A national policy to protect the interests of consumers is on the anvil. This apart, the existing Consumer Protection Act would be amended so that consumer disputes' redressal forums get the status of civil courts, the Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution K.V. Thomas said.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee is looking into amendments to the Act. With redressal forums flooded with complaints, it is taking years to settle them, he said. The amendments include a fine of Rs. 500 per day for delay in executing the judgment. Mr. Thomas was speaking after inaugurating the valedictory of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, organised here on Saturday by the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) India.

Elaborating on the steps taken and being taken to promote awareness about consumer rights, Mr. Thomas said that consumer clubs are being promoted in educational institutions. “We have asked the Education Ministers of States to include consumer rights in the curriculum in schools and colleges. The Centre has introduced a toll-free helpline to help consumers, while steps are being taken through the Bureau of Indian Standards to ensure the quality of gold. The agency would start more testing labs to ensure the quality of different equipments.”

He expressed concern at spurious and often over-priced drugs flooding the market. “Many doctors prescribe drugs as suggested by pharmacy companies. These doctors fall prey to the lure of gifts, cars, apartments and foreign trips promised by these companies. Often, they prescribe drugs for a month, whereas medication for a week would have been enough. This is apart from the steep increase in price of medicines, often done under the pretext of the cost of research.”

He spoke of how the market was being flooded with too many dubious advertisements which make tall claims. A fair amount of self-regulation by the media and advertisement agencies can prevent customers being cheated.

The past national president of the IMA, Dr. P.V. George said that spurious and sub standard drugs are a menace. “The attitude of patients too must change since many of them are not content if the doctor prescribes simple medicines. Since courts function on the basis of evidence, doctors are often forced to practice defensive medicine.”

In his address, the founder of the PSM India, Bejon Misra, said that awareness of consumer rights played a major role in ending the monopoly by a few firms of many sectors.

“We work to end the exploitation of consumers and to make processes simpler. On the medical front, safe and quality medicines must be made accessible to all.”

The others who spoke include Hibi Eden, MLA; Manoj Parida, joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, and Ranga Iyer, advisor, India Health Progress.

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