Six basic rights of a consumer
It is time for the consumer movement to concern itself more deeply at what happens at macro level in our economy than before, as it affects our lives more immediately and with greater impact.
The very purpose of the existence of the manufacturer, the sellers and the service providers is to serve the consumer. All economic activities will come to a halt if he (the consumer) holds back his rupee for a day.
There is a lurking fear present in the minds of 90 per cent of the people that it is Government alone that will and have to protect us from the exploitation that will be freely indulged in once free market gives full freedom to private initiative. The role of the Government will be limited if we set efficient instruments of protection in place.
The first one of course is the consumer awareness and information; next comes competition and where there is no competition regulation. And finally we must set standards that will persuade the producers and providers to follow if they want consumer's money.
The consumer should become aware and exercise his six basic rights: Right to Information, Right to safety, Right to choice, Right to be heard, Right to redressal, and Right to consumer education.
Competition is the essence. Competition gives a consumer choice, variety, good price and quality. Competition informs him the best. Competition assures him safety of products.
The steep fall in telephone tariff shows how much we have been exploited all along in a monopoly situation and the fall in tariff is not due to the regulator, but due to the competition and survival instinct. It is up to us to create similar conditions in everything. Where there is no competition, regulation must step in.
A regulator prevents unfair practices of the service provider while ensuring reasonable returns for him.
Another instrument is the Citizens' Charter. It is time we acknowledged that this concept as introduced by the Central government has miserably failed. A better-designed Citizen's Charter must be in place. It has to be voluntary.
The following aspects of the Charter would ensure customer safety and satisfaction in services.
The services shall set explicit standards, publicise them, monitor them and publish the performance.
Full and accurate information about how public services are run, what they cost, and who is in charge will be easily accessible.
The user will be consulted even if there is a change in bus route or banking hours in a transparent manner. Public servants will wear name-badges give their names on telephones offering courteous service.
A complaint is a valuable feedback as it tells you where things go wrong, what went wrong and how and what is to be done to set it right.
What happens when things go wrong? What if more than 5 per cent of the underground trains come more than ten minutes late? The passengers are offered 5 per cent discount on fares, which will reach their homes, if they wrote the addresses and stuck their tickets in a readily available envelope and sent them. This most crucial aspect, this accountability clause is missing from all our so-called Citizens' Charters.
Charters ensure quality of service at the point of delivery giving value for money offering good protection for the consumers and so for the nation.
S. Pushpavanam Secretary, Consumer Protection Council, Tamil Nadu
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