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The findings of a CAG-commissioned survey on the status of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) of 1986 underscore the imperative need for the government ——at the Centre and States——to take effective steps to educate the consumers about their rights and make the best use of the consumer courts.
Survey, conducted by ORG-MARG, has made a startling revelation that 82 per cent of the consumers are not aware of the CPA and 66 percent of their rights. Clearly, this is a result of the government's failure, particularly of the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, to educate the consumers. There is no point in blaming the people for their ignorance about the CPA. The onus for this squarely lies on the government and the NGOs as they have not enlightened the people about how consumer courts can help ensure speedy and inexpensive redressal of their grievances. The media's role in spreading consumer awareness too has not been very encouraging. How many newspapers and magazines have consumer columns to educate the readers ?
In 2003, the Centre provided teeth to the consumer courts by amending the CPA. Its aim was primarily to protect and safeguard the consumers' rights and interests. Some important features of the amendment are reducing delay in the admission of cases, three-month time limit to settle a case, no adjournments and award of costs to the complainant for inconvenience in case of adjournment, and recognition of the importance of the district consumer forums. Now, after the CAG survey, all these welcome changes look like a futile exercise as the government has done little to spread awareness among the consumers. What is the use of these courts if consumers are not educated about how to file complaints?
If consumers have to be the king, the Centre and the states should take steps to enlighten them about these courts. The government must demonstrate the political will to rejuvenate these courts which are burdened with problems like a backlog of cases, the absence of judges, non-utilisation of funds, lack of coordination and no monitoring. The NGOs need to step up the movement to protect the consumers from rapacious traders and businessmen who are concerned more about profits than providing satisfaction to consumers.