Right to education and information still a distant dream for consumers in India

Consumers International Blog, February 27, 2013

CI’s members in the Asia Pacific and Middle East region are gathering for their regional meeting in Dehli this week. George Cheriyan, director and head of CI member CUTS International, looks at the state of consumer rights in India which reflect wider trends for the region

Even 27 years after the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection (UNGCP) was formulated, only 42 percent of people in India are aware of consumer rights, and 26 years after the enactment of the Consumer Protection Law in India, only 20 percent of people in India have heard about the law.

These are some of the key findings from the ‘State of the Indian Consumer 2012’ published by CUTS International.

Educated and informed consumers are essential for the emergence and sustenance of an efficient market.

An educated consumer can make rational choices about goods and services and protect their own rights and interests from the exploitation of fraudulent businessmen or service providers.

Where the literacy rate is high and social awareness is greater, consumers are less likely to be subjected to such exploitation. Thus, consumer education becomes a priority concern.

In a country like India, where many consumers live in rural areas and are illiterate, they are susceptible to being exploited by unscrupulous businessmen.

An intensive, broad-based multimedia campaign is slowly yielding fruit, as the percentage of consumers who are aware of their rights and interests is slowly increasing.

To a consumer, the right to be informed means the right to be given the facts needed to make an informed choice or decision. There are enough rules and regulations in place which make it mandatory for manufacturers to provide essential information to consumers.

What is lacking is strict enforcement and monitoring. Also, there is a need for a massive awareness campaign and information dissemination among consumers about the existing legal remedies available to an aggrieved consumer.

The UNGCP give great emphasis on consumer education. The Guidelines impose an obligation on governments to formulate or encourage the development of general consumer education and information programmes, bearing in mind the cultural traditions of the people concerned.

The Guidelines also call upon governments to develop, strengthen or maintain a strong consumer policy, and provide for enhanced protection of consumers by enunciating various steps and measures.

In order for these Guidelines to continue to provide an important policy framework, there is a need for further improvement, since there has not been any form of revision since 1999 and the content does not reflect the most contemporary consumer protection issues.

With this backdrop, the global conference on ‘Review of United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection’, organised in New Delhi by CI in partnership with CUTS International to gather input from consumer organisations across the world, is extremely important.

This event is an excellent opportunity for consumer organisations in India to work with the government for stronger enforcement of consumer rights and to make consumer education and protection law and redress mechanisms in the country workable for both urban and rural consumers.

This news item can also be viewed at: