“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work – he is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to serve him.” – Mahatma Gandhi
A consumer is a person who consumes the goods and services produced. Consumer protection is denoted with specific laws and organizations to ensure the rights of consumers as well as fair trade competition and the free flow of truthful information in the marketplace. The laws are designed to prevent businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors and may provide additional protection for the weak and those unable to take care of themselves. A special day was observed to address the consumer issues in global perspective.
The origin of world consumer day was taken in 1962, when US president John F Kennedy passed a bill on consumer rights with specific focus on consumer international recognition and legitimacy of consumer rights. After a decade period of time in 1985, United Nation (UN) approved general guidelines for international consumer protection rights. UN got four basic consumer rights out of eight approved by its participating members. The first consumer rights day was celebrated on March 15th, 1983 to serve the underlying consumer rights with a social justice. It is an opportunity to the consumers to raise their voice on their rights and protection from market abuses. The Consumer Protection Act provides below rights to the consumers:
A consumer needs to perform below actions in the various stages of purchasing:
1. Before buying
As a responsible consumer we should plan our purchases in advance so that we get the right value for our money. Before purchasing a product a consumer needs to enquire about the past performance of a product/service and also try to find out the reputation of the producer/ seller/service provider. Analyzing the products/services with the help of some comparative testing reports as published by voluntary consumer organizations such as Voice and CERC provides reliable and unbiased information about various brands which have been tested at various government approved laboratories.
2. At the time of buying
A consumer should act wisely while buying a product and he should collect information from various dealers regarding the price and quality of the products such as, cars, refrigerators, computers, etc. He should preserve and obtain the proof of purchase and documents relating to purchase of durable goods. The receipt /bill received from the dealer with a serial number, address and phone number is an important source to file a complaint against the defective product or services in consumer courts. Consumers should never sign a contract without first reading it. They should never sign a blank contract that a salesperson says will be completed later.
3. After buying
The consumer should follow the instructions given in the user manual for the long term use of the product. Further receipts, guarantee cards, terms of contract (photocopies), should be kept safely. They should always use the products properly to utilize the guarantee services. Should make regular payments and reduce waste, reuse and recycle products and think in terms of sustainable consumption.
Consumer is “a person who buys goods or services to be used or consumed by himself/herself or by someone else on behalf of him.”
A ‘consumer’ is also defined as “anybody who chooses goods and services, spends money to obtain them and uses them to satisfy his or her own needs.”
In general terms, consumer is a person who consumes various goods and services. Consumer goods may include wheat flour, salt, sugar and fruits etc. Durable consumer goods include television, refrigerator, toaster, mixer and bicycle etc. Consumer services include electric power, telephone, transport service and theatre service, etc. If a retail trader buys goods from whole sellers for resale purpose. He is not considered as a consumer. So, a consumer buys goods which may be used by members of the family or someone else on behalf of the buyer.
Rights of consumer are mentioned as below:
1. The right to safety
The right to safety was established in the year 1972 by the US federal government, the Consumer Product Safety Commission(CPSC) as per the jurisdiction of commercial products, and powers that allow to establish performance standards, require product testing and warning labels, demand immediate notification of defective products, and, when necessary, to force product recall.
2. The right to be informed
The above right clearly states that consumers are provided with useful information to take intelligent and informed product choices. The information provided to the consumers should be genuine and truthful.
3. The right to choose
The right to choose allows the consumers to choose the choice among the various products available of different companies. The federal government has taken initiatives to make a healthy competition available through Patent, Anti-Trust Legislation, outlaw of price cutting and gouging.
4. The right to be heard
Right to be heard allows the consumers to raise complaints and concerns about a product in order to have the issue handled efficiently and responsively. In 1985, the concept of consumer rights was supported by the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection, to make them avail eight basic rights.
5. The right to satisfaction of basic needs
This right allows the consumers to access basic, essential goods and services like adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, public utilities, water and sanitation.
6. The right to redress
This right allows the consumers to receive claims in the form of claims, compensation for misrepresentation, inferior goods or unsatisfactory services.
7. The right to consumer education
To acquire knowledge and skills needed to make informed, confident choices about goods and services, while being aware of basic consumer rights and responsibilities and how to act on them.
8. The right to a healthy environment
Consumers have the right to provide healthy environment for present and future generations. However, consumer protection can only exist in the industrialized or developed nations where the fiscal resources are important to execute legal protection of consumer interests.
A consumer has responsibilities as well as rights. There is a well known saying that ‘there cannot be rights without responsibilities’. Analyzing the consumer rights and its uses, it is clearly known that considering the consumer rights is as important as considering their responsibilities which include the following:
1. Responsibility of self-help: It is a well known fact that a consumer should not depend on the seller for information and choice as far as possible. Being a responsible consumer you are accountable for your actions to protect yourself from being deceived.
2. Proof of transactions: The important responsibility of every consumer is that he should safeguard the proofs of purchase and related documents of durable goods for the future purposes. When you purchase the durable consumer goods like TV, refrigerator, etc., carry warranty /guarantee cards issued by the dealers. It is important to preserve the service cards for repairs and replacement of parts free of cost as mentioned for some time after purchase.
3. Proper claim: A consumer should be honest at the time of claiming compensation for the loss or injury. He should not make unreasonable claims and it will be treated as an irresponsible act which should be avoided.
4. Proper use of product/services: Consumers should act responsible during the guarantee period. They should not rough use the product and this is not fair on their part. They should always use the products properly.
The Consumer Protection Act was passed in 1986 and came to existence from 1 July 1987. The main objectives of the Consumer Protection Act was to provide better and all-round protection to consumers and effective safeguards against various types of exploitation such as defective goods, deficient services and unfair trade practices. The act is applicable to all goods and services and includes all the private, public, and cooperative sectors for speedy and inexpensive settlement.
The Consumer Protection Act mandates establishment of Consumer Protection Councils at the Centre as well as in each State and District to promote the consumer awareness. Consumer councils provide inexpensive, speedy and summary redressal of consumer disputes and queries. Judicial bodies have been set up in each District and State and at the National level, called the District Forums, the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. At present, there are 629 District Forums and 35 State Commissions with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) established to serve the consumers.
A consumer can file a written complaint to the District Consumer Forum up to Rupees twenty lakh value, State Commission for value up to Rupees one crore and the National Commission for value above Rupees one crore queries related to defects in goods and services. A consumer will not be authorized to file a complaint for deficiencies in case of personal services. If a consumer is not satisfied by the decision of a District Forum, he can appeal to the State Commission. Against the order of the State Commission a consumer can come to the National Commission.