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What Is Consumer Movement?

The consumer movement is an effort to promote consumer protection through an organized social movement which is in many places led by consumer organizations.

What is meant by Consumerism? The terms "consumer movement" and "consumerism" are used as equivalent terms in much writing. The traditional use of the term "consumerism" still practiced by contemporary consumer organizations refers to advancing consumer protection and can include legislators passing consumer protection laws, regulators policing these laws, educators who teach consumer policy, product testers who measure the extent to which products meet standards, cooperative organizations which supply products and services mindfully of consumer interest, as well as the consumer movement itself. The term "consumer movement" refers to only nonprofit advocacy groups and grassroots activism to promote consumer interest by reforming the practices of corporations or policies of government, so the "consumer movement" is a subset of the discipline of "consumerism".

Consumerism in India

Pre-independence The consumer movement in India is as old as trade and commerce itself. Even in Kautilyas Arthshastra, there are references to the concept of protection of consumers against the exploitation by trade and industry, short weighment and measurements, adulteration along with the punishment for these offences. There was, however, no organized and systematic movement actually safeguarding the interests of the consumers. Prior to Independence, consumer interests were considered mainly under laws like the Indian Penal Code, Agricultural Production Grading and Marketing Act 1937, and Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. Even though different parts of India had varying degrees of awareness, in general the level of awareness was low.

The Problems Faced Since Independence, India has been struggling to develop and strengthen its industrial base. However, during this period the Indian consumer has borne incredible hardships and has been subjected to exploitation of every kind in the name of self-sufficiency. Passive by nature, most Indian consumers have had to put up with adulterated food, faulty weights, under measures, spurious and hazardous drugs, exorbitant prices, endemic shortages leading to black marketing and profiteering, substandard products, useless guarantees, callous and indifferent services from public utilities and a host of other ills.

Awakening in the Mid-1960s In the mid-Sixties however, things began to change and the consumers began to organise themselves. They started voicing their concerns and demanding better products and services and fighting for their rights. The consumer movement historically began in the early part of this century with the formation of the Passengers and Traffic Relief Association and the Women Graduates Union, Bombay, during 1915. But its real beginning in terms of sustained, visible and continuing expansion was during the Sixties. Consumers Association Of India (CAI)

In the year 1958, the Indian Standards Institute had arranged a convention at New Delhi. As per the resolution passed at the convention, the Consumers Association of India was established in 1959. Since its inception CAI has been active in representing the interests of the consumer. Following a policy of organic growth, CAI has achieved remarkable success in its goals. Over the past 10 years, CAI has filed 200 petitions before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum and State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. Over the same period, CAI has handled more than 9000 complaints (based on an average of enquiries and complaints received per day); of these 95% have been settled by arbitration.

Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI)

In 1966, the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI) was formed in Mumbai with the object to protect consumers against rising prices of essential commodities. It was founded by nine women in 1966, and became the first to conduct formal product testing in 1977. CGSI publishes a magazine, Keemat. Among the chairpersons were Dr. Mrs. Kamala Sohonie, Mrs. Leela Wagh, Mrs. Krishna Basrur, Mrs. Kohli, Mrs. Indu Shirali and Mrs. Usha Sukhtankar. Others followed. Various activities included testing the purity of food products, weights and measures used by shopkeepers and consumer protection in other forms. Its various achievements and features are:

It was the earliest organization founded in 1966 It pressed for Consumer protection Act and Consumer Protection Court in 1975. Consumer protection court materialized in 1975 itself but consumer protection act turned into reality in 1986 70-80% of the complaints received by CGSI are redressed It was the first consumer organisation to establish a formal product testing lab in 1977. It was the first to start a monthly magazine called 'Keemat' which provided information to consumers It promotes consumer education, undertakes training programs in rural areas and represents consumer interests in government and other bodies It is the only Indian consumer organization to be a council member of Consumer International for 25 years It won a national award in 1991 for consumer protection It is also a member of state consumer protection council It also takes part in a large number of technical committees and government decision making bodies. guides how to file the case in consumer court.

Among the other associations the All India Bank Depositors Association; Bombay Civil Trust, Bombay; Surat Consumer Association, Surat; Jyoti Sangh Grahak Suraksha Vibag, Ahmedabad were also important and were all set up in the Sixties.

The Two Major Developments Strengthening Indian Consumerism During the Sixties there were two major developments at the International level. President John F. Kennedy of the U.S. dedicated his administration to the promotion and protection of consumers' interests, helping the consumers realise their four fundamental rights; i.e. rights to safety,

information, choice and redressal. He made this public commitment on March 15, 1962, the day now observed as "World Consumer Rights Day." The International Organisation of Consumers Union (IOCU) was also set up during 1960. Initially its headquarters was in The Hague, Netherlands. Later on it came to be known as Consumer International (CI) and its headquarters shifted to London. The World Consumer Congress meets every three years, and members share their experience and learn from one another. The Fair Trade Practice Association, set up by leading Indian business houses is presently known as the Council for Fair Business Practices and was set up in Bombay around 1965. Council for Fair Business Practices (CFBP). The CFBP is the brainchild of leading industrialists like Mr. J. R. D. Tata, Mr. S. P. Godrej, Mr. Ramakrishna Bajaj and others who recognized the imperative need for business and industry to regulate itself. Born on October 2, 1966, it is probably the only organization of businessmen and professionals who function for the benefit of the consumers. The CFBP seeks to create an environment where business confidence is built through best business practices and fostered in an atmosphere of trust and respect between business and professionals, on the one hand, and consumers and other stakeholders on the other hand. Towards this end, it works to promote the highest ethical standards in business and professions, maximum transparency, objective consideration of consumers viewpoints as well as satisfying consumers with prompt, efficient and friendly service at a reasonable price. A Code of Conduct for businessmen to this effect has been formulated. The Department of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Food & Agriculture, Government of India, has recognized the CFBP and extended a grant to enable it to step up redressal of consumer complaints and conduct education programmes for the benefit of consumers. An MOU has been signed between the Department of Consumer Affairs and the CFBP at the Office of the Department in New Delhi.

Subsequently during each of the decades a few more consumer groups came up in different parts of the country, more particularly Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi. During 1969, the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission was set up under the MRTP Act of 1969. The Commission has powers to grant interim relief. In the absence of other quick and inexpensive remedies available

to consumers, the MRTP Commission fills the void. Cases of restrictive trade practices which adversely affect competition and those of unfair trade practices largely arising out of false and misleading advertising are taken to this Commission. Till the mid Seventies, consumer organisations were largely engaged in activities of consumer protection by writing articles and holding exhibitions. To a marginal extent they were also engaged in making representations to the Government for changes in policies and laws. One noticeable exception was Mrinal Gore of Bombay who believed in direct action such as processions, demonstrations and picketing. She is remembered as "Paniwali Bai."

Consumerism led in The 1970s Another organisation which cropped up in the national scene during the Seventies was the Akhil Bharathiya Grahak Panchayat at Poona. Its thrust was collective wholesale buying of domestic needs and redistribution among consumer families thereby eliminating middle men and their margins. They also pursued direct action in terms of boycotts and picketing. This is now carried on by the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, Mumbai. In 1974 some elitists in Tiruchi, Tamil Nadu, got together, formed a consumer group and started working on malpractices in ration shops and overcrowding in road passenger transport etc. Prior to this R. R. Dalavai, a freedom fighter and a Gandhian, started working on consumer protection in and around Chennai through consumer cooperatives. Another major change that took place was the emergence of the Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC), Ahmedabad. It gave a new thrust and turn to the movement.

Further Consumerism in 1980s The Eighties witnessed an upsurge in the number of consumer groups coming up across the country; there are now more than 1,500 consumer groups. However, this number should not give the wrong message that the movement is strong and effective.

A disturbing factor with a good number of consumers groups is gross inadequacy of financial resources. Half of them have an annual income and expenditure of Rs. 10,000/- or less and about 20 per cent have Rs. 25,000/- or less. Further, most of them are concentrated in urban and semi-urban centres and the movement is yet to pick up in rural areas. During 1983, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) began out of a rural newspaper Gram Gadar (Village Revolution) in Rajasthan. Today CUTS is one of the leading VCOs in the country specialising in economic, trade and industry matters besides rural activities. However, a major breakthrough came during 1986 when Parliament, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi passed a law for Consumer Protection (COPRA - 1986). Consumer Protection Councils are established at the national, state and district level to increase consumer awareness. The objectives of the Central Council is to promote and protect the rights of the consumers such as:a) - the right to be protected against the marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property. b) - the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services, as the case may be so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices. c) - the right to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices. d) - the right to be heard and to be assured that consumer's interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums. e) - the right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices or restrictive trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; and f) - the right to consumer education. The objects of every State Council is to promote and protect within the State the rights of the consumers laid down in clauses (a) to (f) in central council objectives. It is also only in India that we have three tier consumer courts at district, State and national levels with different levels of pecuniary jurisdiction. The orders of these courts are compensatory and not punitive. The procedure is simple, speedy in redressal and inexpensiveVCOs have a locus standii in these courts and no court fee is charged.

Consumerism in 1990s Another milestone during the early Nineties was the development of synergy by and among the VCOs by the formation of State level and nation level federations. It began with Tamil Nadu in 1990 and was followed by States like Gujarat, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. FEDCOT (Federation of Consumer Organisations - Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry) is noteworthy among the State Level Federations of VCOs. Frederich Naumann Stiffung, a German Foundation in Delhi took the initiative to suggest VCOs in India to form a consumer coordination council at the national level as a countervailing force against lobbying and advocacy efforts by trade, industry and the professions. Today, Consumer Coordination Council (CCC), New Delhi, is a National Coalition of VCOs in the country. During the Janata Party rule between 1977 and 1980, under Mohan Dharia and during the days of A. K. Antony as the Minister for Consumer Affairs, the movement received a boost. More and more consumers individually and collectively have begun to assert their rights and pursue remedies to the logical end. Some of the recent innovations in the consumer movement are the formation and adoption of citizens charters largely by the State services and the setting up of regulatory authorities for public utilities. The one living individual who deserves special mention in the field of consumer protection is H. D. Shourie, Director, "Common Cause," New Delhi, who was conferred with the "Padma Bushan" Award by the Government of India for his relentless crusade for common cause even in his 80s.

Amendments in The COPRA in 1990s The Act was amended in 1991 mainly to incorporate provisions for the quorum of District Forum, appointing persons to preside over State Commission/District Forum in case of absence of the President to enable the court function uninterruptedly. In 1993 the Act was again amended exhaustively to make it more effective and purposeful. The Government has formulated comprehensive proposals for amending the Consumer Protection Act mainly based on the recommendations of the Working Group and Expert Group set up for the purpose and the wide-ranging consultations its had with the representatives of consumer interests, presidents

of the national and state commissions and Central Government Ministries and Departments. These amendments are mainly aimed at facilitating quicker disposal of complaints, enhancing the capability of redressal agencies, strengthening them with more powers, streamlining the procedures and widening the scope of the Act to make it more effective to protect the consumers interest . The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2001 introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 26th April, 2001 among other things addresses the issues of quicker disposal of complaints, widening the scope of the Act, strengthening the Consumer Courts, streamlining the procedure and a proposal to strengthen the consumer movement. It is also proposed to establish a consumer protection council in every district in order to strengthen the consumer movement at the grassroot level. Enactment of the Amendment Bill has not only further strengthened the consumer movement in the country but also help the large number of consumers in securing speedy and effective redressal of their complaints.

Governments Role A separate Department of Consumer Affairs was created in 1997 to act as the nodal outfit in the Central Government for promoting and protecting the welfare of consumers. It seeks to do this in various ways such as ensuring availability of essential commodities at reasonable prices including monitoring of prices, formulating standards of goods and services, regulation of weighing and measuring instruments and prepacked commodities and providing a legislative framework for safeguarding consumers interests and establishment of a machinery for redressal of consumer complaints. To meet these objectives the Department has been undertaking various measures involving all concerned to strengthen the consumer movement in the country. Some of the important measures being taken to strengthen the consumer movement include initiating multimedia publicity programmes to educate the consumers, providing financial assistance through consumer welfare fund to the NGOs and State Governments to generate consumer awareness, setting up of district information centres to guide the public, national awards on consumer protection to encourage outstanding work by women and youth, observing national and World Consumer Rights Day to remind the consumers to be vigilant, interactions with various interests through Central and State Consumer Protection Council to promote and protect the rights of the consumers, formulation of citizens charters containing their entitlements to

public services, standards of performance and redressal of grievances for providing an efficient and responsive administration. The success of the consumer movement mainly depends upon the level of consumer awareness around the country. The Government can only be playing the role of a facilitator or catalyst. The growth of consumer movement is a voluntary effort involving the participation of one and all. Only alert consumers can protect themselves and the society.