Financial Express, October 20, 2011

A quarter of a century has elapsed since the Consumer Protection Act (COPRA) was enacted in the country in 1986, but 62 per cent of the people in Rajasthan have not even heard about this legislation safeguarding consumer rights.

In rural Rajasthan, 35 per cent of the respondents said they are unaware of their rights as consumers and 26 per cent had partial knowledge of their entitlements.

The situation was no better in urban areas, where almost 42 per cent of the people were unaware about their entitlements as consumers and 21 per cent had partial knowledge.

These findings emerged out of a field research survey conducted by the Consumer Unity & Trust Society under its ongoing ‘Grassroots Reach out and Networking in Rajasthan through Consumer Action (GRANIRCA)’ project, which is being implemented in 12 districts of Rajasthan with the support of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.

In the survey, 2,349 consumers with diverse educational and socio-economic backgrounds from 12 districts were interviewed about COPRA, out of which 7 per cent of the respondents were illiterate and 62 per cent belonged to rural areas of Rajasthan.

The survey was done with the objective of gauging consumer awareness about laws protecting them in the Silver Jubilee year of COPRA, 1986.

The survey found that the respondents were not very clear with regard to the basic structure provided under the Act with respect to redressal of grievances, such as compensation under a three-tier system and the working of consumer protection councils for redressal of complaints.

Though 86 per cent of the total respondents exhibited knowledge about the general definition of a consumer, only 37 per cent have heard about the Act, while the rest either do not know about it or have very little knowledge.

Out from this 37 per cent, only 38 per cent had knowledge about compensation under the three tier quasi-judicial system. Only 10 per cent of the respondents had approached consumer fora for redressal of grievances, but out of these, 72 per cent expressed satisfaction over the functioning of these bodies, though they highlighted the fact that judgements often come after the 90 day time limit prescribed in the Act. With respect to demanding bills after purchasing goods and awareness about MRP, almost 53 per cent of the respondents exhibited awareness about their right to demand a bill and 55 per cent said that they knew about MRP and its importance.

However, most respondents were not aware about their rights with respect to misleading advertisements and the possible actions they could take in case they were affected by such misleading ads.

This is revealed by the fact that though influenced by such ads, 57 per cent of the people said they prefer not taking any action even after being misled.

Around 77 per cent of the respondents affirmed that they check the manufacturing and expiry date before purchasing goods, out of which 85 per cent said they simply avoid buying products if this information is not available.

Awareness on weights and measures is comparatively better among the respondents, as per the analysis. As many as 69 per cent of the respondents check packed items, expiry and manufacturing dates, etc, and normally hesitate in purchasing such items where no date is mentioned. The majority of the respondents also said they are aware of the role played by food and drug inspectors, but said they were not aware of the departments under which they functioned.

In response to a general question with regard to respondent’s satisfaction on the overall status of consumers in Rajasthan, the general view is that though the government has taken steps to protect consumer rights, these need to reach the intended beneficiaries.

Only 36 per cent of the respondents were satisfied with the government’s efforts, while the remaining felt these had not reached them.

NGOs fighting for consumer rights also need a facelift to encourage citizens to approach them, according to the survey. Interestingly, a survey question on the need for a lawyer in consumer forums met with a mixed response.

As many as 41 per cent of the respondents favoured the involvement of lawyers in consumer forums. However, the survey found many of these respondents did not know that a lawyer’s presence is not mandatory as per the consumer law. The second part of the survey focused on food security and related issues, with a focus on adulteration. The purpose was not only to gauge the level of awareness, but also to obtain some preliminary information from consumers before the new law on food security comes in force.

At present, the awareness about laws on food security is very low, according to the survey, with 67 per cent of the respondents having no knowledge of any laws in this respect. The respondents said they often hesitate in taking action against adulterators simply because they do not know whom they should approach or because they have no knowledge of their rights.

The Rajasthan government’s ‘Shudh Ke Liye Yudh’ campaign was known to the majority of the respondents, with 51 per cent expressing knowledge of the campaign. However, 50 per cent of the respondents termed the campaign only partially successful and did not have a clear understanding of its objectives. Most of the respondents had no knowledge of the presence of a food testing laboratory in their districts and even when they did, the general perception was that they are not very efficient and effective.

Most of the respondents also expressed dissatisfaction with the steps taken by the government to curb adulteration, despite initiatives like mobile testing laboratories and raids on adulterators.

Sixty-four per cent of the respondents also disclosed their inability to detect adulteration. The survey reveals that most consumers apprehended that products like ghee, edible oil, spices and basic commodities like atta (wheat flour), milk, pulses and even fuels were not available to consumers in their purest form.

Most of the consumers also opined that sweets, sugar, vegetables and packed/bottled commodities are tainted. As per the survey, 50 per cent of respondents either consume loose atta and kitchen oil, or what they produce on their farms.

Commodities like cement, cosmetics, ornamental items and medicine were suspicious, in the respondents’ eyes, with a few respondents even describing liquor available in the market as an impure product.

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