In the face of imports posing a competition to domestic manufacturing, the government has decided to come up with a National Consumer Policy to ensure uniform national and international standards in the various arms of the Central and State governments, the regulatory bodies and on consumer fora, and to lay down the guiding principles of complaint resolution.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) will be the nodal agency for harmonising Indian and international standards.
Noting that a difference in domestic and international standards could impair competition, the draft policy suggests establishment of a joint forum of the BIS, consumer representatives and industry to review the performance of standardisation procedures.
The draft policy seeks to ensure that goods, services and technology are available to consumers “at reasonable prices and at acceptable standards of quality.”
It recognises that trade practices need to be identified and regulated, and law and codes should be re-engineered.
The draft emphasises the need for consumer education and awareness in far-flung and remote areas and among “disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.”
“Empowering and educating this category should be given special focus; methodology and plan to connect with these groups should be prepared accordingly.”
Education and competition go hand in hand; therefore, the Consumer Policy, the Competition Policy and the regulatory framework should be synergised, the draft policy says. Based on the principles of opening up competition in areas where the government is the sole service provider and educating consumers, the draft policy says the government must fund voluntary agencies and consumer organisations to collect and disseminate information to consumers.
The implementation strategies are: encouraging establishment of internal dispute resolution mechanisms for all manufacturers and service providers, using legislation for enforcement of the rights of consumers, and resorting to the Essential Commodities Act for non-market interventions.
Consumers should be empowered to make real choices. There should be transparency in defining service standards and to achieve this, the utility of “help desk” and “automatic call centres” should be explored.