The Mumbai Grahak Panchayat (MGP) has been championing the cause of consumers ever since it was founded in 1975. Perhaps the largest consumer organisation in Asia, it has 32,000 families as members spread over Mumbai, Thane, Vasai, Palghar, Pune, Raigad and Ratnagiri to which the panchayat distributes quality groceries on a No profit, No loss basis every month. ASHUTOSH M SHUKLA spoke to MGP chairman Shirish Deshpande, 71. Excerpts from the interview:
What are the main issues which you encounter in the consumer movement?
There is tremendous ignorance, apathy and inertia on the part of consumers. They are often unorganised and not aware of their rights and responsibilities, hence there is a need for bodies to create widespread awareness. Their gullibility and ignorance allow the manufacturers, traders and service providers to exploit them. That is why Parliament enacted the first Consumer Protection law in 1986 to empower consumers. Yet we find there is a huge lack of awareness among consumers. That is why MGP constantly attempts to create awareness among consumers.
How much has the ground reality changed after the old law of 1986 was replaced with the Consumer Protection Act of 2019?
Ground realities have not changed to the extent expected. In the new law, they have made some very good provisions but the government is falling short on its effective implementation. It gives a time frame of three to five months to consumer grievances redressal fora. But the reality is that it takes three to five years to resolve cases. But the change of Act is a welcome thing. It has brought in new things and includes e-commerce. E-commerce has changed the market transactions of modern consumers, but it is faceless. In e-commerce, you do not know who is selling and cannot touch the product before buying. On trust you allow transactions to be done from your account. It is a revolution.
We are happy that the government is serious about changing the ground reality. Consumer rights were celebrated on March 15, 2022 (World Consumer Rights Day) and December 24, 2022 (National Consumer Day). We had two conferences and strong messages were given to presidents of national and state consumer disputes redressal commissions that they are expected to improve their performance.
But in Maharashtra, the Commissions disposal rate continues to be poor. Please comment.
There is a problem due to vacancies. The rule to fill vacancies framed by the State Government was struck down by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court. They advertised positions where, for advocates, the eligibility cap was 15-20 years of practice, which got struck down and things came to a standstill. As a result, appointments are not happening and the matter is going on in the Supreme Court. Recently the SC gave an extension to a present lot of presiding members till March.
Recently the FPJ reported cases not being disposed of in the stipulated time. What should be done to improve the situation?
Frequent adjournments have to be discouraged ruthlessly. Unless that is done, the time frame cannot be adhered to. Consumer courts are becoming like civil courts. They were not expected to go into legal technicalities, the law of evidence, etc but just ensure that the principles of natural justice are followed. However, that is not happening. There are certain members who do not even know how to draft judgements. Because of this, affected persons go to appeal and this prolongs litigation. We have written to set up regional benches of the national commission as provided in the Act. At present, it is very expensive for litigants to go all the way to New Delhi to appear before the national commission. They should, for starters, immediately set up permanent benches in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.