The Plight of Indian Consumers
| Prof. HIMACHALAM DASARAJU, CWF (UK) - 13 Mar 2021

 SPECIAL ON - WORLD CONSUMER RIGHTS DAY- March 15, 2021

Any betterment even after 3.4 decades of Consumer Protection Act 1986?

The widespread illiteracy, ignorance of consumer's legitimate rights, poverty, and lack of organized efforts to check the market evils are among the major causes which make people vulnerable to exploitation by manufacturers as well as middlemen. This, more or less, is the plight of the illiterate as well as the educated consumer. What is imperative now is not only to increase the literacy and income levels of people, but also to educate them in the causes for their present plight, make them aware of their legitimate rights and privileges as consumers, and train them in the course of action to be adopted to translate them into actualities. 

 

By Himachalam Dasaraju

It is a fact that the consumer plays a pivotal role, as a creator of an opportunity, to perform an economic activity for the prosperity of the nation. The importance of the consumers in all the business spheres is rightly focused by the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi laying due emphasis on the crucial position the consumer occupies in the business world. Ideally, the customer is the King, the uncrowned monarch. Consumers are the pillars of economic development in any country as the entire economy revolves around them. But the consumer status in the present global market environment is different and not having any supreme position as stated above. 
 

The plight of Consumers: 

Consumers have been the victim of exploitation since time immemorial. The consumers in India are in a most deplorable situation, where they are made to pay exorbitant prices for essential goods and services by the businessmen, for whom profit-making is the sole aim without public interest. Businessmen follow unethical business practices, taking the existing situation for their advantage and for making a profit at the cost of consumers. As a consequence, the consumers’ interest is relegated to the backward in the complex global economy. Consumers do not get pure and qualitative goods in the market, though every advertisement assures them of only purity and quality. Most of the goods in the market are either adulterated or inferior products. 

Even after 34 years of the Consumer Protection Act (CP Act) 1986, and its subsequent amendments from time to time including CP Bill 2018, there is no much headway in favor of consumers. The merchants and middlemen are exploiting the situation to the utter disadvantage of consumers by adopting all sorts of malpractices like adulteration, underweight of goods, selling of inferior quality goods or duplicate goods, charging exorbitant prices, adopting misleading advertisements in the mass media, adopting cyber crimes and the like. It is a situation wherein the consumers are not at all sure of getting quality goods manufactured and presented in hygienic conditions and at competitive prices in the markets.

All the essential food items are not sure of free from adulteration, life-saving drugs are not sure of safety, electronic products prices are unreliable, whatnot, everything involved in it. Most of the fruits which we are eating are not ripening naturally; all these are prepared artificially with some chemicals which are harmful to the health of human beings. For example, the watermelon is injected to get color, the banana is treated with chemicals to get ready for sale, and no exception for any fruits in this regard.

Every day the consumers are being cheated one way or other in all dimensions, which are detrimental to the health of all human beings as we are all consumers. The consumers bear all these evils silently without protest, though the consumer has every right to protect himself against these malpractices. Even those few consumers who are aware of their rights as consumers tend to be cynical and do not complain against unethical business practices.

Causes for the situation:
In India widespread illiteracy, poverty, ignorance of consumer rights, lack of sufficient information about products and services, the lethargic attitude of the consumers, and lack of organized efforts to check the market evils are some of the major factors contributing to the plight of the consumers. Millions who are living below the poverty line are busy just keeping themselves alive. They have neither the time nor the inclination to think of their rights and lodge protests against the deceivers. Even literate and educated consumers feel helpless before the might of the exploiters in the market milieu. 

Origin of Consumer Rights:
A landmark of the consumer protection movement towards this end is found in the address of John F. Kennedy, the then president of the USA in 1962 when he enunciated the following major rights of consumer:
(I)  The Right to Safety, (ii)  The Right to be informed, (iii) The Right to Choose, (iv) The Right to be heard.  

Later the International Organisation of Consumers Union recognized three more rights of consumers.  

These are:
(v)  Right to Seek Redressal, (vi) The Right to Consumer Education, (vii) The Right to a Healthy Environment. 

Legal Framework for Consumer Protection: 
The government of India has made considerable efforts and enacted several meaningful legal measures to protect the consumers from the clutches of businessmen and middlemen. India has enacted more than 2 dozens of Acts to protect the consumer in various dimensions. A milestone in Indian history is the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, for providing comprehensive solutions to the consumer problems in the Indian market milieu. It is the backbone of the Indian consumer movement.  

To resolve the consumer disputes this Act has made comprehensive provisions. Sec. 9 of the Act provides for three-tier redressal machinery viz., District Forum, State Commission, and National Commission.  It provides certain rights to consumers and establishes a 3 tier quasi-judicial machinery at the district, state, and central level for the speedy redressal of consumer grievances. This act was modified from time to time by Act no.34 of 1991, Act no.50 of 1993, and Act no.62 of 2002 to serve better to consumers. To keep pace with the global changes the act was amended from time to time to suit rightly to the global changes. These include: 
Consumer Protection Bill 2015, Consumer Protection Bill, 2018, and Consumer Protection Act 2019 (CP Act 2019).

 

The ‘CP Act 2019’ has gone one step forward in paving the way for identifying, recognizing, and incorporating various rights for consumer protection. It has not only empowered the consumers by incorporating various rights not previously available but has also imposed enough responsibilities on the stakeholders like dealers, manufacturers, service providers, and even on their endorsers. It has tried to touch upon various issues which were not catered to in the previous act. Thus, the new “CPA’2019” may prove to be more effective in dealing with the protection of consumers. 

To review and reiterating the need for consumer protection, the government of India is observing 24th December of every year as National Consumer Rights Day and 15th of March of every year as a World Consumer Rights Day at a global level with a specific vital topic to debate. 

World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), March 15, 2021: 
This year’s theme for world consumer rights day (March 15, 2021) is “Tackling Plastic Pollution”. On every 15th of March, it is observed the world over as a “World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD)”. It is celebrated every year across the world to debate on a specific theme of world importance and to promote consumer rights and awareness among consumers. It is an appropriate platform to debate and review, what consumers globally want and put them at the mainstream of world development.

The Consumer International (CI), a non-profit London-based consumer organization is organizing World Consumer Rights Day on March 15, of every year since 1983, in recognition of promulgation of consumer rights by the then President of USA John F. Kennedy, while addressing US congress on 15th March 1962.  

Conclusion: 
The widespread illiteracy, ignorance of consumer's legitimate rights, poverty, and lack of organized efforts to check the market evils are among the major causes which make people vulnerable to exploitation by manufacturers as well as middlemen. This, more or less, is the plight of the illiterate as well as the educated consumer. What is imperative now is not only to increase the literacy and income levels of people, but also to educate them in the causes for their present plight, make them aware of their legitimate rights and privileges as consumers, and train them in the course of action to be adopted to translate them into actualities. 

The legal machinery in our country for the redressal of consumer problems at present is mostly confined to urban areas only. It hardly reaches rural areas. It has to be extended to reach all areas of the state. Like every aspect of consumer protection, this too is bound up with the spread of literacy and education. If all consumers, consumer organizations, business units, traders, and government are united by a common purpose and continue their activities in a spirit of fairness and commitment, certainly the consumer movement will be successful. 

Let us hope for the best. 
 

Dr. HIMACHALAM DASARAJU,Ph.D,CWF (UK)

Professor of Commerce (Retd)
Former Senior Fellow & Professor Emeritus
Commonwealth Visiting Fellow, UK
Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati -517502
A.P., India. e-mail: dhchalam@gmail.com


About the Author:
The author Dr. Himachalam Dasaraju is a Professor of Commerce (Retd) at Sri Venkateswara University. He is a Commonwealth Visiting Fellow at Essex Business School, Essex University, UK, and former Senior Fellow and Professor Emeritus. Now he is working on an international project “Carbon Accounting and Auditing in France and India” in collaboration with the University of Bordeaux, France.

Image courtesy - Google / File Images


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