When one buys a product the first thing one check is the price tag. Is it within my budget- is the only query one asks oneself most often. Very rarely do we bother to check other things like durability, expiry date etc. This is where consumer awareness begins. There are various ways in which the consumer gets exploited by the trader giving incomplete or wrong information, by weighing less, by charging more or by giving low quality goods. These unfair practices may harm the customer not just monetarily but also by causing health hazards or mental stress.
In this age of high competition and globalization, every manufacturer is trying to maximize profits and in the process, is resorting to such aggressive and misleading advertising and marketing practices forgetting the interests of consumers. It is therefore extremely important for the consumer to be well informed about the goods or service he/she is purchasing /availing of and protect their own interests. Being fully aware of their rights as a consumer, checking the MRP of products, reading the fine print in lengthy legal documents before signing and taking all precautionary measures while making big purchases like property etc, are very crucial. For consumer durables like food items, groceries, etc, it even more important to check the manufacturing date, expiry date, contents list etc. before buying the products, as otherwise, there is risk of food poisoning, at the very least.
Consumer awareness on services offered is a bit more complex. The concept of consumer rights on services is something most people are not even aware of. Do you know that hospitals often get patient/attendants to sign blank forms or forms where the language is not comprehensible for the common man? The patient or attendant is in such a state of anxiety that he/ she signs wherever they are asked to without understanding the implication of what they are signing. And, later when the customer threatens legal action, these forms are flourished as evidence of consent from the patient/attendant. The same is the case with builders, financial companies offering loans, etc. The language is often couched in such a way that the person availing of the loan or the buyer of the house does not know what he/she is signing and is fooled by the other party.
This is where consumer rights and consumer protection comes in. Consumer protection is not a new concept. It was embedded in our ancient texts as pointed out by our Prime Minister in his speech at the recently held international conference on consumer protection in New Delhi. He had mentioned that in India around 2500 years ago, during the period of Kautilya, there were guidelines for the government regarding how trade should be regulated and the interest of the consumers be protected.
The consumer protection movement in modern India began with the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 which built in many clauses for the protection of the consumer for both purchase of goods and availing of services. The Act is since sought to be amended by the government through the Consumer Protection Bill which is all set to be taken up in the winter session of Parliament.
The government has also introduced various standards and measurements for checking of goods and services like the ISI mark, Hallmark for jewellery, silkmark for silk products and the recent RERA which is a landmark regulatory measure of the government for safeguarding the consumer from malpractices in the real estate sector. Other measures of the government like the DBT, Ujjawala etc. are also intended to protect the common man from becoming victim of frauds as a beneficiary of government schemes.
It is also equally necessary for the consumer of goods/services to be aware of the mechanisms available for redressal in case of grievances. Consumer redressal has also been built into the consumer protection act. There are various fora like the lok adalats, district consumer forum, state consumer forum and the national consumer disputes redressal authority where aggrieved consumers can apply for redressal of grievances.
While the government has been initiating various schemes and programmes for protection of the consumer, it is necessary that the consumer takes the onus to make use of all the protection mechanisms and asserts some self care in buying goods/ availing of services. It is only by exercising their rights that the consumer can be in the driving seat. Consumer Protection, like charity, also begins at home.