The issues relating to consumer welfare affects the entire 1.17 billion people since everyone is a consumer in one way or the other. Ensuring consumer welfare is the responsibility of the government. Accepting this, policies have been framed and the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, was introduced. A separate Department of Consumer Affairs was also created in the Central and State Governments to exclusively focus on ensuring the rights of consumers as enshrined in the Act. This Act has been regarded as the most progressive, comprehensive and unique piece of legislation. In the last international conference on consumer protection held in Malaysia in 1997, the Indian Consumer Protection Act was described as one “which has set in motion a revolution in the fields of consumer rights, the parallel of which has not been seen anywhere else in the world.”
The special feature of this Act is to provide speedy and inexpensive redressal to the grievance of the consumer and provide him relief of a specific nature and award compensation wherever appropriate. The aim of the Act is also to ensure the rights of the consumer, viz. the right of choice, safety, information, redressal, public hearing and consumer education.
The Act defines the consumer as one who purchases goods and services for his/her use. The user of such goods and service with the permission of the buyer is also a consumer. However, a person is not a consumer if he purchases goods and services for resale purpose.
An average Indian consumer is noted for his patience and tolerance. Perhaps because of these two traditional traits and due to the influence of the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita, he considers the receipt of defective goods and services as an act of fate or unfavourable planetary position in his horoscope.When a new television or refrigerator purchased by him turns out to be defective from day one, he takes it reticently, blaming it on his fate or as the consequence of the wrongs committed by him in his previous birth. Very often he is exploited, put to avoidable inconveniences and suffers financial loss. It is rather paradoxical that the customer is advertised as the “king” by the seller and service provider, but in actual practice treated as a slave or servant. Goods are purchased by him along with the label “Items once sold by us will never be received back under any circumstances whatsoever.”
Every consumer in his own interest has to realize his role and importance in the right perspective. Each citizen in a democracy derives his power at the time of elections and exercises it through the ballot. In a competitive economic environment the consumer has to exercise his choice either in favour of or against the goods and services. His choice is going to be vital and final. He should realize his importance and prepare himself to exercise his rights with responsibility. It is very often stated “Customer is sovereign and consumer is the King.” If that is really so, why do we have the Consumer Protection Act? Why is there a need for protecting the King? Should it not be rightly called “Consumer Sovereignty Act”? It is for the consumers to decide. After all the dictum in democracy is, the citizens get a government they deserve. Similarly the consumers in society get a position in the market depending upon what they do or do not do. It is agreed on all hands that “consumer empowerment” in India has a long way to go. This is the right time to act. Let us prepare for the next millennium and usher in a new era of “Consumerism”. As the poet P.B Shelley puts it – “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”.