly, one can protest and complain if someone sells goods at more than the printed price on the packet. This is indicated by ‘MRP’ — maximum retail price. In fact, consumers can bargain with the seller to sell at less than the MRP.
In recent times, the right to information has been expanded to cover various services provided by the Government. In October 2005, the Government of India enacted a law, popularly known as the RTI (Right to Information) Act, which ensures that all citizens get all information about the functions of government departments. The effect of the RTI Act can be understood from the following case.
Case 1: Amritha get an offer letter from the government department after submitting an engineering graduate certificate but did not hear any news of the result. She also doesn’t get answers to her queries. She filed an application using RTI Act. It’s her right to know the results in a particular time period so that she can plan for the future. After that, she gets all the information and reasons for the delay. She also get a call letter for an appointment and she performed well in the interview.
Case 2: Abirami is a student of a local coaching institute for professional courses in New Delhi. She paid fees of Rs 61,020 for two years. She found that the quality of teaching is not good. So, she decided to opt out of the course at the end of the first year. She asked for a refund of the fee but they denied.
she filed the case in the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, the Commission directed the Institute to refund Rs 28,000 saying that she had the right to choose. The Institute again appealed in the State Consumer Commission. The State Commission upheld the District Commission’s direction and further fined the institute Rs 25,000 for a frivolous appeal. It also directed the institute to pay Rs 7000 as compensation and litigation cost.
Right to choose
Suppose you want to buy toothpaste, and the shop owner says that she can sell the toothpaste only if you buy a toothbrush. If you are not interested in buying the brush. You have the right to choose what you want.
Where should consumers go to get justice?
Consumers have the right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices and exploitation. If any damage is done to a consumer, she has the right to get compensation depending on the degree of damage. There is a need to provide an easy and effective public system by which this can be done.
The consumer can file a complaint before the appropriate consumer forum on his/her own with or without the services of lawyers. You might be interested in knowing how an aggrieved person gets his or her compensation.
The consumer movement in India has led to the formation of various organizations, locally known as consumer forums or consumer protection councils. They guide consumers on how to file cases in the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions. On many occasions, they also represent individual consumers in these commissions. These voluntary organizations also receive financial support from the government for creating awareness among people.
If you are living in a residential colony, you might have noticed boards of Residents’ Welfare Associations. If there is any unfair trade practice meted out to their members, they take up the case on their behalf.
Under COPRA, three-tier quasi-judicial machinery at the district, state, and national levels were set up for the redressal of consumer disputes. The district-level authority called District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission deals with cases involving claims up to Rs 1 crore, the state-level Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission called State Commission between Rs 1 crore and Rs 10 crore, and the national-level commission — National Commission — deals with cases involving claims exceeding Rs 10 crore. If a case is dismissed in a district-level commission, a consumer can also appeal in the state and then in national-level commissions.
Thus, the Act has enabled us as consumers to have the right to represent in the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions.
LEARNING TO BECOME WELL-INFORMED CONSUMERS
Consumers become conscious of their rights, while purchasing various goods and services, we will be able to discriminate and make informed choices. This calls for acquiring the knowledge and skill to become a well-informed consumer.
The enactment of COPRA has led to the setting up of separate Departments of Consumer Affairs in central and state governments.
TAKING THE CONSUMER MOVEMENT FORWARD
National Consumers’ Day has celebrated on 24 December in India. On the same day, the Indian Parliament enacted the Consumer Protection Act in 1986. India is one of the countries that have exclusive authority for consumer redressal.
The consumer movement in India has made some progress in terms of the number of organized groups and their activities. There are today more than 2000 consumer groups in the country of which only about 50-60 are well organized and recognized for their work.
The consumer redressal process is becoming cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming. Many times, consumers are required to engage lawyers. These cases require time for filing and attending the commission proceedings etc.
In most purchases, cash memos are not issued hence evidence is not easy to gather.
The COPRA was amended in the year 2019 to further strengthen consumers in India. Buying through the Internet is now included. If there is any service deficiency or defective product, the service provider or manufacturer is also held responsible and would be penalized or even imprisoned. Settlement of disputes with the help of a neutral intermediary outside the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission called a mediator, is now encouraged at all three tiers of Consumer Commissions.
After more than 30 years of the enactment of COPRA, consumer awareness in India is spreading slowly. Besides this the enforcement of laws that protect workers, especially in the unorganized sectors is weak.
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