Let's bring consumer rights to the fore

A former MHADA chairman, Prasad Lad, has dragged Mercedes-Benz to court, after his car’s airbags failed to deploy. Lad, has approached the state Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission claiming damages for having been sold a ‘defective’ car. It was a Rs 38 lakh Benz C Class 220 bought in July last year. Lad’s son was driving the vehicle when it met with an accident, despite which the airbags did not deploy. After correspondence with the company, the Lads claim there was no satisfactory answer, and they have approached the consumer court to claim damages of R50 lakh from the company.

While this is not to say who is right and wrong, it is heartening to see that individuals still have some faith in the justice system and are taking on organisations. But Lad is an influential person, with resources at his disposal. In an interview to this newspaper, earlier, a consumer expert and founder of a Consumer Online Foundation did admit after some reluctance that, it had been shown that important individuals with resources, did get justice faster than ordinary individuals who sometimes had to wait for 15 years and more for matters to be resolved in a consumer court.

It is especially important that a consumer redressal system be made accessible and easier for every consumer. The country still has to get what one calls a consumer rights awareness index. Surveys have shown that in ‘progressive’ Maharashtra, only a minuscule percentage of disgruntled consumers file complaints. The common belief is that it is a waste of time and money to file complaints, as it is an unequal battle of individual vs. organisation.

More awareness is key to this issue. First of all, people do not know when and where and how to complaint. The message that you can get a response and your due, must also be reinforced through highlighting successful consumer cases. Much more needs to be done with reference to helplines, and immediate recourse to measures, to give credence to the phrase: ‘consumer is king’. Otherwise, that is simply a sweet sounding cliché, with little basis in reality.

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