Evolution of Consumer Movement Including Consumer Protection Laws

Evolution of consumer movement including consumer protection laws: Consumer exploitation is common phenomenon. The main reasons behind the consumer exploitation have been summarized below:

Lack of Awareness and Illiteracy: Industrial revolution caused the population to migrate from rural areas to urban areas. Anonymity of urban living style coupled with illiteracy gave scope to business houses for exploiting the consumers.

Lack of Consumer Protection Legislation: There are no appropriate guidelines and rules for protecting the interests of the consumers. Thus businesses continue to work in self-interest, exploiting the consumers.

Demand Supply Gap: If the demand for goods and services is exceeds the supply, it creates a near-seller markets in which consumers have weak bargaining power and cannot exercise their rights. In such situations, business people tend to follow unfair trade practices.

Cumbersome Legislation: Disproportionate cost and time involved in litigation, discourages consumers from pursuing their complaints to courts for redressal.

Over the years, consumerism has gained ground and Indian government has enacted various laws from time-to-time to protect the interests of the consumers.

Some of the important Consumer Protection Legislation’s are:

  • Sales of Goods Act, 1936,
  • The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940,
  • Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954,
  • The Essential Commodities Act, 1955,
  • The Indian Standards Institution Certification Act, 1952,
  • Agricultural Products and Grading and Marketing (AGMARK) Act, 1937,
  • The Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1956,
  • Prevention of Money Laundering Acts,
  • Prevention of Black Marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980,
  • Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Act, 1969.

These legislation provide protection to consumers in various aspects like price, quality, quantity, safety, information, service etc. Most of these laws are punitive in nature, rather than preventive, i.e. these provide for prosecution and punishment of people who violated the provisions of the Act. Also, these laws are do not provide direct help to the consumers, as consumers cannot seek any redressal or claim compensation against offending trader/Manufacturer or provider of service.

Besides this, there are over 500 voluntary consumer associations in India to protect the consumer interests. These associations take up consumer grievances to law-enforcing agencies, business house and work to create consumer awareness. In 1984, the MRTP Act was amended to include Unfair Trade Practices and make it customer oriented.

However, need for an Extensive Consumer Protection Legislation was felt and as a consequence Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was brought into effect. Besides enactment of laws, it is necessary to educate customers about their rights and responsibilities. Masses must be educated about collective action.

Unlike in US where masses resort to collective writing campaigns, support consumer oriented political leaders, attract media,attention via picketing and demonstrations, in India consumer movement is in naïve stage and has not gained momentum. Consumer movement is also strong in other developed nations like Norway, Sweden, UK, Netherlands and Australia have witnessed strong consumer movements.

Consumer movement has in fact spread internationally. Many International Organizations have been working in this aka. In 1985, United Nations (UN) General Assembly, adopted a set of guidelines on consumer protection.

These guidelines are:

  1. Protection of Consumer Economic interests.
  2. Fair Business Practices.
  3. International Cooperation in Area of Consumer Rights and Consumer Protection.
  4. Distribution of Essential Goods and Services.
  5. Physical Safety of Consumers.
  6. Information Access to make Informed Decisions.
  7. Satisfactory Product Performance and Standard.
  8. Fair Business Policies and Practices.
  9. Statutory Measure for Redressal of Consumer Complaints and Grievances.

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