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Protecting rights of consumers

November 09, 2018 00:00:00

The country had its first consumer rights protection law way back in 2009. In line with the key provisions of the law, the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP) was set up to look after consumers' interest while ensuring fair and transparent practices in trading of goods and services. A consumer protection framework generally includes introduction of greater transparency and awareness about the goods and services, promotion of competition in the marketplace, prevention of fraud, education of customers and elimination of unfair practices. Hence, to bring these into practice in a visible manner, the only instrument the government has to resort to is a well designed and efficient institutionalised mechanism.

With the setting up of the DNCRP, it looked like things were in place to take care of consumer rights as well as discipline the market behaviour in the country. But as most observers will agree, setting up of the directorate has made to date very little or no impression on the consumer rights situation. Newspaper reports say function of the organisation, since its inception, is mostly confined to receiving complaints. It has also been observed that the law (Consumer Rights Protection Act) that led to the creation of the directorate has not clearly spelt out the precise areas it is to address and how. This, experts opine, has left an unclear role on the directorate. The directorate is also not adequately empowered to direct specific state agencies to carry out activities as and when necessary, nor has it been given sufficient institutional capacity to develop a specialised manpower for supervising the markets.

Given the prevailing situation in the country, one has but to come to terms with the reality that at present consumer rights situation is appallingly poor. The voice of the consumers as a stakeholder in the market is too feeble to be heard. Consumers have no choice but to buy fake, adulterated, poor quality goods ranging from vegetables sprayed with pesticides, cosmetics containing toxic chemicals and counterfeit drugs with no medicinal value. To add to this, there is the endemic problem of formalin-treated fruits and vegetables. These, no doubt, constitute gross violation not just of consumer rights but also pose life-threatening risks.

A FE report the other day shows that there has been a huge surge in the number of complaints received by the DNCRP. The report, quoting DNCRP data says that in 2017-18, consumers lodged 9,019 complaints against businesses like restaurants, retail chain shops as well as e-commerce and telecom service providers. The figure was 6,140 in the previous year. This no doubt reflects an increasing awareness among the consumers about their rights and privileges. But mere awareness does not help unless measures are in place to address their complaints. There were some actions, reportedly, by way of penalising the businesses found guilty on the basis of the complaints. However, the fact that such actions left no noticeable impact on the market behaviour in the country must not be disputed. Isn't it time the authorities sat up to rein in the situation?

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