We participate in the market both as producers and consumers. As producers of goods and services we could be working in any of the sectors such as agriculture, industry, or services. Consumers participate in the market when they purchase goods and services that they need.
Rules and regulations are required for the protection of the consumers in the marketplace. Individual consumers often find themselves in a weak position.
- Exploitation in the marketplace happens in various ways. For example, sometimes traders indulge in unfair trade practices such as when shopkeepers weigh less than what they should or when traders add charges that were not mentioned before, or when adulterated/defective goods are sold.
Markets do not work in a fair manner when producers are few and powerful whereas consumers purchase in small amounts and are scattered. This happens especially when large companies are producing these goods.
The consumer movement arose out of dissatisfaction of the consumers as many unfair practices were being indulged in by the sellers.
In India, the consumer movement as a ‘social force’ originated with the necessity of protecting and promoting the interests of consumers against unethical and unfair trade practices.
- A major step taken in 1986 by the Indian government was the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act 1986, popularly known as COPRA.
SAFETY IS EVERYONE’S RIGHT
We as consumers, have the right to be protected against the marketing of goods and delivery of services that are hazardous to life and property.
- There are many goods and services that we purchase that require special attention to safety. For example, pressure cookers have a safety valve which, if it is defective, can cause a serious accident. The manufacturers of the safety valve have to ensure high quality.
- Information about goods and services: consumers have the right to be informed about the particulars of goods and services that they purchase. Consumers can then complain and ask for compensation or replacement if the product proves to be defective in any manner. For example, if we buy a product and find it defective well within the expiry period, we can ask for a replacement. If the expiry period was not printed, the manufacturer would blame the shopkeeper and will not accept the responsibility.
In October 2005, the Government of India enacted a law, popularly known as RTI (Right to Information) Act, which ensures its citizens all the information about the functions of government departments.
Where should consumers go to get justice?
Consumers have the right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices and exploitation. If any damage is done to a consumer, she has the right to get compensation depending on the degree of damage.
Consumer forums: The consumer movement in India has led to the formation of various organisations locally known as consumer forums or consumer protection councils. They guide consumers on how to file cases in the consumer court. On many occasions, they also represent individual consumers in the consumer courts. These voluntary organisations also receive financial support from the government for creating awareness among the people.
- Under COPRA, a three-tier quasi-judicial machinery at the district, state and national levels was set up for redressal of consumer disputes.
- The district level court deals with the cases involving claims upto Rs 20 lakhs, the state level courts between Rs 20 lakhs and Rs 1 crore and the national level court deals with cases involving claims exceeding Rs 1 crore.
- If a case is dismissed in district level court, the consumer can also appeal in state and then in National level courts.
Thus, the Act has enabled us as consumers to have the right to represent in the consumer courts.
- The enactment of COPRA has led to the setting up of separate departments of Consumer Affairs in central and state governments.
- The posters are one example through which government spread information about legal process which people can use.
- You might also be seeing such advertisements on television channels.
- India has been observing 24 December as the National Consumers’ Day. It was on this day that the Indian Parliament enacted the Consumer Protection Act in 1986. India is one of the countries that have exclusive courts for consumer redressal.
- There are today more than 700 consumer groups in the country of which only about 20-25 are well organised and recognised for their work.
- After more than 25 years of the enactment of COPRA, consumer awareness in India is spreading but slowly.