In the earlier decades the consumer was unorganized and was generally taken for a ride. Today, the consumer is aware of his rights and is highly educated and experienced.
He was earlier being exploited in many ways. These were the adulteration practices of the manufactures and middle men. Variations in the contents of the pack, misleading and deceptive advertising which led even the educated consumer to buy unwanted and unnecessary goods to a large extent. Consumers also complained and criticized the factors like price,quality, advertising, packing, distribution, after sales service etc. There were many unfair trade practices prevalent in India, some example are given below:
Advertising of scooters and cars claiming a much exaggerated average per litre than the actual.The sale of magic rings for the cure of diseases like blood pressure and diabetes.
The sale of medicines claiming to increase the height of children, and other unbelievable claims. Adult erating the food with cheaper stuff to increase the weight of the product, like adding papaya seeds to black pepper to increase the bulk and weight. Adding animal fat to Ghee, water to milk, supplying poor quality products that did not last long, etc. many other practices which harmed the consumer considerably amputating the wrong leg of a patient by oversight in a government hospital. Patients losing their sight because of negligence of doctorsusing infectious surgical instrument in the operation theatre. Doctors leaving scissors or radioactive elements in the body of the patient. A patient was operated upon for the removal of an ovarian cyst, when actually there was none, and other practices which were injurious, unhealthy and unfair to consumers.
The examples show that the attitude of business towards consumers have been very in different. This mostly happens in a sellers market, but where there is competitive selling or sellers are many, the needs of the consumer is the first priority, and the marketing concept is being practiced.
The exploitation of the consumer has led to the creation of the consumer movement also known a consumerism. Consumerism is the range of activities of the government business,and independent organization that are designed to protect the consumer from the unlawful practices of the business that infringe upon there rights as consumers. There has been an awakening in the consumer and the government has passed many laws and statutory obligations that must be adhered to, by companies.
The subject of the section is to highlight how far a consumer is safeguarded by the existing legal provisions, and what were the reasons for the passing Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Consumer is a person who has ability to pay for the product, who possesses the power to make the buying decision. Therefore, consumer is designated asking of the market.
Inspite of existing enactments like the Weights and Measures Act, 1956. Essential Commodities Act, 1955, Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, MRTP Act, 1969, Sale of Goods Act, 1930 and others having bearing on consumer’s right, the consumer’s rights were being violated. Under law of nature or, law of the jungle, big fish eats the small ones. The persons in power if not put under legal limitations will repeat the system in which big fish eats the small one. An orderly society where rule of law prevails, brings peace and prosperity.
The consumer protection Act, 1986 has provided a legal umbrella to safeguard the interests of consumers and to give them cheap and speedy justice. In order to know the significance of the consumer protection Act, 1986, a bird’s eye view of the provisions may be made, and then it can be assessed whether the enactment has really given relief to the consumer.
Aims and objective of the Act: In the statement of objects and reasons it is said that since the Act seeks to provide speedy and simple redressal to consumer disputes, a quassi-judicialmachinery is sought to be set up at the District, State and Central levels. These quassi-judicialbodies will observe the principles of natural justice, and have been empowered to give relief of a specific nature and wherever appropriate, compensation to consumers. Penalties for noncompliance of orders given by the quassi-judicial bodies have also been provided. It shall be the duty of consumers councils to promote and protect the rights of the consumers. In Section6 of the Act, a provision for consumers councils has been made. It provides a list of the rights of consumers. They are:
Protection against hazardous goods: This right is generally taken care of under the law of Tort and since the time of Donohue vs Stevenson, where remains of a dead snail emerged from the bottle, and the customer had already taken a part of the content, aggravating her illness, and the manufacturers were held liable to the distant user. Now it has become an established principle that, producer providing goods in the market would be liable to the ultimate user, if his person or property is injured in the normal use of the goods. The consumer is assured by this Act, that if he has been victimized into purchasing goods which have injured his person or property, he will have a speedy and effective remedy under the redressal hierarchy constituted under the Act, for example, adulterated food is dangerous to life and weak cement is dangerous to property, and who-so-ever would supply such items in the market,shall be liable to the consumer.
The consumer wants safety standard to be provided in the use of product and its consumption. It can be the use to appliances. The leak in Gas Cylinders. Safety in the use of electric appliances etc.
Right to information: The right to be informed about the quantity, quantity potency,purity, standard and price of goods which the consumer buys, has been given to the consumer to protect him against unfair trade practices. The case of Consumer Protection Council vs. National Dairy Development Board (1991) demonstrates the significance of this right. In this case, the complainant wanted to know in what way the Dairy Board was using imported Palmolene oil, and the Board was refusing to furnish the information, on the ground that, Boards were prevented from disclosure in public interest. Without that information, the complainant was not able to make out his case. It was held that the consumer had the right to the requisite information. The consumer must not be given wrong information or mislead about any products. All ingredients on the label of the package be printed. Sometimes, the comparative advertising's becomes deceptive. A group of law students in America designated themselves as SOUP (Stamp out unfair practices). They were also concerned to wipe out the impression created false advertising earlier in the minds of the consumer. This was done by correct advertising.
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