"Consumerism" is dominating the Indian market in today’s age, thanks to the economic reforms ushered in and the several agreements signed under the World Trade Organization. The transition has been from a predominantly "sellers market" to a "buyers market" where the choice exercised by the consumer is influenced by the level of consumer awareness achieved. By "consumerism" we mean the process of realizing the rights of the consumer as envisaged in the Consumer Protection Act (1986) and ensuring right standards for the goods and services for which one makes a payment. This objective can be achieved in a reasonable time frame only when all concerned act together and play their role. The players are the consumers represented by different voluntary non-government consumer organizations, the government, the regulatory authorities for goods and services in a competitive economy, the consumer courts, organizations representing trade, industry and service providers, the law-makers and those in charge of implementation of the laws and rules.
NEED FOR CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT
Prior to independence, the main laws under which the consumer interests were considered were the Indian Penal Code, Agricultural Production, Grading and Marketing Act, 1937, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. Even though different parts of India exhibited different levels of awareness, in general, the level of awareness was pretty low. The Sale of Goods Act, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act did not directly deal with the subject of consumer interests. In the context of growing needs of the citizens many problems relating to their routine necessities, do not find effective measure for verifying wrongful acts and for compensation due to consequent loss to them.
The consumer in India needs special protection for various reasons. First of all, he is not provided with full and correct information about the quality of the product he buys, or its ingredients and its full use or effects. Even a few years ago, even the concept of sharing information about the product by the producer with the consumers was not accepted.
Ideas have so changed that many manufactured products these days carry a label giving information on ingredients, their properties, manufacturing date, date before which it has to be used in the case of food products, medicines, cosmetics, etc. where it is necessary. Technically, these articles are known as “experience articles” as different from “search goods”, whose quality can be seen and felt as in the case of textiles, furniture, etc.
Quality cannot be ascertained while purchasing or even after purchasing certain goods, say products of medicinal value and such goods are called credence goods”. With reference to service, the advice of a doctor, lawyer and such professionals are treated under this category.
For example, in case of unforeseen events, where the consumer is the victim of the unfortunate event, his protection becomes a major concern. It is best illustrated by the following case:
On April 9, the Dahisar based Sonal Shah and her 7-year old daughter Hiral were electrocuted while sitting by the swimming pool at the Palghar Resort with family friends. The accident was caused by an electrical leak near the pool. Sonal’s husband Ketan, and son Rahul too suffered serious injuries due to electric shocks and had to be hospitalized.
The issues relating to consumer welfare affects the entire 1 billion people since everyone is a consumer in one way or the other. Ensuring consumer welfare is the responsibility of the government. Accepting this, policies have been framed and the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, was introduced. A separate Department of Consumer Affairs was also created in the Central and State Governments to exclusively focus on ensuring the rights of consumers as enshrined in the Act.
RIGHTS OF CONSUMERS
The Right to Basic Needs: ascertains basic goods and services, which guarantee survival. It includes...