Businesses run because of a consumer. It’s the consumer who creates a demand for a product or services, thus helping businesses and corporations survive and flourish. Hence, it’s of utmost importance to treat consumers responsibly and protect their rights.
However, that doesn’t happen always and consumers are often left to the mercy of businesses. Consumer rights are often flouted, knowingly and unknowingly. In fact, in a country like India, most consumers remain unaware about their rights,leave alone exercising them in a timely fashion. Ahead of World Consumer Rights Day March 15, Sunday POST spoke to some lawyers and consumers to know more about the basic rights every consumer enjoys.
Kailash Chandra Prusty, a senior advocate from Bhubaneswar, who primarily deals in consumer rights cases, says that provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 are intended to safeguard consumers against exploitation and unfair dealings. “Most consumers are uninitiated about their rights and don’t know how to deal with their problems. The success of the consumer movement depends upon the level of awareness, which is mostly lacking,” he says.
Needless to say, the law can only give certain rights but how they get implementedlargely vests with the consumers and other stakeholders, for which awareness, thatis largely lacking, is crucial. Kailash, who has solved more than 100 consumer cases till date, says, “Consumer cases need a certain time period to be finalised. Per the law, a case needs a maximum of 90 days to be finalised but if a case demands certain things that need to pass a laboratory test, it can take as much as five months.”
According to a survey, urban consumers have some knowledge and awareness about their rights, but such awareness is largely lacking in rural areas. “The Act so far has had minimal impact in rural areas, especially amongthe marginalised sections, which lack education,” Kailashsays.
Per the Act, a consumer enjoys certain basic rights like Right to Safety, Right to Information, Right to Choose, Right to be Heard, Right to Redressal, Right to Consumer Education. Although, a large number of corporations and businesses abide by these rules, there are many who don’t. More importantly, lack of awareness seldom allows a consumer to exercise the right to redress.
The Right to Redressal allows a consumer to challenge a seller or service provider. It ensures that customers have an avenue to receive compensation for unsatisfactory performance of a product or inferior service, or for damage inflicted from their use. It also gives the consumer the right to get compensation or seek redressal against unfair trade practices or any other exploitation. It is the consumer’s responsibility to actively seek appropriate restitution. However, most fail to exercise this right.
Consumers can face different kinds ofproblems. In a recent incident, a consumer from Khurdha bought a mobile phone. Mobile phones, like most other electronic gadgets, generally come with a one year warranty. This phone too had a warranty. Unfortunately, the mobile phone stopped working after a month. The consumer took his phone to the company’s service centre and got it repaired. But a few days later, the phone once again stopped working. He was again asked by the company to visit the service centre with his phone. Dissatisfied with the service and the ordeal, he decided to move the consumer court.
Rajkishore, a lawyer from Bhubaneswar, who handled this case, says, “The court passed ajudgement in favour of the consumer and asked the mobile phone company not only to refund the amount spent on buying the phone but also compensate by paying him an additional amount for mental harassment and loss of valuable time.”
In another incident, a consumer purchased a motorcycle on instalment from a vehicle finance company. However, the consumer failed to pay the monthly instalment once and the finance company took possession of his motorbike without intimating him. Despite repeated verbal assurancesthat the monthly instalment would be paid within a few days, the finance company declined to give back the motorbike to the consumer. Unable to convince the finance company, the consumer moved consumer court. The court after hearing both the parties ordered the finance company to grant the consumer some more time to pay the monthly instalment. At the same time, it also ordered the finance company to compensate the consumer for taking possession of the vehicle without informing the consumer and thus blocking his source of income.
Rajkishore says that consumers can move consumer court with their grievance if they feel they aren’t satisfied with a particular product or service. “Consumers need to carry a valid proof of the transaction such as money receipt or a deed of sale. From garments and household products to vehicles, sanitaryware and kitchenware, if someone is dissatisfied with the product or service or has been subject to any mental harassment after complaining to the seller or service provider, the consumer can approach the consumer court. If the district court is unable to solve the issue, the case will be placed in state court,” he says.
BRATATI BARAL, OP