National Action Plan for Consumer Awareness and Redressal and Enforcement of Consumer Protection Act, 1986
Consequent upon the decision taken in the 50th National Development Council (NDC) meeting held on 21.12.2002, Consumer Protection was identified as a thrust area, and the Department of Consumer Affairs has been assigned ‘Evolving a National Action Plan for Consumer Awareness and Redressal and Enforcement of Consumer Protection Act, 1986’.
It is relevant to mention here that during the 10th Plan Department received approval of Rs. 27.20 crores only for consumer protection and related activities under Plan. The Department has proposed enhancement of this allocation of Rs. 312 crores during the Plan period, as per details at Annex-I and proposes following National Action Plan;
- Undertaking Consumer Awareness programmes:Educating more than 100 crore of people of various categories on various subject matters of consumer interest which are being dealt with by different Ministries/Departments is a gigantic task and the same cannot be undertaken as a sustained national programme unless the Planning Commission approves a substantial budget. Therefore, Department of Consumer Affairs has proposed an allocation of Rs.200 crores during the 10th Plan period for generating and strengthening consumer awareness in the country.
A media Plan has also been prepared in consultation with DAVP during this Plan period for Rs. 200 crores and is enclosed at Annex-II.
With the existing annual allocation of Rs. 3.10 crores for Consumer Protection Department is having, a regular 15 minutes weekly radio programme on AIR, a recently started video programme of 30 minutes on Doordarshan. In addition an educational video programme for school children on CD has been prepared and print publicity is undertaken occasionally. These programme will be continued.
- Strengthening Consumer Grievance Redressal Machinery:
- Strengthening Infrastructure of National Commission: In terms of the provisions of sections 9 and 20 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the responsibility for setting up of the National Commission and also for providing necessary infrastructure and staff rests with the Central Government. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) which is the apex consumer court, has been functioning since 1988 at New Delhi in Janpath Bhavan. The present accommodation provided by the Ministry of Urban Development is grossly inadequate to meet their requirements of office space. It has no parking facilities and is situated in a highly crowded area, which is not at all convenient for the consumers. In view of this it was felt necessary to have a separate building for the National Commission, commensurate with the status it deserves as it is a five member Commission presided over by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court and the appeal against their decision lies before Supreme Court. With the amendment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 in December, 2002 now National Commission can have additional benches. The second Bench has started functioning w.e.f. 24th September, 2003. Two addiotnal posts of Members in the Commission have been created with the notification of the Consumer Protection (Amendmet) Rules, 2004 vide GSR No. 175(E) dated 5th March, 2004 which will enable the Department to have third bench of the Commission shortly. For these Benches further accommodation is needed. On the request of the Government, Ministry of Urban Development had allotted a piece of land at INA Complex at the cost of Rs.27 lakhs. As per the estimates provided by CPWD, Rs.11 crores is required for completion of the building, against which Planning Commission had agreed to provide Rs.6.50 crores in the 10th Plan . The gap of Rs. 4.50 crores is required to be met for full construction of Upabhokta Bhavan.
- Holding Circuit Benches of National Commission: National Commission is located at Delhi and consumers from all the country have to come to delhi with their cases. For the convenience of consumers, it has been decided that National Commission will hold Circuit Benches for a period of 2-3 weeks in different States. Arrangements are being worked out in consultation with State Govts. which are required to provide for basic facilities and infrastructure for the purpose.
- Strengthening Consumer Forums: In so far as the consumer forums at the State levels are concerned, though the responsibility for establishment of these forums in the States as well as providing all necessary infrastructure for their effective functioning rests with the State Governments, in view of the financial position of the States, many of the States are not able to meet even the minimum infrastructural requirements of the Consumer Forums which affect the efficiency of the forums. Therefore, the Planning Commission had allocated Rs.61.80 crores during 1995-99 at the rate of Rs.50 lakhs for each of 32 State Commissions and Rs.10 lakhs each for 458 District Forum which were functioning in 1995 to strengthen their infrastructure as a one-time grant so as to supplement the efforts of the State Governments. Since 1995, 113 district forums and three State Commissions have been added in newly created Districts/States. States are repeatedly asking for additional funds to enable them to provide proper infrastructure for all the consumer forums.
In view of above position Department proposes for the following;
- For strengthening the infrastructure of Forums created after 1995 a sum of Rs.19.20 crores may be allocated @ Rs.75 lakhs for each the three State Commission and @ Rs.15 lakhs for each the 113 District Forum
- A sum of Rs.1.62 crores is proposed to strengthen infrastructure for U.Ts of Andaman N. Islands, Daman & Diu and Chandigarh as they could not draw full amount on previous occasion.
- A sum of Rs. 30.90 crores is proposed to further assist @ Rs.5 lakhs for each District Forum and @ Rs.25 lakhs for each State Commission which were covered under the one-time grant allocated during the year 1995 .
- In order to establish complete interlinking of computer networking of consumer courts, namely, National Commission, 35 State Commission and 571 District Forums for its monitoring and accessing various kinds of data and for the effective functioning of these forums in the interest of consumers, a sum of Rs. 27.39 crores is proposed as per the estimates worked out by NIC.
- Strengthening Standards Laboratories of Weights & Measures: The Department of Consumer Affairs also administers the Standards of Weights & Measures Act, 1976 and Standards of Weights & Measures Enforcement Act, 1985 for regulating all the weighing and measuring instruments used in trade and commerce. In the interest of consumers, it is, therefore, necessary that these instruments are accurate so that the consumers get the right quantity, which they pay for. Any inaccuracy in weighing and measuring instruments used by the trade and commerce would lead to loss to the consumer in general to the extent of thousands of crores. Therefore, the weighing and measuring instruments are controlled by periodical checking against the Standards of Weights & Measures as required to be maintained. The enforcement of the provisions of the Acts and Rules, however, rests with the State Governments. They are not able to effectively calibrate against the standards required to be maintained in their State Standard Laboratories (secondary standards) by upgrading the standards which were mostly purchased during 1960s due to the financial constraints. Non replacement of the Standards results in inaccuracy in measurements in trade and a huge loss to the consumers in crores of rupees on day to day basis. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary that the State Weights & Measures Laboratories are upgraded by providing one set of standard balances to each laboratory so that it may serve as a bench mark and all other standards used in the State could be calibrated against them. There are 102 secondary standard laboratories functioning in different States of the country which need urgent upgradation to protect the interest of the consumers. The Central Government has already upgraded the standards for 9 laboratories located in different areas through Consumer Welfare Fund (CWF).
It is proposed to provide funds for one-time grant of Rs.14 crores @ Rs.15 lakhs for providing one set of standard balances per secondary standard laboratory for strengthening the remaining 93 State Standard Laboratories in the 10th Plan in a phased manner.
- Additional Staff for Regional Reference Standard Laboratories : This Department has established five Regional reference Standard Laboratories to provide calibration and verification to States and industries in the five regions of the country. These scientific institutions are functioning as the main link for disseminating the values of National Standards of Weights & measures to commercial standards of weights & measures. Proper functioning of these institutions will ensure that measurements made in commercial transactions are error free. However, the functioning of these institutions has been gravely affected due to inadequacy of technical staff. Therefore, Department has mooted a proposal for providing sufficient staff, either by reviving all the vacant posts or exempting them from lapse as constitutionally required posts. Similarly, revision of pay scales has also been proposed, so that these posts attract qualified personnel.
- Greater Involvement of States/UTs with Consumer Welfare Fund (CWF) : The Central Government amended the Central Excise and Salt Act, 1944 in the year 1991 to create the Consumer Welfare Fund. The Fund has been set up by the Department of Revenue and is being operated by the Department of Consumer Affairs. Since 1994. The money, which is not refundable to manufacturers, is being credited to the Fund. The main objective of the Fund is to provide financial assistance for promoting and protecting the welfare of consumers, generate consumer awareness and strengthening consumer movement in the country particularly in the rural areas. In order to have greater involvement of States/UTs and their voluntary consumer organizations Department has taken following decisions;
- To decentralize CWF and to place certain funds for specific CWF programme with the State governments and UT administrations for speedier and effective distribution and monitoring of funds among the consumer organizations.
- To encourage States/UTs for setting up of their own Consumer Welfare Fund Centre will provide seed money in the ratio of 50:50 (Centre & State).
- Greater Involvement of District Administration: With the amended provision of 2002 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 now District Consumer Protection Councils are to be set up in every district of the country chaired by the District Collector/Magistrate with the objective to promote and protect the rights of the consumers at grass root level. Department has also requested to all the States/UTs to designate an officer as District Consumer Protection Officer to act as nodal officer in the district.
Department has also evolved Action Points for effective involvement of DCs/ DMs and proposes to convene an annual Conference of the District Collectors so that the consumer movement is propagated in a systematic manner. It will also help the Department in dealing with specific problems/ requirements in the country and in developing not only better awareness amongst the consumer but also to have better coordination with the consumer forums.
- National Policy on Consumer Protection: Department also proposes to evolve a National Policy on Consumer Protection so that priority concerns of consumers are addressed systematically by all stake holders. It will also make the various other Ministries/Department of Central and State Governments to be more responsive to the cause of consumers.
- Working Groups: On the recommendation of the 23rd meeting of Central Consumer Protection Council held on 16.7.2003 following six working groups have been set up in the Ministry to consider ways and means of protecting interests of the consumers in these critical areas:
|Name of the Working Group
|Drugs, Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices / Equipments;
|Consumer Health & Safety concerning Tobacco Products;
|Counterfeit, Fake, Spurious, Contraband products;
|To formulate the following New Acts/for including the proposals for amending in the existing Acts relating to Consumer Interest, e.g.
a.Product Liability Act;
b.Unfair Terms of Contract Act;
c.Builders Licensing Boards Act;
d.Whistle Blowers Protection Act
- A Standing Committee for Promotion of Consumer Interest has also been constituted with the following terms of reference :
- To identify the key concerns of consumers;
- To identify ways and means of giving publicity to educate as well as to address the concerns of consumers;
- To identify ways and means of involving various stakeholders for protecting consumer interest; and
- To identify ways and means of bringing consumer interest to the forefront of all operations, be they in Government, public or private sector.
- Consumer Clubs : Under Consumer Welfare Fund (CWF) a new scheme has been initiated for involving students with consumer protection related issues in a playful and informal manner. On the occasion of National Consumer Day on 24th December, 2003 Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution launched “Consumer Clubs” in schools of Delhi . Proposal to set up consumer clubs are being received from different States of the country. All the States/UTs will be covered under the scheme.
- Involvement of Research Institutes/Universities/Colleges: Another scheme under CWF has been prepared with the objectives to sponsor research and evaluation studies in the field of consumer welfare to research institutes, universities and colleges. Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi has been identified as a nodal organization to initiate seminars and workshops to promote involvement of research institutions etc. with and to evolve proposals which are received from such institutions.,
- National Consumer Helpline: Department is also considering to set up a National Consumer Helpline in Delhi with the assistance of leading institutions like IIT, Delhi, Delhi University etc. by utilizing funds from CWF. Delhi University has shown interest in the scheme and is working out a detailed proposal for the purpose. The objectives of the scheme are;
- To create awareness amongst consumers regarding their rights and responsibilities.
- To provide telephonic as well as personal counseling to consumers.
- To provide assistance for out of court settlements of consumer disputes.
The methodology to be adopted for the Helpline would include, publicty through leading newspapers at regular interval, Toll Free telephone lines, covering the entire country and trained manpower to provide counseling and assistance.
- Consumer Activist Group: A small Consumer Activist Group has been set up within the Department which includes senior officers of the Department and a few very reputed and experienced activists. This Group will identify critical areas in which Department should initiate proactive action for safeguarding the interest of consumers and various ways in which this can be done. This Group will guide the Department on dealing with day to day consumer related problem appearing in newspapers etc. which require immediate attention.
- Gold Hall Marking : Keeping in view, the consumer interest and market demand, Gold Jewellery Certification (popularly known as Hallmarking of Gold Jewellery ) was started in the year April 2000 on a voluntary basis. The scheme is aimed at providing third party assurance to consumers on the purity of gold or its fineness. This scheme is operated through BIS network of regional and branch offices all over the country. As of today. 14 Hallmarking Centres have been recognized for this purpose and more than 600 jewellers have been certified under this scheme. BIS and National Test House laboratories also proposed to be equipped for undertaking testing and providing assurance certificate for hallmarked gold articles. A National Plan is also being prepared to enhance the network of Hall Marking of Gold all over the country.
- Action Plan of States/UTs:
The Ministry has also requested States/UTs to prepare their Action Plan for consumer awareness , redressal and enforcement of Consumer protection Act, 1986 and allocate suitable budget for the same. State Governments have been asked to make provisions in their State Annual Plans for strengthening the consumer protection machinery and also to undertake educating the consumers in their respective States in a sustained manner involving all concerned.
- Reviewing the Progress made by States /UTs:
To improve the efficiency and disposal of pending cases in consumer courts, State Govts./ Union Territories, have been advised to take following measures urgently:
- To set up a separate Department with full fledged Secretary to deal with Consumer Protection.
- To set up circuit/additional benches of the State Commissions and additional District Forums for disposal of cases within time limit of 90-150 days.
- To fill up the vacant posts of Presidents/Members to make non-functional consumer forums functional.
- To provide all functional posts for utilizing full potential of existing Presidents/Members .
- To keep a panel of Presidents/Members ready for appointment against future vacancies.
- To provide with adequate infrastructure including computer networking to the Consumer Forums
- To set up their State and District level Consumer Protection Councils and ensure that they meet twice a year.
- Designate a suitable officer in each District as District Consumer Protection Officer.
Regular monitoring of the actions taken by State Governments is also being done through Review Meetings, field visits and monitoring formats.