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Editorial Articles


Issue no 50, 11-17 March 2023

Know Your Rights as Consumers

 

Dr. Sheetal Kapoor

World Consumer Rights Day commemorates the historic pronouncement of four basic consumer rights created by former US President John F. Kennedy on March 15, 1962. "Consumers by meaning, include us all," Kennedy remarked in his 15 March 1962 declaration to the US Congress. "They (consumers) are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group... whose views are often not heard." That assertion ultimately led to worldwide recognition by the government and the United Nations in its groundbreaking Guidelines for Consumer Protection of 1985, that all citizens, regardless of their earnings or societal standing, have basic rights as consumers. On 9th April 1985, the United Nations General Assembly accepted the UN Guidelines for Consumer Protection encompassing eight consumer rights which include: right to safety, information, choice, to be heard, to seek redressal, consumer education, basic needs and sustainable environment for bolstering national consumer protection policies. Consumers International is the membership organisation for consumer groups across the world, working with 200 participant organisations in more than 100 countries to empower and advocate consumer rights. 'Empower Consumers Through Clean Energy Transitions' is the theme proposed by Consumers International for World Consumer Rights Day this year. Some of the initiatives for clean energy are: educational programmes on energy efficiency and conservation, sustainable public transport, collective purchasing of solar energy technologies, efficient transport and air quality and examining green claims by companies.

Why a Satisfied Consumer is Important for Businesses?: A satisfied consumer is an asset for a company. Satisfaction is a person's comparative judgment resulting from products/ services perceived performance or outcome in relation to his or her expectations. If the performance falls short of expectations, the customer is disappointed. On the other hand if the performance matches expectations, the customer is satisfied and if the performance exceeds expectations, the customer is delighted. Therefore, it is very important for businesses to satisfy customers. Customer satisfaction is a key to building profitable relationships with customers and to add more consumers who are loyal to its brand and to reap their customer lifetime value. Some of the qualities of satisfied consumers are:

·         They buy the same product and the brand again and are loyal to it.

·         They talk favourably to others about the product.

·         They pay less attention to competing brands and advertising.

·         They may buy other products also offered from the same company.

Therefore, companies and their dealers go to all extremes to satisfy customers and to make them coming back to their shops or showrooms. A dissatisfied consumer talks in negative terms about the brand and also warns his friends and relatives not to use the same. He may abandon or return the product. He may also seek information that confirms its high value. The consumer may even take public action by complaining about the product to the company or going to a lawyer or complaining to other groups (such as business, private or government agencies). Private actions include making a decision to stop buying the product or warning friends. It is necessary that consumer grievances are attended by the businesses immediately. If consumers don't let a shopkeeper or vendor or service provider or manufacturer know that they are dissatisfied with their goods or services, they have no possibility of resolving the trouble. First consumers should ask themselves if their complaint is reasonable. Why are they dissatisfied? What went incorrect? Is it a question of wasting money because products they obtained were not what were agreed, or was there even obvious deception? Or, did a spokesman of the company treat the consumer unfairly? Under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, 'consumer' can file a complaint within two years from the cause of action. Further, the consumers should look for a reasonable solution to their problem. Thus, the first step is to take the complaint directly to the business or manufacturer before taking other action. Often, the problem can be resolved quickly by doing so, and consumers should not forget to ask to "escalate" their call if the customer service representative is not helpful. Further, consumers should let the suitable organisations know when they have been a target of deceit. There is a possibility that they can reclaim their lost amount they can also help prevent other consumers from falling prey to the same scam.

Thus, as empowered consumers we should know the following:

·         Comprehensive knowledge about consumer rights, right to safety, right to information, right to choose, right to be heard, right to seek redressal, right to consumer awareness.

·         Contact the customer care number mentioned on the pre packaged commodities in case of grievance.

·         Complaint to be made within two years of cause of action under CPA, 2019.

·         Prepare a database or file to keep all evidence, documents and notes about the grievance.

·         Explain the grievance clearly and briefly in writing.

·         To be clear about the nature of compensation, whether a refund or replacement is required.

·         Consumers need to be persistent and should not give up even if petty amount is involved, they should lodge complaint against defective goods, deficiency in service or overcharging by a shopkeeper. This way they are not only helping themselves but also helping others to fall prey to the wrong practice.

·         To seek assistance from National Consumer Helpline through its toll free number 1915 or 1800-11-4000.

·         Consider going to consumer commissions as the last resort.

·         For cases involving amount of upto Rs 5 lakhs, no fees has to be paid by them in the consumer commissions

These days consumers can make use of social media platforms to share their complaints against business. Companies are extremely conscious about their image and a negative comment on Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms would make the company conscious about the problem faced by the consumer and it would try to rectify the same immediately and also give compensation to the consumer. Grievances through emails and letters to companies or shopkeepers or dealers are important because they:

·         Create a written record of consumers grievances with the company

·         protect consumers rights

·         helps the company know consumers part of the narrative

·         Alerts government of the wrong practices prevalent in the market.

·         sets the foundation for a potential legitimate case

·         let's the seller understand that consumers are critical regarding the issue

Conciliation and Intermediation for Out-of-Court Redressal: In three service sectors viz. banking, insurance and electricity Ombudsman have been created for free and fast redressal of consumer complaints. The Banking Ombudsman addresses 27 grounds of complaints regarding deficiency in banking services. In food sector Food Safety and Standardisation Authority has been created. Due to growing number of problems of home buyers Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) has been created. The government by now has enacted 24 pro-consumer Acts to control buyer-seller relations at the market place. The major consumer protection legislations in India are:

·         The Indian Penal Code, 1860

·         The Indian Contract Act, 1872

·         The Sale of Goods Act, 1930

·         The Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1937

·         The Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940

·         The Drugs (Control) Act, 1950

·         The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1952

·         The Essential Commodities Act, 1955

·         The Consumer Protection Act, 2019

·         The Trade Marks Act, 1999

·         The Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980

·         The Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 2016

·         The Competition Act, 2002

·         The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003

·         Right to Information Act 2005

·         The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006

·         The Legal Metrology Act, 2009

Consumer Protection Act, 2019: Precipitated by the changes in the business environment and digitalisation of transactions, the concerns of today's consumers are different from the 1990's consumers. The new age consumers problems are more related to digital transactions, deficiency in service, unfair trade practices and unfair contracts such as problems related to online shopping, repudiation of contract by insurance companies or charging price higher than MRP, spurious and fake brands. The Government of India also brought the new Consumer Protection Act 2019 which is much bolder and has innovative features. On one hand Online consumers have been included in the definition of who is a 'consumer', E-Daakhil, Central Consumer Protection Authority, mediation, product liability, unfair contracts are other remarkable changes introduced in CPA, 2019. The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 is a benevolent piece of social welfare legislation providing for simple, speedy and less expensive remedy for the redressal of consumer grievances in relation to defective goods and deficient services. The remedy under CPA is in addition to and not in derogation of provisions of any other law for the time being in force. The Act gives statutory recognition to six consumer rights, which are right to safety, right to information, right to choose, right to be heard, right to seek redressal and right to consumer awareness. It is the only Act which provides compensation to the consumer, but over the period it is seen that there is a total pendency of 6.2 lakh cases in the Consumer Commissions. Justice delayed is justice denied, therefore speedy redressal to aggrieved consumers should be given and the Department of Consumer Affairs should ensure that all the vacant posts of President and Members of the various Commissions are filled as without proper quorum cases cannot be disposed of, lack of trained staff is also a cause of delay. No adjournments of cases without valid reasons should be given by the Consumer Redressal Commissions. All members of consumer fora should shed civil court personality and demeanor. Their judgments should be proconsumer The remedy under CPA is in addition to and not in derogation of provisions of any other law for the time being in force. The Act gives statutory recognition to six consumer rights, which are right to safety, right to information, right to choose, right to be heard, right to seek redressal and right to consumer awareness. It is the only Act which provides compensation to the consumer, but over the period it is seen that there is a total pendency of 6.2 lakh cases in the Consumer Commissions. Justice delayed is justice denied, therefore speedy redressal to aggrieved consumers should be given and the Department of Consumer Affairs should ensure that all the vacant posts of President and Members of the various Commissions are filled as without proper quorum cases cannot be disposed of, lack of trained staff is also a cause of delay. No adjournments of cases without valid reasons should be given by the Consumer Redressal Commissions. All members of consumer fora should shed civil court personality and demeanor. Their judgments should be proconsumer

 

(The author is Professor, Department of Commerce, Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi. She can be reached at skapoor@knc.du.ac.in)

 Views expressed are personal.