BY NVO News | January 19, 2011
Rakesh Kacker writes: 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. Realising the importance of consumer empowerment the Government has accorded top priority to Consumer Education, Consumer Protection and Consumer Awareness. India is a country, which has taken a lead in introducing progressive legislation for consumer protection. The most important milestone in Consumer Movement in the country has been the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Act has set in motion a revolution in the field of consumer rights that perhaps cannot have a any parallel anywhere else in the World. The Act applies to all goods and services unless specially exempted by the Central Government, in all sectors whether Private, Public or Co-operative.
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. 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. Standards 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 worldwide it is beingrecognised that voluntary establishment of standards plays an equally important role for protecting consumers. Thirdly, consumer awareness and education is the main building block for consumer protection.
Consumer Protection Act, 1986
The Act enshrines all consumer rights which are internationally accepted. Under the Act, a separate three-tier quasi judicial consumer dispute redressal machinery popularly known as consumer courts or consumer forums has been set up at the national, state and district level to provide simple, speedy and inexpensive redressal to the consumer grievances against any defective goods, deficiency in services including the restrictive/unfair trade practices.
Networking Of Consumer For a
In order to establish complete interlinking of computer networking of consumer court, namely, National Commission, 35 State Commissions and 607 District Forums for its monitoring and accessing various kinds of data, the Department is moving forward to introduce computerization and networking of all consumer forums.
Initiatives Towards Consumer Awareness And Education
In a country like ours, given the scenario of economic disparity and level of education and ignorance, educating the consumers, remains a gigantic task. This calls for concerted efforts from every one. Government has taken up number of initiatives for creating consumer awareness in the country. The Consumer Awareness Scheme for the XIthPlan amounting to a total of Rs. 409 crores has been approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in January, 2008.
The slogan ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ has now become a household name as a result of the publicity campaign undertaken in the last 4 years. Through the increased thrust on consumer awareness in the XIth Five Year Plan, the Government has endeavoured to inform the common man of his rights as a consumer. As part of the consumer awareness scheme, the rural and remote areas have been given top priority.
Multi Media Publicity Campaign
Multi-media publicity campaign are being undertaken through print and electronic media on the issues that are directly relevant to the role of the Department such as ISI, Hallmark, Labelling, MRP, Weights and Measures etc,. Each advertisement is released through a network of national as well as regional newspapers throughout the country. Simultaneously, major initiative are being launched wherein issues that have come into focus on account of new emerging areas such as telecom, real estate, credit cards, financial products, pharmaceuticals, Insurance, travel services, medicines etc. are under taken either through joint campaigns or joint consultations with the concerned Departments.
The Department of Consumer Affairs has video spots of 30 seconds duration on various consumer related issues, which are being telecast through Cable and Satellite channels. Special programmes have also been telecast onLok Sabha TV and Doordarshan to highlight the issues relating to consumer awareness. Issues pertaining to rural and remote areas have been given prominence in the various advertisement spots.
Consumer awareness messages are also being disseminated through Meghdoot Post cards in consultation with Department of Post to reach far-flung rural areas including North-East States. Posters carrying messages pertaining to consumer awareness have been displayed in 1.55 lakh Rural Post Offices and more than 25000 Urban Post Offices throughout the country.
National Consumer Helpline
The Department has launched a National Help Line. The toll free number 1800-11-4000 facility is available to consumers from 9.30 A.M. to 5.30 P.M. on all the working days.
The Department has launched on March 15, 2005 Consumer on Line Resources and Empowerment (CORE) Centre on the website www.core.nic.in for consumer advocacy and online redressal of consumer grievances. Through the various advertisements relating to consumer awareness, adequate publicity is being given to the activities of CORE and its website so that consumers can take the help of online counselling/guidance being provided through it.
Participation in India International Trade-Fair-2010
Exhibitions and Trade Fairs are also used as a tool for showcasing the consumer awareness initiatives of the Department. The Department participated in the India-International Trade Fair organised in New Delhi from 14th to 27thNovember, 2010. Thousands of visitors visited the ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ stall during the Trade Fair. Publicity brochures containing information about Consumer Fora, National Consumer Helpline, Grievance Redressal Mechanism and sector specific information such as on real estate, telecom, financial products etc. was distributed free of cost to the visitors during the Fair. The video advertisement spot as part of the ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ campaign was also run continuously to spread awareness on consumer issues among the visitors to the stall. Representatives of National Consumer Helpline were also deputed to provide on-the-spot guidance to the visitors during the Trade Fair. The Department also participated in an exhibition in Voorhees College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu in October, 2010.
Use of Sports Events
In order to reach maximum number of consumers, the Department telecasted video spots containing consumer related information during the popular sports events where the audience interest is maximum.
Joint Publicity Campaign
As part of joint publicity campaign, various advertisements have been released on specific consumer issueslike real estate, credit cards, pharmaceuticals, insurance, food safety etc. to educate consumers.
Use of Internet to generate Consumer Awareness
Realizing that more than 70% population under the age of 35 years are using the internet in a big way, a major initiative is being taken to spread consumer awareness through the internet. All the print advertisements as well as the Audio Video spots of the Department have been uploaded on the website of the Ministry i.e.www.fcamin.nic.in.
Special Scheme on Assistance to State Governments/UTs
Considering the fact that active involvement of State Governments in awareness campaign is crucial in taking forward the movement to rural, remote and backward areas, the involvement of the State/ UT administration has been given prominence in spreading the message of consumer awareness. Grant-in-Aid has been given to the States/UTs for carrying out consumer awareness activities in the local media using the local language and emphasis has been made on involving Panchayati Raj institutions in the consumer awareness campaign.
Advertisements in journals of Publication Division
The Department has entered into a tie-up with Publication Division under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for displaying advertisements in the journals brought out by the Division such as Yojana, Kurukshetra, BalBharti, Aajkal and their regional editions. Focussed articles on consumer awareness are also being published in these magazines keeping in view their target readership.
Collaboration with Gmbh for Technical Support
The Department has collaborated with Deutsche Gesellschaft Fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) for providing technical support regarding production and development of publicity material. Under the GTZ Project, advertisement spots pertaining to electronic media in the areas of MRP and consumer awareness regarding unhealthy trade practices were produced. Under the Indo-German technical cooperation the publicity material published by the Department has also been analysed and suggestions for new publicity materials have been identified. A ‘Consumer Diary’ is also being brought out under this Project.
Concurrent Evaluation of Publicity Campaign
A comprehensive survey was undertaken by Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) covering 12 States and 144 districts in the country. The survey revealed that about 62.56 per cent respondents from both rural and urban areas were found to be aware of the publicity campaign run by the Department. Findings of the IIMC survey have been duly considered and incorporated while finalising the Media Plan for undertaking consumer awareness activities. Mid-term evaluation of the campaign has also been carried out by an empanelled agency of the Planning Commission and the study report has come out with encouraging reports regarding the Jago Grahak Jago Campaign.
Proactive Legislation For Consumer Protection
In consonance with the special emphasis placed by this Department on the development of legal metrology in the country, a comprehensive Legal Metrology Bill has been enacted to replace the Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1976 and the Standards of Weights and Measures (Enforcement) Act, 1985. It intends to further simplify the requirements of weights and measures in inter-state trade, optimum utilisation of existing legal metrology infrastructure in the country and provide for personnel who are better attuned to the ever changing requirements, to handle the subject of legal metrology in the States/UTs.
National Consumer Protection Authority
Another important policy initiative by the Department is a proposal for setting up a National Consumer Protection Authority, which would be a proactive body empowered to take suo moto action for better protection of the interests of the consumers in general. This Department is also in the process of framing a ‘National Consumer Policy’ which would shape the future of consumer movement in the country. Under this policy, it is proposed to attune the consumer movement in the country with the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection.
Upgradation Of Standards
In helping the consumer to 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 Department has succeeded in putting in place an economic framework to promote quality. The BIS has taken new 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.
The Future Roadmap
The multi-media publicity to educate consumers and make them aware about their rights will have a long lasting impact not only on the end consumers but also on the entire manufacturing and services sector. It will go a long way in introducing greater accountability and transparency in the services provided by the public as well as private sector since the end user i.e. consumer will be educated and will become aware enough to ask for best possible services in return of his hard earned money. The day is therefore not far off when the consumers will be truly empowered.