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Dr. Sheetal Kapoor**

Consumer Affairs today encompass all aspects of consumer welfare and has been Internationally recognized in recent times. Consumer is considered as an inevitable part of the socio-economic-political system, where the exchange initiated and transaction realised between two parties, namely buyers and sellers has an impact on a third party i.e., society. The inherent profit motive in mass production and sales also offers the opportunity to many manufacturers and dealers to exploit consumers. As markets are globalising and consumers are bombarded with too many choices of products and services, purchase decision-making is becoming difficult. New technologies, such as the internet, debit cards, credit cards, ATM’s on one hand are making the life of the consumer easier, but again pose a challenge of safety and security. As consumers we need to separate the chaff from the grains. There is a risk of being cheated when we pay our hard earned money to get a sub-quality product or service. Thus the need for consumer satisfaction and consumer protection has been recognized. According to Philip Kotler, “Consumerism is a social Movement seeking to augment the rights and powers of the buyers in relation to sellers”. Consumers today want value for money, a product or service that would meet reasonable expectations, is safe in use and there is full disclosure of the product specification. These expectations are termed as ‘Consumer Rights’.

Exploitation of Consumers

Problems of defective goods, deficiency in service, spurious and duplicate brands, misleading advertisements are rampant and often the gullible consumer falls prey to it. A majority of the consumers, especially in the rural areas are uneducated and lack awareness and knowledge. Consumers face many risks during purchase and consumption of goods and services.

Moreover, financial risks are involved where the consumers may not get the value for money spent or they may be overcharged or there may be hidden price components which may leave them exploited. Instances abound where a claim on an Insurance Policy takes an unduly long time to be settled, or there may be over-billing, double debit, billing delays, pension disbursement, non-rectification of wrong bills, misleading advertisements and non-adherence to offers made. The granting of possessions of flat may be delayed; cases of wrongful dishonor of cheques, loss of cheques that have been deposited in a bank, cheques with forged signatures, etc.

Instances bound where companies advertise lucrative schemes offering attractive rates of return or make offer for doubling of money in a short period of time, and, after having collected funds, have shut shops and vanished. People have invested money in plots of land only to find later that the plot bought was either already sold or subsequently sold to someone else. Flats are allotted to two people simultaneously, leaving the genuine buyer to fight a protracted legal battle to get something that belonged to one of them. Similarly, consumers applying for shares have faced situations where they have neither been allotted the shares nor refunded payment. In most of these situations, the consumer has to wash his hands off a sizeable part of his investment or hard earned savings. Some of the type of complaints received in credit cards are issue of unsolicited cards, non-despatch of account statements in time, levy of excessive service charges, levy of late fees despite payments being done on time, refusal to cancel credit card, freezing of cards without informing the card holder, and harassment by recovery officer. Consumers also are victims of malfunctioning of ATMs. This year the Ministry of Consumer Affairs theme is to make the consumers financial literate so that they are not mislead by the marketer.

Consumer Protection Act, 1986

India is a country which never fell behind in introducing progressive legislation. The most important milestone in Consumer Movement in the country has been the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. December 24th is an important day in the history of India as on this day in 1986 the Consumer Protection Act, received the assent of the President of India. The Act has set in motion a revolution in the field of consumer rights that perhaps cannot be paralleled 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.

The Act enshrines all the consumer rights which are internationally accepted. As per the Act, the consumer protection councils have been established at Central, State and District levels to promote and protect the consumer rights. Further adjudicatory bodies which are commonly known as consumer courts have been established for easy redressal of consumer complaints.

Consumer Guidance and Education

An aware consumer is an asset for any society. Whenever a consumer takes an insurance policy he should read the fine print carefully, gather full policy details, engage a reputed agent, know the policy’s insurance cover and the process of filing a claim.

Further while applying for a bank loan the consumer should read the fine print carefully, confirm the Interest Scheme applicable, know the repayment plan and timeline and compare other loan options / plan. One should always check the hidden charges and penalty clause, always check the rate of interest, penalty etc and read terms and conditions and other details and check bill carefully before subscribing to a credit card service. For problems relating to banking and insurance Ombudsman is a free, fair and fast method of seeking redressal.

One should never be swayed by advertisements which violate consumers’ right to information and choice and thereby have the potential to cause financial loss and mental agony. Always be careful about slick advertisements such as “double your money”, etc.

Thus, a balance has to be made between free market forces and consumer protection. Any consumer movement can be successful if the consumers are satisfied; they receive value for their products and services. This in turn requires a synergy and support of the government, judiciary, traders, and consumers.

*Associate Professor and Convenor Consumer Club, Department of Commerce, Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi.

PIB Aizawl

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