(ii) It enshrines the following rights of consumers: (a) right to be protected against the marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property; (b) right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services so as to protect the consumers against unfair trade practices; (c) right to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices; (d) right to be heard and to be assured that consumers’ interests will receive due consideration at the appropriate fora; (e) right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; and (f) right to consumer education; (iii) The Act also envisages establishment of Consumer Protection Councils at the central, state and district levels, whose main objectives is to promote and protect the rights of consumers; (iv) The Act provides for simple, inexpensive and timely redressal of consumer complaints. To this end the Act envisages a three-tier quasi-judicial machinery at the national, state and district levels. These are: National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission known as National Commission, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions known as State Commissions and District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum known as District Forum. As on date, 627 District Fora, 35 State Commissions and the National Commission have been established in the country.
The Act also provides for setting up of Consumer Protection Councils at the Central, State and District level, which are advisory bodies to promote and protect the rights of the consumers. (v) The provisions of this Act are in addition to and not in derogation of the provisions of any other law for the time being in force. At the apex level the Ministry of Consumer Affairs looks after the consumer Protection in India. Then the State Governments also have a ministry to look after consumer protection, some of the states still have the name of civil Supplies Ministry. Government of India has created three-tier redressal system of disputes, comprising District Forums, State Commission, and the National Commission.
Other Efforts by the Government:
Apart from the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, we have the Indian Contract Act, the Sale of Goods Act, the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Act, the Indian Standards Institution (Certification Marks) Act, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, the Standards of Weights and Measures Act, etc. which to some extent protect consumer interests.
However, these laws require the consumer to initiate action by way of a civil suit involving lengthy legal process which is very expensive and time consuming. Government of India formulated Infant Milk Substitute Act to stop marketers using pictures of babies on tins and packs that could lure mothers to buy the product. MNCs were suggesting that branded milk products could transform infant into a “bonie, bonnie baby”; and Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act and the Cable Television Network Regulation Act to prevent misleading advertisements.
The Government has established a Consumer Helpline Number: 1800-11-4000 41 to help consumers in distress.
The Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India, has initiated a number of steps to promote a responsible and responsive consumer movement in the country. Such measures include the use of multimedia publicity campaign for promoting consumer awareness and encouraging consumers’ involvement through efforts of Government and Non-Governmental Organizations and others. As per the latest reports made available by the National Commission the average percentage disposal of cases in all three levels of Consumers Fora in the country is an impressive 89%.
Thirteen cities across India have been notified by the Central Govt. Where the National Commission can hold its Circuit Bench sittings in addition to New Delhi where it ordinarily functions. In pursuance of these provisions in the law, the National Commission has been holding Circuit Bench sitting every year since 2005. During the last Circuit Bench sitting held in Kolkata in January, February 2010, 84 cases have been disposed off by the National Commission.
Increase in the Membership of NC:
The number of members in National Commission has been increased from five to nine. This has enabled the National Commission to establish five benches of the Commission.
Further 2 additional posts of members (1 Judicial & 1 non judicial) have been created for a period of five years for setting up an additional bench to clear backlog of cases in the NCDRC. Though, the responsibility of establishing consumer fora at the District and State levels are that of the States/UTs, the Central Government has been implementing the following plan schemes for improving the functioning of consumer fora:
The scheme of ‘Computerization and Computer Networking of Consumer Fora in the country, (CONFONET)’ was launched during the 10th Plan period in March, 2005 at a cost of 48.64 crores. Under the project, the Consumer Fora at all the three tiers throughout the country were to be fully computerized to enable access of information and quicker disposal of cases. The project is being implemented by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) on a turnkey basis.
The scheme has been extended to 11th Plan period with a total outlay of 25.69 crores. During the year 2010-11 an amount of 8.89 crores has been released to NIC for the activities to be undertaken under “CONFONET” Project in the Xlth Plan. During 2010-11 an allocation of Rs 1 crore has been kept for North-Eastern Region under the CONFONET scheme in BE- 2010-11 as well as RE-2010-11 (Proposed). Similarly, in the scheme Strengthening Consumer Fora an allocation of Rs 1.
77 crores has been kept for North-Eastern Region both in BE & RE-2010-11.
Assistance to strengthen consumer for infrastructure:
The Central Government has been extending financial assistance to States/UTs for strengthening the infrastructure of consumer fora so that minimum level of facilities is made available at each consumer forum, which is required for their effective functioning. Infrastructural Facilities being provided under the scheme include construction of new building of the consumer fora, carrying out addition/alteration/renovation of existing buildings and grant for acquiring non- building assets such as furniture, office equipment etc.
To provide adequate space to enable the National Commission to function more effectively, a new building for the Commission is being constructed as part of the Integrated Office Complex at INA, New Delhi.