The Financial Express, October 11, 2012

Only 20 per cent of consumers in India are aware of the consumer protection law and just 42 per cent of them have heard about consumer rights, a study has said.

“Only about 20 per cent of consumers in the country are aware of the Act even after 25 years of its existence. It is the best known act followed by Weights and Measures Act, 1976 and Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006,” said a study jointly conducted by NGO CUTS International and Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry.

The government has enacted the Consumer Protection law way back in 1986 to protect consumer interest and settle disputes at the central, state and district levels.

Only about 14 per cent consumers are aware about the proposed Food Security Act. The awareness is the highest in northern region and the lowest in eastern region, it said.

Just 42 per cent have heard about consumer rights and almost 50 per cent of consumers are not even aware about government’s ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ campaign, the study said.

However, these findings are still encouraging considering the fact that five years ago only 18 per cent were aware about the Act, the study said expressing concern that people are gradually losing trust on consumer redressal mechanisms.

Releasing the report, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister K V Thomas said, “We proclaim consumer is king. Unfortunately, larger section of society does not know about their rights.”

Even if educated consumers take their complaints to dealers or shop owners, they are asked to go to makers of the products, he said.

Sharing his personal experience as a consumer, the minister said: “I purchased a car recently. But the car that was delivered to my place had scratches. When the dealer was asked to replace it, he asked my assistant to go directly to the manufacturer. Later, he realised that I am a minister and replaced the car. Not everybody can be a minister.”

Since justice is delayed in consumer courts, Thomas suggested that organisations like CUTS should play an important role in addressing the consumer grievances faster.

“The success of consumer movement will depend on consumer awareness,” he added.

The study, conducted in 19 states and three union territories with a sample size of 11,499, was undertaken in the backdrop of the completion of 25 per cent of the Consumer

Protection Act.

Although consumers have right to rederessal, the study revealed that nearly 93 per cent of respondents have never made a ‘formal complaint’, while only 3 per cent have registered their grievances with the company or producer.

On quality issue of consumer products, the study said that “even in modern India, nearly 40 per cent of consumers do not refer to any safety or quality certification such as ISI, ISO, Agmark, Codex before making a purchase.

Although safety has been dealt in at least 25 different Indian Acts, what is lacking is periodic monitoring mechanism to ensure that the rules are being implemented to minimise risk, it said.

Stating that the choices available to consumers across the availability of goods and services have multiplied ever since the reforms of early 1990s, the survey showed, “Only 1.6 per cent of respondents were able to correctly name at least one product or service that has only one or two producers or providers.”

Poor implementation of government policies and laws is another impediments to the right to choice, it added.

The study suggested steps for massive awareness campaigns and information dissemination among the consumers about the existing legal remedies available to them.

It also recommended further strengthening of existing grievances redressal mechanism among others.

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