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Enlightened Consumer is an Empowered Consumer

New Delhi, Sat, 15 Mar 2008 Vikash Ranjan

Today, on March 15 the international community is celebrating its “silver year” on Consumer Rights; While India has been observing the day since 1989 as the National Consumers’ Day.

The day is basically held as an occasion reflecting the dual effect first on consumers and later on market. Whereas, it focuses and promotes the basic rights of consumers that their rights are respected and protected, at the same time it protects the market from abuses and social injustices. The day also reminds consumers that with rights comes responsibility and so they must be prepared to shoulder some responsibility for their welfare and development.

This day has its own historic significance, as it was the day when for the first times in 1962 the Bill for Consumer Rights was moved in the US Congress. During his speech, J F Kennedy, the then American President had equated the rights of the ordinary American consumer with national interest and remarked:

“If a consumer is offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and national interest suffers.”

Kennedy initially incorporated four basic rights such as, right to safety, right to choose, right to information, and right to be heard. Thirteen years later it was observed by the President Gerald Ford felt that in view of most of the consumers, who were not enough educated to make the right choices, he added ‘Right to Consumer Education’ to these rights.

The Consumers International (CI), formerly known as International Organisation of Consumer Unions (IOCU) expanded the charter of consumers rights contained in the US Bill to eight, which in a logical order reads: 1.Basic Need 2.Safety 3.Information 4.Choice 5.Representation 6.Redress 7.Consumer Education and 8. Healthy Environment.

The United Nations on this ground adopted its Guidelines for Consumer Protection in April 1985.

The Consumer Protection Act (COPRA) was incorporated in India in 1986 as the Magna Carta of consumers. However, in India, the charter recognises only six of the aforesaid eight rights. These are Safety, Information, Choice, Representation (Heard), Redress, and Consumer Education.

Awareness: The root of consumer movement success

The complete success of consumer movements cannot be achieved until or unless the consumers are not making aware of their rights and responsibilities. The success of such movement most of all depends on the literacy of consumers. A literate consumer cannot be easily exploited.

The Department of Consumer Affairs has taken several steps to reinforcing consumer movement by protecting their interests with the support of State Governments, Voluntary Consumer Organisations, and Consumer Activists.

Rights and Responsibilities of Consumers

Rights:

Right to safety: to be protected against the sale of goods and services, which are spurious/hazardous to life.

Right to Information: To know the quality, quantity, weight and the price of goods/services being paid for, so that one is not cheated by unfair trade practices.

Right to Choose: To be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices.

Right to be heard: To be heard and to be assured that the interest would receive due consideration at appropriate forum.

Right to Seek Redressal: To seek legal redressal against unfair or restrictive trade practices or exploitation.

Right to Consumer Education: To have access to consumer education.

Responsibilities:

- Obtain full information regarding quality and price before making any purchases.

- Be careful about false and/or misleading.

- Purchase goods having quality marks like ISI/Agmark etc, as and where available, for safety and quality.

- Obtain proper receipt/cash memo for purchases made and guarantee/warranty card duly stamped and signed by the seller, wherever applicable.

- Approach Consumer Forum for redressal of consumer grievance against sale of defective goods or deficient services or adoption of unfair or restrictive trade practices.

- Bargain on MRP.

Other means of creating awareness

Advertising plays a significant role in creating awareness among masses. Visual, audio and audio-visual media today, are very effective means of creating awareness, providing information and knowledge to consumers of their rights and responsibilities. Especially, the impact of audio-visual media on consumers’ mind is awesome. By promoting awareness among them by several means, the Consumer Movement in the country will be further strengthened.

Besides, the Union and State governments have commenced many schemes to empower consumers such as setting up of Consumer Courts.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) a.k.a National Commission is the apex consumer redressal forum located at New Delhi. Moreover, each state has a Consumer Disputes Redresal Commission known as State Commission. Similarly, in every district, District Forum has been established to redress the consumers’ complaint.

A new initiative in this course has been taken in the form of “Consumer Online Resource and Empowerment Centre” (CORE Centre) for providing consumer related information, guidance and an online consumer complaint redressal mechanism.


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