New initiatives of the Department of Consumer Affairs
Consumer Protection in the light of new IT interventions
One of the mandates of the Department of Consumer Affairs in the Government of India is consumer advocacy. The Department is laying greater emphasis on consumer education and working with the goal of reaching the next level, from Consumer Protection to consumer empowerment. To achieve this goal the Government is offering a range of services such as National and State Consumer Helplines, Publicity Campaigns through Jago Grahak Jago, funding of academic institutions and voluntary consumer organisations in conducting Consumer Awareness Programmes, and involvement of Industry Associations and Chambers of Commerce in policy consultations and joint campaigns.
2 Consumer markets for goods and services have undergone profound transformation since the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act in 1986. The modern market place contains a plethora of increasingly complex products and services. The emergence of global supply chains, rise in international trade and the rapid development of e-commerce have led to new delivery systems for goods and services and have provided new opportunities for consumers. Equally, this has rendered the consumer vulnerable to new forms of unfair trade and unethical business practices. Taking note of these aspects, in addition to the strengthening of legal framework to address the new challenges faced by the consumers, the Department has taken several other initiatives.
3 The Department of Consumer Affairs has launched an Integrated Grievance Redress Mechanism (INGRAM) portal for bringing all stakeholders such as consumers, Central and State Government Agencies, private companies, regulators, Ombudsmen and call centers etc. on to a single platform. The portal is creating awareness among consumers to protect their rights and inform them of their responsibilities. Consumers can register online their grievances through this portal. The National Consumer Helpline is also accessible now through this portal.
As value added services, a mobile application and easy to remember five digit short code 14404 have also been launched for consumers from across the country to access National Consumer Helpline.
4 The Department in association with GS1 India has launched a mobile application “ Smart Consumer” to enable the consumer to scan the bar code of the product and get all details of the product such as name of the product, details of manufacturer, year and month of manufacture, net content and consumer care details for making complaint in case of any defect.
5 Online dispute resolution uses technology to facilitate the resolution of disputes between parties. In this respect it is often seen as being the online equivalent of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is a wide field, which may be applied to a range of disputes including Business to Consumer disputes (B2C). It seems to be particularly apt for these disputes, since it is logical to use the same medium (the internet) for the resolution of e-commerce disputes when parties are frequently located far from one another.
The Online Consumer Mediation Centre (OCMC) has been established at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru under the aegis of Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India. The Centre aims to provide for a state-of-the-art infrastructure for resolving consumer disputes both through physical as well as online mediation through its platform. The Center will provide innovative technology for consumers and organisations to manage and resolve conflicts and to propel online mediation as a first choice to resolving consumer disputes. This is an innovative tool that affords consumers better access to justice through quick and easy redressal mechanism and at the same time provide opportunity for businesses to maintain good customer relations.
6 As a result of the Government of India’s mission to encourage public to adopt the digital payment system, in the near future, several crore of hitherto digital non literate consumers are going to use internet for the first time for buying goods and services and pay for the same. In order to protect the consumer on the online environment, a comprehensive one year campaign for raising awareness about internet safety amongst Indian consumers is being run in partnership with Google. The campaign will integrate the internet safety message into everyday tasks that Indian consumers undertake over internet – whether it be doing financial transactions, using emails, doing e-Commerce or simply surfing the internet for information in collaborate with Government of India in the Jago Grahak Jago campaign.
The partnership will also extend to training of select VCOs, government officials and National Consumer Helpline counselors through a series of train the trainer’s programmes who will further conduct mass training programmes. Awareness generation is also going to be through a knowledge management portal which will be in the form of a micro site on the department website.
7 In association with the Local Circles, a social media platform, the Department has launched a platform ‘Online Consumer Communities’ for citizens to discuss and opine about, consumer related issues. With Local Circles, a citizen can get connected with their Government, City, Causes, Neighborhood, Interest, needs and any other communities they are a part of. When citizens get connected and become communities, it leads to transparency, easy availability of trusted information, easier collective action to address common issues and an easier/better urban daily life. Using Local Circles, organizations can reach out to citizens and understand collective issues, challenges, solutions, opportunities, and pulse at macro or micro levels.