Shri. Anna Patvardhan (Panduranga Shreeram Patvardhan), who lives in Gimhavne village in Dapoli, has been an integral part of the ‘Consumer Movement’ for the last 15 years. He even visits schools and colleges to create awareness about Customer rights. Following are the excerpts from an exclusive interview with him, to know more about his great work.
Q: What exactly is this Consumer Movement and against whom is this in opposition to?
A: ‘Consumer Movement’ is a movement run by the customers for the customers. Now you might ask me that what it even means. So, to answer your question, every human is a customer. From the day he is born, till the day he dies, he is a customer. As he is a consumer, he pays for things for the sake of his consumption or for any other purpose. Sometimes, during this buy-sell transaction, the seller does not honour his duties towards the customer. In some cases, the seller purposely cons the customer and takes him for a spin. The ‘Consumer Movement’ works against such incidences. It creates awareness among the customers about their rights and duties and guides them to put a stop to the exploitation done by selfish sellers.
Q: What is the official definition of a customer?
A: The one, who buys a product or service by paying for it, is a customer. But after the consumer protection act it was changed to ‘A customer is one who buys products or services by paying for them, for his own consumption’.
Q: When did the ‘Consumer Movement’ start in India?
A: The movement started almost 1000 years ago. It is not a recent affair, nor has it been inspired from foreign lands. One can find proofs of consumer protection laws in our ancient manuscripts and texts like Kautilya’s Economic Science. But in the modern age, this movement came to life again in the year 1973. During that year, Maharashtra was facing one of the worst draughts in history and the sellers took advantage of the prevailing food shortage situation and started exploiting people (customers). It was during these unjust times, a good human named Bindumadhav Joshi, who lived in Pune, came forth along with other thinkers and fought for consumer rights. He received huge support from common people and this movement spread wide across all the states.
Q: Like our national movement, there is an international movement too. When did it start? How does the international movement help the one in India?
A: On 15th March, 1962, the president of USA, John.F.Kennedy, put forth a proposition to the American congress, which covered 4 points of consumer protection, right to information, right of choice and right to complaint, which gave rise to the consumer movement in America. On 9th April, 1986, during the general assembly of UNO, guidelines with respect to ‘consumer protection’ were declared to the member nations, which made the guidelines sort of rules to be followed. All the member nations of the UNO have to abide to its rules. As India too is a member nation, it helped fuel the consumer movement in the country.
Q: How many consumer organisations are there in India and what work do they do?
A: There are many consumer organisations in India, like the one founded by Mr. Bindumadhav Joshi i.e. Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat, Consumer Grahak Society, Mumbai Garahak Panchayat, etc. These organisations create awareness among the consumers, guide them and educate them.
Q: How does the Consumer protection act (1986) protect the customers?
A: As per the consumer protection act (1986), the consumers have 6 legal rights. The first is right to safety. This is important especially when it comes to food. For example, it is compulsory for packaged goods to have the products name, manufacturer’s name, the name and amount of ingredients used and the retail price of the product. Cause this isn’t about the consumer’s financial loss, but mainly about the loss of his health. The second is right to information. The consumer has the right to know the quality, amount, credibility, purity and price of the product. Some other rights are right to choose and right to deny. The consumer has the right to choose a product and the seller cannot force a product on the consumer. Similarly, the consumer can deny the product if he or she does not like the product. Besides this, the consumer has the right to express his opinion and also right to complain.
Q: As per the consumer act, where can the customer’s grievances be heard and acted upon?
A: The customer can make his grievances heard depending on the amount of compensation he/she is looking for. For a smaller compensation, the district consumer court is the right place. If the amount is a bit big, then the state commission and if the compensation amount is extremely big, then the national commission is the right place to go.
Q: How is the consumer court set up and what are the things to be considered before filing a complaint at the court?
A: Before going to the court, the consumer must demand compensation from the seller and the manufacturer. If they do not entertain the customer, then he/she can send them a legal notice stating that ‘we are filing a complaint against you in the consumer court and that they will be responsible for any further consequences’. If they do not pay attention to the notice too, then the consumer can apply for a judgement at the court. The bench comprises of 3 judges including a female judge. The duration to get a consumer grievance sorted in court is approximately 3 months (90 days).
Q: How do the consumer organisations function?
A: I am the member of the All India Consumer Organization. This organisation functions on a national level. This organisation conducts two conferences in a year. They provide training on how to provide people the needed information about the consumer movement. For ease of functioning, they have divided the work force as per centre, state, district and taluka. When it comes to villages, their policy is consumer panchayats; but they are currently limited till the taluka level. Apart from this, they are constantly conducting camps, giving lectures and increasing their volunteer strength.
Q: How does the government try to reach the people with consumer education?
A: Previously the government tried reaching the people regarding consumer education through schools and colleges. But due to complicated processes, they gave this responsibility to NGOs. These NGOs get grant from the government. Apart from this, there is a ‘consumer protection ministry’ which takes care of the consumer complaints and strives to give better justice to consumers. At district level, ‘Consumer Protection Assembly’ has been set up, which has a total of 40 members including 12 government and 28 non-government officials. These 28 non-government officials work in various sectors like agriculture, health, education and business. The district president himself heads this assembly.
Q: What is the difference between the city consumer and the village consumer?
A: The city consumer is aware to some extent, but village consumer isn’t even aware that he/she is being exploited. Hence the situation is dire in villages.
Q: From when did you get involved in the consumer movement?
A: I was always fond of social work. I started taking part in the consumer movement since I was working in Mumbai and then continued the work in Dapoli after retirement.
Q: What responsibilities do you have as a regional member of the All India Consumer Organisation?
A: I am a member of the konkan region. This region includes the districts of Thane, Raigad, Palghar, Ratanagiri and Sindhudurga. I coordinate with the managing committees on a district and taluka level and come up with new ways to implement new activities. I try to find new methods for the progress of the movement and try solving the problems of the people and the committee.
Q: Currently who is the president and the vice president of the managing committee in Dapoli and how do they function?
A: Mr Hasmukh Jain is the president and Mr Sandesh Raut is the vice president of the Dapoli taluka managing committee of All India Consumer Organisation. The taluka managing committee chooses 7 schools and colleges in a year. There they conduct a lecture of 30 minutes with at least 50 to 60 students attending the lecture. During the lecture they are educated about consumer rights. Apart from this, drama, composition and art competitions are held on national and international consumer days. Special time is allocated to us by the Gram Panchayat, to help us educate the rural people and to create awareness for them. For better accessibility with the people, two complaint boxes are set up at the Dapoli bus station and at Dapoli Kelsar Naka (Kamgaar Galli).
Q: How many complaints do you get in those boxes?
A: The amount of complaints is less, but it is not like they are never any complaints.
Q: What are the dates for Consumer day?
A: 15th March is the global Consumer Day and 24th December is the national Consumer Day.
Q: What is essential for the consumer movement to reach everyone?
A: Active participation of the people is necessary for the movement to reach everyone. Besides, self-awareness is an essential step towards mass awareness.
From the country’s president to a common citizen, everyone is a consumer. A consumer is the centre point of economic structure. He is the king of the structure. But a consumer is a king only when he is aware of his responsibilities and rights and is not taken advantage of. Hence, it is necessary that the consumer is aware and alert and knows his rights.