National Consumer Day: Govt Launches Tech Initiatives For Consumers; Promotes ‘Mediation’ As Viable Alternative

On the occasion of National Consumer Day celebrations, Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan on Saturday unveiled several new initiatives aimed at grievance redressal and consumer education involving use of new age technology involving measures to protect consumers in the cyber space as well.

The day was celebrated under the theme ‘Alternative Consumer Dispute Resolution’.

Speaking on the occasion, Ram Vilas Paswan said: “Justice for the consumer’ is the ministry’s prime concern and reflected on mediation as a tool for justice and how it has ingrained in our culture.”

The event was graced with the esteemed presence of Justice DK Jain, president, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC); Justice Jasbir Singh, president, Chandigarh UT Consumer Commission; and BC Gupta, the Member, NCDRC.

They shared their take on the theme of the day and addressed the participants.

The department has launched a mobile app for consumer helpline number 14404 to access the national consumer helpline, another mobile app called ‘smart consumer’.

The app is a bar coder as well as a means to lodge complaints and voice grievances against packaged commodities.

An Online Consumer Mediation Centre (OCMC) has been instituted at the National Law School India University, Bengaluru.

Among others, the government has also started online consumer communities on the digital platform ‘Local Circles’.

The communities would serve as a platform for presenting views, grievances and suggestions and thereby enabling the department to know the pulse of the public, which would eventually help in policy making.

A microsite with the theme ‘Digitally Safe Consumer Campaign’ was also launched on the event. With knowledge support from Google, it would help Indians stay safe on internet.

Ram Vilas Paswan said enhanced capacity of the national consumer helpline would benefit lakhs of consumers. He observed that in the era of technology, educating the consumer and redressing his grievances in the digital world is a challenge.

In times when the PM has urged the citizens to adopt a cashless lifestyle and increase reliance to e-transactions, a huge influx of first time online buyers is expected. In such a scenario, the mobile app of the consumer helpline, the smart consumer app for accessing product information, online communities will benefit the consumers in the digital world. The microsite will protect the consumers from fraud. Online communities will provide yet another crucial outlet for views, experiences and grievances.

Ram Vilas Paswan observed that while the online consumer mediation initiative of the Department with the National Law School, Bengaluru, is a great move but it should be ensured that mutual consent of the consumer and the company has been acquired before starting the mediation. He said the proposed nominal fee should be charged on both the parties and not just the consumer.

He said the Consumer Protection Bill, which is at an advanced stage, has a provision for mediation. Further elaborating on the Bill, the Union Minister said it has provisions that would help tighten the noose on misleading advertisements and unfair trade practices and will be dealt with by a Central Consumer Protection Authority. He also added that celebrities should check facts about the product before doing endorsement.

Various publications by Centre for Consumer Studies, IIPA, on Legal Metrology and Consumer, Electricity and Consumers, Sustainable Consumption and lifestyle and Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs)-Regulations & Consumers, were released.

Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution CR Chaudhary elaborated on the government’s plan on establishing mediation as an ‘effective and efficient’ alternative to court proceedings. He said the government would soon bring forwards a broad-based mediation system, reducing legal costs and speeding up the resolution of disputes. He said the law, currently being drafted, would put in place a consumer commission that would be empowered to suo moto call the parties, following the commencement of proceedings, to consider mediation and suspend the proceedings to facilitate the mediation process.

He mentioned that five regional helplines were being planned as an extension of NCH in different zones of the country.

Chaudhary also urged the delegates, especially the VCOs, to support cashless system as part of the Prime Minister’s demonetisation programme and spread awareness among consumers of its benefit.

Secretary of Department of Consumer Affairs Hem Pande welcomed the delegated on the inaugural function and said the department was aware of the latest challenges to consumer protection and had been devising various strategies to protect consumers from exploitation.

This article has been made possible because of financial support from Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation.

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