Consumerism & India’s Consumer Protection Groups
The term “Consumerism” refers to consumption of goods at a higher rate along with protection or promotion of consumer’s interests. It seeks to protect the consumers against substandard goods, deceptive advertisements and unfair pricing. It has been responsible to create a framework with consumer protection policies, which compel the manufactures, sellers and advertisers to work in the interests of consumer by maintaining safety standards, honest packaging & true advertisements.
Increase in purchasing power parity and rising prosperity of individuals has resulted in changing consumption pattern. Further, when wants and desires of the people increase in combination with gradual fall in prices, it leads to rise of consumerism
History of Consumerism
The tendency of people consuming greater than their basic needs was even seen during ancient civilizations. This tendency was more common among wealthier nations where people can afford to consume more than their needs. But with advent of Industrial Revolution in 19th Century and practice of Capitalism in economic system, it created an unusual situation, when for the first time; the manufactured products were available in outstanding quantities and at low prices. Furthermore, Industrialization and Mechanization was combined with “Population Explosion” in Europe in 19th Century when Europe population almost doubled. Population growth created more pressure on the production, and as a result “consumerism” which was earlier nature based now converted to demand based. The whole system was affected with the overflow of money which created the conditions for mass production and mass consumption.
Consumerism in India
In India, consumer protection is a subject of extreme importance. With sharp increase in population, there has been vigorous increase in demand for goods and services. With increasing demands there comes need to assist the consumer in getting a fair deal for all their purchases, and to have a strong grievance redressal mechanism with help of local agencies like a consumer alliance. There are already more than 300 voluntary organizations working in this area to ensure safety of consumers in the country.
What are Consumer Organizations?
Consumer organizations are advocacy groups which seek to protect the consumers from fallacies, substandard goods & deceptive advertisements about goods & services. Consumer organizations act as an arbitrator between the consumers and manufacturers or service providers by resolving their disputes.
Some Important Consumer Organisations in India
- With Indian economy transiting from mixed economy to consumer society, the demand for consumerism and consumer protection increased in India. The first such consumer organization that was set up in 1915 was the ‘Passengers and Traffic Relief Association’ (PATRA) in Bombay. It was set up to mitigate the hardship and trouble faced by the passengers travelling through railway and steamers.
- Another such organization is “Women Graduate Union” based in Mumbai, started in 1915. It was started with motive to provide facilities, opportunities and benefits to women of all class in society.
- The Triplicane Urban Cooperative Society (TUCS) was started in 1904 in Triplicane, Tamil Nadu. It was the first consumer cooperative society in India.
- In 1956, the “Indian Association for Consumers” an all India association for consumer interest was set up with government support, but the organisation failed to fulfil its objectives.
- However, the first organization which was able to make strong impact in the field of consumerism was the Consumer management Society of India (CGSI), Bombay started by nine housewives in 1966 with Mrs. Leela Jog as its founder secretary. The organization not only relied on holding conferences and meetings, In fact, it started testing and reporting the quality of products manufactured and delivered in the market by the industries.
- The second such impact making consumer organization in the country was the ‘Karnataka Consumer Services Society’ (KCSS) formed in 1970. This Bengaluru based organization conducted seminars in the areas of consumer advocacy, environment, food adulteration, health etc. in schools and other places and was much successful in making true impacts.
- Visaka Consumers Councils (VCC) started in 1973, based in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, is another consumer organization which was successful in redressing the plight of the poor ration card holders and LPG gas users, who had to stand in long queue because of lack of accountability with the concerned authorities. Some other organisations like Akhil Bhartiya Grahak Panchayat came up with concept of manufacturing of export quality products and making them available to consumers at much lower prices.
- Consumer Education and Research Centre, an organization started in 1978, based in Ahmedabad used the legal machinery to protect consumer human rights. It has its own laboratories for testing of food, pharmaceuticals and domestic appliances. It publishes the finding and takes strict actions against unsafe products. CERC also undertakes internship training for any consumer organization, besides publishing routine the magazine ‘Consumer Confrontation’.
Various steps which can be taken for hassle free functioning of consumer organisation
- Most of the consumer organisations in India are NGOs; they should be accorded with statutory status, so that they get full authority to take actions not only against private organizations but also against public undertakings.
- A consumer organization in order to work smoothly should not include any businessman or politician among its members. It will prevent the organization from any kind of nepotism to private industries.
- All consumer activists should avoid loose talks. One should not give vague impressions of what they do or speak. Listening to loose talk and acting ahead it spoils the main objective of consumerism.
- The organisations members should set an example by practicing what they ask other members to do; for example, if they direct the consumers not to give or accept gifts or bribes, they should also follow the same principles.
- The consumer activist should develop the investigative skills and should have the ability to sense the act of cheating and fraud
Since consumer activist are in the fight against corruption, they should try to develop a strong legal background and should be prepared to meet consequences.