CERC raises several issues at Delhi workshop

A stakeholder’s workshop was held on 24 November 2014 in New Delhi on the ‘Fourth Amendment to Consumer Protection Act, 1986’. It was addressed by Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan. Pritee Shah, Chief General Manager, CERC, attended the workshop.

The major issues raised by CERC at the workshop were:

  1. Rural consumers: Often, they are ignorant of the CP Act and lack the confidence to assert their rights. So that benefits of changes in the Act reach them, capacity building of village level consumer activists or NGOs at taluka or district level is vital.
  2. CWF Grants: Wasteful and unjustifiable grants, without performance assessment, should not be given from the Consumer Welfare Fund (CWF).
  3. Reducing complaints: An annual award should be given for ‘Most Consumer Unfriendly Company’ based on annual complaints and surveys by NGOs and others. Also, ‘Corporate Consumer Responsibility’ should be made mandatory whereby companies declare in their annual reports consumer complaints received; cases and court judgements against them; punitive and other damages paid and instances of ads and products withdrawn. All this will make the MDs and the Boards conscious of negative publicity and public perceptions. Such awards exist in Australia and UK. CERC can provide criteria for assessment.
  4. Media publicity: Anti-business cases and unsafe or poor quality products need to be publicised. Since media may hesitate to speak up for the consumer when its commercial interests are at stake, it is vital to have a good, independent consumer magazine in all local languages.
  5. Celebrity endorsements: Celebrities who endorse products must be assigned some responsibility since people blindly trust and follow them.
  6. Legal points: (i) The issue of not allowing advocates is well-intended but the choice should be left to the complainant. Often, consumers need hand-holding through the litigation process. (ii) CERC requests MoCA to consider revision of the pecuniary jurisdiction of the State Commission from the present Rs 1 crore to Rs 10 crore. (iii) Costs must be based on time taken and complexity involved. They should cover reasonable advocate fees, boarding and lodging expenses and other expenses incurred while pursuing litigation.
  7. Medical negligence cases: There are problems of evidence, second opinion and capacity to fight corporate hospitals which have legal might. Low cost legal support should be provided to consumers.
  8. Financial services: They need a special reference in the CP Act to ensure that there is mechanism to deal with investor problems. Hundreds of small and large, rural and urban investors are fleeced by banks, mutual funds, brokers and credit card companies.
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