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Editorial Articles


volume-52, 30 March - 5 April, 2019

 

Growing Consumer Awareness

Dr. Sheetal Kapoor

"If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6,000"- Jeff Bezos (Founder and CEO, Amazon)

Consumerism, significance of consumers in the market, growing awareness among consumers are some contemporary landmarks in the growth of the consumer movement in India. As consumers we are victims of many unfair and unethical practices adopted by the industry and the business. We come across many glitches related to defective goods, deficiency in service, food adulteration, spurious goods, hoarding, use of deceptive and fractional weights, late deliveries, variations in the contents of the pack, poor after sales service, misleading advertisements, hidden price components, price discrimin-ation, ATM and credit card frauds, financial frauds, real estate problems and problems related to public utilities. As the sellers and traders do not act responsibly it is required to inculcate this habit of self-help amongst consumers and educate them about their consumer rights and responsibilities so that they are vigilant while shopping.

The New Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 envisages to speed up the consumer disputes redress mechanism. By establishing Central Consumer Protection Authority, it would help in protection of consumer rights of common man by providing quick, in expensive and simple redress of their grievances, prevent unfair trade practices. The New Bill also would incorporate the concept of product liability in consumer protection and enable mediation as an Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) arrangement. Keeping into account the growing digital market in India and the asymmetry of knowledge amongst the various stake-holders in India, it is hoped that the new Consumer Protection Act would overcome the limitations of the existing law and it would give a big boost to the consumer movement.

With the Indian economy and Indian industry growing leaps and bounds and with the changing market environment the Bureau of Indian Standards BIS Act, 2016 has been promulgated. BIS has also developed a consumer-friendly App called CARE, which can be used to access the information and lodge a complaint against an ISI marked product/ Hallmarked item. In order to protect the rights and interests of the consumers and promotion of uniformity and standardization of business practices and transactions in the real estate sector the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 has been passed.   INGRAM -Integrated Grievance Redressal Mechanism portal  brings all stakeholders under a single platform. On one hand the National Consumer Helpline with its toll free number 1800-11-4000 or 14404 provides advice and guidance and empowers consumers. A smart consumer application has been launched to enable the consumer to scan bar codes and get all the details about the product. 

Consumers International announced the theme for World Consumer Rights Day 2019 to be 'Trusted Smart Products'. Moreover, "Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust" was the theme adopted by Consumers International (CI) earlier to help make consumers aware about their rights and redressal mechanism when they do online shopping.  While doing online shopping consumers should use strong passwords, take complete information about the e-portal, find out about the e-merchant's privacy policy, keep personal information private, shop only with known e-merchants and review monthly bank and credit card details.

Till now 24-pro consumer Acts have been enacted to control buyer-seller relations in the market place. The Department of Consumer Affairs under the

Ministry of Consumer Affairs is responsible for the formulation of policies for consumer welfare in India. The 'Jago Grahak Jago' multi media campaign launched in the Year 2005 has been a huge success and the slogan has now become a household name. In the Year 2015 the Gama portal and Grahak Suvidha Kendras were launched to empower the common man.

To empower consumers as India goes digital many new schemes have been started by the government. In this article as we celebrate the World Consumer Right's Day I discuss two important developments in the area of consumer protection.

E-Commerce Policy and Consumer Protection

India is the fastest growing E-Commerce market amongst the top global economies and the online retailing has transformed how business is done in India. According to reports the e-retail market is growing at 53% and by 2026 the E-Commerce is expected to grow to $200 billion. E-Commerce activities are governed by various Regulations and Acts of the Government. Information Technology Act 2000 offers legal recognition for the transactions carried out by means of electronic data interchange and other means of electronic communication, which involve the use of alternatives to paperbased methods of communication and storage of information. E-commerce companies need to meet the rules with the Companies Act, 2013 and other applicable laws of the country. Such companies with FDI can operate only in activities which are specifically permitted. Any violation of FDI regulations are covered by the penal provisions of the FEMA. Reserve Bank of India administers the FEMA and Directorate of Enforcement under the Ministry of Finance is the authority for the enforcement of FEMA. Further, activities of e-commerce companies inter alia involve compliance of Shops and Establishments Act of the State concerned.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 enacted for better protection of the interests of the consumers covers all goods and services and all mode of transactions including e-commerce. Under this Act, a three tier quasi-judicial mechanism, called Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and Forum, has been set up at the District, State and National levels to provide simple, quick and inexpensive redressal to consumer disputes. From August 2016, the portal www.consumerhelpline.gov.in has been developed to provide a platform to consumers to register their complaints.Moreover, National Consumer Helpline (NCH) set up by the Department of Consumer Affairs receive complaints from consumers who have made purchases whether in online or offline mode. It has collaborated with 400 companies to resolve consumer's complaints and is an alternate grievance redressal method available to consumers.

Further, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has a consumer affairs department to provide consumers with prompt attention and speedy redressal of their grievances lodged regarding quality of BIS certified products.

Table 1.1: Details of Complaints Received at NCH in E-Commerce

Year

No. of Grievances Received In Sector

Complaints Sent To Convergence Companies

Redressal Received

Response %

May 2014 – march 2015

15168

4510

4510

77.7

April 2015- march 2016

28331

13959

11585

83

April 2016 –

Mar 2017

54872

38315

34852

91

April 2017 – march 2018

78562

508

 

 

Source: Annual Report, Ministry of Consumer Affairs

Recently a research on online shopping revealed that 1 in 5 products sold by e-retailers are counterfeits and fake and the chances of fake products are the highest in case of fragrances, cosmetics, sporting goods and bags. Delhi High Court in a step towards ensuring duplicate products of popular brands are not sold on online marketplaces, directed an online portal company to make sure that each item put up for sale on its site is authentic.Intermediaries, according to the Information Technology (IT) Act, includes e-commerce sites as they provide services to customers on behalf of sellers. The court also said that the websites should take an authentication from all sellers that the product displayed on the website are genuine and not duplicates and counterfeits. Apart from that, the sites are also directed to obtain a certificate or a guarantee from its sellers that goods sold on the platform are genuine, all warranties and guarantees of the brands are applicable and would be honoured. Products of any sellers who are unable to provide such a guarantee would not be offered on the platform.

Hallmarking Scheme

India's total consumption of gold is 800-850 tonnes out of which 60% comes from the rural markets. To provide third party assurance and satisfaction that consumers are getting right purity of gold (or silver) for the given price (value for money) the hallmarking scheme has been introduced by BIS. Hallmarking is the accurate determination and official recording of the proportionate content of precious metals. Hallmarks are thus official marks used in many countries as a guarantee of purity or fineness of precious metal articles. In India, at present two precious metals namely gold and silver have been brought under the purview of Hallmarking.

Hallmark serves as third party assurance. Consumers can get their jewellery/sample tested from any of the BIS Recognized Assaying & Hallmarking Centre. The Assaying and Hallmarking Centres undertake the testing of Jewellery/Samples of consumers on priority basis by charging fees. The Assaying and Hallmarking centres are required to issue Assay Report giving proper identifications as marked on article. In case Hallmarked Jewellery brought by the consumer is found to be of lesser purity than that marked on jewellery, the testing charges would be refunded to the consumer by the centre who had hallmarked the jewellery. The jeweller shall be obliged to satisfy the consumer through replacement as envisaged in the existing scheme. For getting a gold article hallmarked charges are Rs. 35/- per article and minimum charges for a consignment should be Rs. 200/- (Services Tax and other levies as applicable shall be extra). To get a silver article hallmarked hallmarking charges are Rs.25/-per article and Minimum charges per consignment is Rs 150.00.(Services Tax and other levies as applicable shall be extra).

From January 1st 2017 one should look for the following in a hallmarked gold article

  1. BIS Mark
  2. Purity in carat and Fineness (it can be any of the following)

                1) 22K916             Corresponding to 22 Carat

                2) 18K750             Corresponding to 18 Carat

                3) 14K585             Corresponding to 14 Carat

  1. Assaying/Hallmarking Centre's Identification Mark/Number
  2. Jeweller's Identification Mark/number

From January 1st 2017consumers should look for the following identification marks while purchasing a hallmarked silver article

  • BIS Mark Silver
  • Purity grade/fineness (it can be any one of the following)

Grade                                                                                                                                                          Fineness

 9999                                                                                                                                             999.9                

9995                                                                                                                                              999.5                                                                                                  

999                                                        Fine Silver                                                                         999.0            

990                                                                                                                                                  990              

970                                                                                                                                                  970.0             

925                                                                                                                                                  925.0            

900                                                       Silver Alloys                                                                        900.0          

835                                                       For Jewelry                                                                          835.0         

800                                                       Artefacts                                                                             800.0          

 

 

 

 

  • Assaying/Hallmarking Centre's Identification Mark/Number
  • Jeweller's Identification Mark/number

In order to avoid frauds in gold and silver jewelley consumers should buy hallmarked jewellery and should keep the authentication certificate safely.

Conclusion: The success of consumer movement in the country depends upon the awareness amongst the people, especially consumers in rural areas about their rights. Observance of the World Consumer Right's Day goes a long way in generating awareness amongst consumers about their rights and the existence of redressal agencies. Voluntary consumer organisations and educational institutions can play an important role in strengthening the consumer movement. Consumers are also bound to take adequate care and empowered while dealing with offline and online purchases in order to safeguard their own interest in the market.

(The author teaches at Kamla Nehru College, University of Delhi.

Email: sheetal_kpr@hotmail.com)

Views expressed are personal. (Image Courtesy : Google)