The Hindu, December 18, 2010

Special Correspondent

‘Farmers are least protected by the consumer laws’

Experts and consumer activists have asked the Centre and the States to implement more effectively the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (COPRA) which they hailed as a strong and powerful legislation. The group, participating in a round-table of GRANIRCA (Grassroots Reachout and Networking in Rajasthan through Consumer Action) here, lamented that consumer protection remained a neglected area for the governments which failed to create the basic infrastructure for dispensation of justice under the law.

The absence of infrastructure in consumer courts and forums was leading to inordinate delays in decisions. The consumer protection was often treated by the governments as dumping ground for bureaucrats they want to get rid of from the mainstream administration, they argued. They also aired the view that the legislation needed some amendments to meet the challenges posed by technological advancement and globalisation.

“COPRA was enacted with a clear objective of giving speedy and economical redressal to consumers but the overall objectives are not met due to non implementation of its provisions,” said M.L. Mehta, social activist and former Chief Secretary of Rajasthan, delivering the keynote address at the feedback round-table organised by CUTS-International with the support of the Union Ministry of Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.

“Even with such a fine law, consumers have not benefited to the extent as they should have been. Now it is for the consumers and consumer organisation to put a pressure on government, including issuing a legal notice, if required,” Mr. Mehta suggested.

“Indian farmers are the most vulnerable section of society but they are the least protected by the consumer laws,” observed Rao Rajendra Singh, MLA from Shahpura. “There is no law to protect the farmer. The certified seeds do not germinate. There is no guarantee on the effectiveness of pesticides or other farm inputs,” he argued.

He demanded a ban on drugs and pesticides which have already been banned at the international level. The big companies advertising their products never disclosed the risks involved, he said.

Sukh Ram Kohli, MLA from Basedi, felt that rural consumers are more exploited than the urban. There is a need to have more product testing laboratories in Rajasthan. He also sought a lesser role for lawyers in the consumer forums.

Former president of Jaipur District Consumer Forum Haneef Mohammed pointed out that Rajasthan does not have even a single testing laboratory as per the provisions of the COPRA. At least all divisional headquarters should have well equipped laboratories so that complaints related to product testing could be effectively taken up, he said.

Mr. Mohammed also suggested that the State and the Centre fight consumer cases as they too are consumers under the Act. The District Consumer Forum president from Churu, G. P. Gupta, said the consumer courts were at times more equipped than the mainstream courts but what often missing was the manpower.

George Cheriyan, Director CUTS International, said most of the posts related to consumer protection, including those of the Consumer Protection Councils, in Rajasthan are vacant. “There are bound to be delays in dispensing justice in consumer forums as vacancies remained,” he added.

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