We use a lot many types of goods for a reason. These goods are both tangible (goods) and non-tangible (services). Together goods and services are known as commodities. The reason for their use is what can be called as the “satisfaction of wants”. Wants are satisfied by using goods and services. The process of using various goods and services to fulfil a want is known as consumption. When we pay the price for a good or a service and use it to satisfy a want, we become consumers.

In this age of capitalism and globalisation, the primary objective of each producer is to maximise his profit. In each and every possible way the producers are trying to increase the sale of their products. Therefore, in fulfilment of their aim, they forget the interests of consumers and start exploiting them, for example—overcharging, under-weighing, selling of adulterated and inferior quality goods, misleading the consumers by giving false advertisements etc. Thus, to save himself from being cheated, it is necessary for a consumer to be aware. In this way, Consumer Awareness means creating awareness of a consumer towards his rights and duties.

Nowadays we find that there are a lot of advertisements promoting goods and services. Their number has grown immensely over the years. Commercials bombard us through various mediums all through the day. The constant barrage of advertisements often confuses the customer from purchasing the correct product or service meeting his needs. So it is important to be aware of how we can be cheated as consumers. We must know our rights and duties as consumers. Even the law provides us protection as consumers.

A consumer is exploited when in any form he/she is cheated or not informed adequately about the product. Consumers may be exploited by giving incomplete or wrong information. One of the very common and serious problems by which a consumer may be exploited and cheated by the shop-keeper is by providing impure or adulterated products. Consumption or usage of these adulterated products can have a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of consumers.

Consumers not only pay more they also suffer from bad health and may even risk their lives by purchasing duplicate medicines and electronic devices.  An electric heater may give a shock or a generator may produce a high voltage surge harming the electric wiring or bulbs and tubelights in the house. To be able to charge a high price a supplier may hoard the commodities and create an artificial scarcity. The consumer may panic and be forced to pay a high price for the same. Sometimes, some articles are copied and sold with its original brand name with inferior quality such as creams, soaps etc.

For some items like a telephone or a gas connection, licence or a passport or even for doctor’s treatment, the consumer may be made to undergo delays and subject to rude and rough treatment. Sometimes the customer is subject to harassment and displeasure. Consumer durables like a refrigerator or a sewing machine or scooter etc., need maintenance. The sellers may not give these after-sales services or may charge a high amount for them.

There are many factors behind the exploitation of the consumer. Illiteracy is one of the causes. An illiterate consumer can be cheated easily as he/she can neither read the name of the product nor the instructions. Illiteracy also affects the level of consumer awareness.

Lack of information is another cause. The seller may take advantage of the freedom of the market and keep away important or correct information from the consumer. Price, composition, quantity, conditions of use and terms of purchase all must be given to the consumer.

Monopoly is also a cause of consumer exploitation. In a market where only one or few producers or sellers operate, the consumer is more vulnerable. The consumer in such areas is charged high prices; given a inferior quality and his/her problems are not taken seriously.

In India, Consumer Protection was given importance in the past. Kautilya’s Arthashastra mentions the protection of a consumer’s interest against exploitation by producers and sellers. Malpractices such as adulteration, overcharging and underweighing of the goods were considered as punishable offences.

The Indian ethos and culture promote wise consumption. Consumption which does not damage the environment and which generates a spirit of abstinence and sharing is held supreme. Only when consumers make irrational purchases and start responding indiscriminately and play into the hands of the producers and sellers, they make themselves vulnerable to exploitation. Thus, an ideal consumer is alert, responsible and environment friendly, buys only when there is a need, prevents himself/herself from being cheated and knows his/her rights and duties.

An economy, in which consumers are aware, can practise their duties and exercise their rights freely, the efficiency of the sellers and producers will be higher and so the economy will be more developed.

The consumer should be aware of the following things:

1. He/sheshould receive proper invoice, bill, cash memo or voucher. 2. The name of things bought or the description of the service should be clearly mentioned in the invoice. 3. The date of the transaction should be mentioned. 
4. Taxes (if any) should be mentioned on the invoice or bill. 5. Consumers should check if the name of the goods, weight, quantity, manufacturing date, name of the manufacturer and address are mentioned on the covers of the packaged goods. 6. The government has fixed the rate of indirect taxes on different kinds of goods. 7. The consumer should check for symbols such as ISI mark on industrial goods, Agmark on agricultural products, Hallmark on gold ornaments, etc. as a further check on their authenticity. 8. The goods which can be weighed should be bought after checking the product.

Rights of Consumers

Consumers have the right to buy good commodities and services from the market. The protection of the law has been provided to him so that producer or seller cannot cheat him in any way. Generally a consumer has got the following rights:

1. Right to safety : This is essential for producers that they should obey the rules related to the safety of consumers. The reason is if the producers do not obey safety rules then the consumer may have to bear a big risk. For example, in a pressure cooker there is a safety valve which if faulty can lead to a major accident. The manufacturers of the safety valves should fix a high quality for it. If manufacturers do not do this then the consumers can take help of consumer Law to force the manufacturer to install a high quality valve conforming to ISI requirements in the pressure cooker.

2. Right to choose : A consumer has the right to select any goods or services when he buys a product or service.  Suppose you purchase a gas connection and the gas dealer compels you to buy the burner also along with gas connection, but you want to buy the gas connection only, and there is no requirement of the burner. In this situation your right to selection is not followed. The reason is that the seller pressurises you to buy that thing which you do not want to buy. In this situation you can take legal action against the seller for forcing you to make a purchase against your wishes.

3. Right to be informed : When we purchase any product we see that some special information is written on the packet. This information contains details such as batch number of the commodity, manufacturing date, expiry date, address of the manufacturer etc. When we purchase any medicine, then we get the information regarding the side effects, expiry date, and dangers of the medicines. When we purchase clothes, then we should have the washing directions. It is necessary to provide important information because consumers are given the right to obtain information about things and services which they  buy.

4. Right to information : In the year 2005, the Government of India enacted The Right to Information Act. The Right to Information Act provides the right to get the information about all the activities of the Government departments.

5. Right to redressal : The consumers have the Right to Redressal against unreasonable bargaining and exploitation. The right to redressal can be understood by a single example. A man named Mathew got admitted to a private hospital for the removal of his tonsils. An ENT surgeon operated for removal of tonsils under general anaesthesia. Due to improper application of anaesthesia, symptoms of mental imbalance developed in Mathew due to which he became handicapped for his entire life. Consumer Dispute Redressal Committee found the hospital guilty of negligence in the treatment and directed to pay the compensation. Thus, it is clear that if a consumer  bears any loss, then he/she has the right to get redressal depending upon the amount of loss. An informed customer is an aware customer. Consumer Awareness is the biggest weapon in the armoury of the consumer to guard against deficient and negligent goods and services. An informed consumer ensures that the goods and services hawked by any organisation conform to or even exceed the laid guidelines and specifications.

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