Mumbai Local

50 years of protecting consumer rights

All ears:The Consumer Guidance Society of India receives around 1,000 complaints on average every month. —photo: Vijay Bate  

Since 1966, the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI) the society has been at the forefront of the Indian consumer movement. Their aim: to protect the rights of consumers and help them get redressal when they are stuck with defective goods or services. Today, the society, which also operates the Maharashtra State Consumer Helpline, receives around a 1,000 complaints on average every month.

“The people who come here are often those who have failed in their individual attempts to get justice,” says VM Kamath, CGSI’s Administration Manager, who has been with the society since 1997. “People who come to seek help, come after having run pillar-to-post to get their problem solved.”

The CGSI was among the first organisations in the country to demand a consumer protection act and specialised consumer courts in the country. In 1975, delegates of the CGSI presented a memorandum for the same to the Minister of Food & Civil Supplies. Their efforts came to fruition with the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act 1986 and the establishment Consumer Courts.

The most common advice people come to the CGSI for? “In almost nine out of ten calls, the person starts off by saying ‘I want to go to court’ not realising that there are other procedures one needs to do before going to court,” says Anindita Lahiri, a consumer activist who works with CGSI and provides legal aid. “The legal route should be the last resort,” says Dr M S Kamath, General Secretary of the CGSI. He feels that people should make the companies accountable and pressurise them to resolve the issue.

The society makes several attempts to bring consumers together as a group and fight for a particular demand. “Companies will resolve only if they’re under pressure. Once you expect regulatory authorities or the law to resolve your issue, you end up being essentially at their mercy.”

Land- and property-related complaints have long been the most common issues that consumers approach CGSI for. “Property matters are among the toughest to resolve because there are many vested interests,” says Rajesh Kothari, Legal Director at CGSI. The property cases that come to the CGSI are not just Mumbai-based, but from all parts of the state. “At CGSI we are dealing with numerous cases related to second homes,” Ms Lahiri says. Builders advertise small plots at various places for second homes, she says, “however the ground realities are a far cry from the pictures and brochures.” Currently CGSI is helping a group of 300 owners of such plots who are fighting against a real estate marketing company.

As the Indian marketplace and consumers have evolved, have the kind of cases the society handles changed? Complaints against e-commerce sites are now the highest, CGSI officials said, with complaints against builders now at second place. E-commerce cases have their own complications, since often cases involve three parties: the seller, the buyer, and the Web site or e-commerce platform. The surge in e-commerce cases is a sign of changing times says Dr Sitaram Dixit, Chairman of the CGSI. He has been associated with the society since the late 1980s. “Two to three years ago, there were a lot of cases in the telecommunication sector. Tomorrow there will be something else.”

Dr Dixit says, “Despite the various check and balances put in place by various institutions, we still have crimes.” He feels the only way to stem the cases arising from newer forms of technology is through consumer education. “Consumers need to understand the new technology.” What Are CGSI’s biggest challenges today? Dr Kamath says that are three: consumer apathy, industry’s arrogance and regulatory indifference.

Walkathon

To commemorate its 50 years, the CGSI is holding a walkathon this Sunday at Juhu Beach, in association with the Juhu Beach Walkers Group and the Rotary Club. Details: call 1800222262.


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 8:01:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/50-years-of-protecting-consumer-rights/article8497036.ece

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