Saturday, November 21, 2009


With increasing globalisation, liberalisation and harmonisation of economies of various nations coming together the issues concerning consumer protection are now being accorded the topmost priority by the respective Government. The Consumer movement in India is as old as trade and commerce. In Kautilya’s Arthshastra there are references to the concept of protection of consumers by the king against exploitation by the trader and retailer with respect to quality, short rate, measurement and adulteration of goods.

The growing size and complexity of production and distribution systems, the high level of sophistication in marketing and newer methods of advertising, mass marketing methods and emergence of e-commerce result in reduction of personal interaction between buyers and sellers has contributed to the increased need of consumer protection.

Consumer Protection – Priority Area for Government

As the nation celebrates the National Consumer Day to commemorate the enactment of Consumer Protection Act on 24th December, 1986, the Government is treating consumer protection as one of its topmost priority areas.

However, making of a law in itself is not the end. Education and awareness is the most powerful tool for the progress of the country and an educated individual is able to make rationale choice as a consumer. An aware consumer protects himself from trade and business exploitation.

Basic Framework for Consumer Protection

Consumer protection initiatives by the Government hinge on 3 basic parameters.

Firstly ensuring a legal framework that comprises of Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The Act enacted in 1986 has been recognised as one of the finest basis of legislation enacted in any part of the world and India can boast of being only country having such specialised legislation for consumer protection. The CPA has a three tier, simple, quasi judicial machinery at the National, State and District level for hearing cases raised by consumers.

Secondly, evolving standards for different products to enable the consumers to make an informed choice about different products. Standards which are the essential building block for quality play a key role in consumer protection. Standard could be on technical requirement (specifications), improved specific standard terminology (glossary of terms),codes of practice or test methods or management systems standards. The standards are set generally by Government or inter-Governmental bodies but world wide it is being recognised that voluntary establishment of standards play an equally important role for protecting consumers.

Thirdly, consumer awareness and education is the main building block for consumer protection. An enlightened consumer is an empowered consumer. An aware consumer not only protects himself from exploitation but induces efficiency, transparency and accountability in the entire manufacturing and services sector.

National Action Plan on Consumer Protection

Consequent upon the 50th National Development Council Meeting Planning Commission has identified consumer awareness, redressal and enforcement of Consumer Protection Act as a priority agency for action by the Department of Consumer Affairs. The allocation for consumer protection activities was significantly enhanced in the last two years and for the 11th Plan a sum of Rs. 409 crore has been embarked exclusively for mounting a publicity campaign to make consumers aware of their rights. The plan has been approved by the Expenditure Finance Committee and consequent upon getting Cabinet approval a comprehensive multi media campaign shall be launched with Jago Grahak Jagoas the theme to make consumers aware.

Consumer Protection – The Road Map ahead

The Department of Consumer Affairs has embarked on an ambitious array of activities with due support from Planning Commission and Ministry of Finance.


A project titled Computerisation and Computer Networking of consumer fora in the country is being executed on a turnkey basis by the National Informatics Centre. Under this scheme the consumer fora on all the three tiers would be fully computerised and interconnected enabling them to access information leading to quicker disposal of cases. Out of 35 State Commissions and 607 District Fora, 33 State Commissions and 555 district Fora have been covered under this project so far. The project ultimately aims at enabling online registration of complaints by the consumers and will prove to be a significant step forward in easier access to consumer fora.

Time Bound Disposal Of Cases

In a country of vast magnitude as India prompt redressal of complaints is a mammoth task inspite of various constraints a consumer forum have achieved remarkable success. They have disposed of around 88% cases out of more than 27 lakh cases filed so far. There have been occasional delays in disposal of cases by the redressal agencies. Taking due cognisance of the need to expedite, the Department of Consumer Affairs is in the process of amending the Consumer Protection Act further to prescribe a specific time frame for disposal of cases.

Awareness Campaign

In a big country like India, given the scenario of economic disparity and level of education and ignorance, educating the consumers remains a gigantic task. Government has taken up number of activities and schemes in creating consumer awareness. The slogan ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ has now been well established and through multi media publicity campaign revolving around this theme Government has endeavoured to inform the common man of his rights as a consumer.

Consumer Clubs

The scheme for setting up of consumer clubs in schools and colleges have been introduced to make the youngsters aware of their rights as a consumer. Research institutes/universities/colleges are also being involved in promoting consumer protection and consumer welfare.

Private Public Partnership

Role of academic and consumer organisations as well as the NGOs is therefore to educate and involve the consumers in the movement. Therefore, they have been given a prominent role in the Consumer Protection Act itself to take up cases on behalf of consumers which could be of an individual or a group of consumers. In fact CPA is a unique piece of legislation wherein it introduced the concept of what later came to be known more popularly as the PIL.

Alliance With FICCI

Various programmes have been undertaken under the Consumer Welfare Fund to strengthen the consumer movement in the country. The recent initiative of the Department was to involve trade and industry associations to make them redress the grievances of consumers through a voluntary code of conduct. A project known as “FICCI Alliance for Consumer Care” is being undertaken with the support of the Central Government. All these measures are expected to resolve consumers’ complaints at the first point of contact itself, thereby reducing the workload on the ConsumerFora.

Tie Up With Legal Institutions

A need has been felt to address the major concerns of consumers in some critical areas, which require technical expertise of high order. The Department has therefore, communicated with leading Institutions/Central Universities like IITs, IIMs, National Law Universities etc, with the objective of setting up Centres of Excellence or Chair on Consumer Studies focusing on a particular area of consumer welfare. As a result the Department has set up an exclusive Chair on Consumer Law and Practice in the National Law School of India University at Bangalore and a Centre for Consumer studies at Indian Institute of Public Administration.

Online Consumer Guidance

The Department has started a ‘Consumer Online Resource and Empowerment Centre (CORE Centre)’ for providing consumer related information, guidance and consumer complaint guidance mechanism through the online medium. It is being run by the Consumer Coordination Council (CCC), which is a coalition of 51 consumer organizations of this country. A Comparative Testing of products and services is being implemented by the VOICE Society, New Delhi in order to monitor the Quality Standards of Products and Services through comparative testing, and dissemination of information to consumers through publications.

Consumer Helpline (NCH)

To advise the consumers on the various issues concerning consumer protection a ‘National Consumer Helpline’ is being operated through theUniversity of Delhi with the support of Department of Consumer Affairs. The toll no. 1800-11-4000 allows a consumer anywhere in the country to call this number and get proper advise regarding his problem. From its inception around 1,25,000 calls have been received which shows its efficacy. The NCH is being further strengthened with setting up of state level consumer helpline which will provide service in regional languages also.

Strengthening Of Infrastructure

Another area, which relates to consumer protection is the implementation of weights and measures laws. During 11th Plan, it has been proposed to augment the infrastructure available with the States/UTs at a cost of Rs. 325 crore. Under the scheme of Strengthening of Weights and Measures infrastructure of States/UTs, the standards laboratories of the States/UTs are being strengthened by providing them with 270 sets of working standard balances, 59 sets of secondary standard balances and 34 mobile kit of testing weighing bridges. The Package Commodity Rules 1977 has been amended in July 2006 for the benefit of the consumers.

Thrust On Standardisation

In helping the consumer exercise their rights, quality and standards have a crucial role to play. Standards provide consumers with reliable benchmarks of quality. Quality consciousness is not yet a way of life in India as it is in the West. The Bureau of Indian Standards has taken initiatives in introducing a certification scheme for foreign manufacturers and imported goods, food safety certification as per ISO Standards. Certification Scheme for Hallmarking of Gold jewellery and Silver artefacts is an important contribution of BIS in safeguarding consumer interests.

Responsibilities of Consumer

Every consumer in own interest has to realise the role and importance in the right perspective. In a competitive economic environment, the consumer has to exercise the choice either in favour of or against the goods and services. The choice is going to be vital and final. One would have to realise the importance and prepare to exercise their rights with responsibility. The consumers in society get a position in the market depending upon what they do or do not do.

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