Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Consumer Rights

Sajjad tells aam aadmi to demand what they deserve rightfully

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 45, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Stand up and Fight …..
….... for Your Rights as Enlightened Consumer

I belong to the services sector. I have been taught that customer is the king. But when I look at the scenario in my own state, I find that customer is not the king here. He is, most of the times, at the receiving end. Element of mistrust looms large in the market, as unfair trade practices continue unabated. It is usually found that the prices of consumer goods traded in the markets here are settled arbitrarily by the seller with the wholehearted support of manufacturers. And that too well under the nose of authorities.

Ours is a place where within one city, different products have different rates. It becomes very difficult for consumers to check whether retailers are actually charging the right amount of local taxes on the products they sell or they are overcharging. This has led to a situation where the confusion in respect of price of the goods is natural for the consumer. Amid this confusion, the traders and manufacturers gain huge profit. The trader in league with the manufacturers of products most of the times arbitrarily fix the price and the consumers are forced to purchase goods at higher costs.

Let me quote a simple example of cold drinks, particularly the branded ones. Don’t be surprised if you find different prices of a single brand in the same market. Just ask a simple question to yourself. How many times have you paid more than the maximum retail price (MRP) mentioned on the bottle while buying a cold drink or packaged water? If a medium size bottled drink is pegged at MRP of Rs.20, the retailer won’t hesitate to charge you Rs 5 extra. The oft-used excuse by the retailer is that he’s charging extra for cooling the product. Unfortunately, it is such a widely followed practice in Kashmir that most of us don’t even bother to negotiate. We as a consumer also turn a blind eye to the fact that trader or retailer cannot legally charge over maximum retail price under any pretext.

Charging over MRP even in branded bottled drinks pinches a common consumer but he is helpless to counter the retailers’ profiteering practices. Even as manufacturing companies have consumer grievance cells in place to resolve such issues, they have proved toothless tigers. No manufacturer would like to see a reduction in sales by annoying a retailer. They turn blind eye to the malpractice and don’t take any action even when a consumer complaints.

Now a simple look at markets at airports. There is practice of selling the goods at higher rates - even two times more than the maximum retail price. Simple example is bottled water. Nobody cares when it is sold at a cost twice than the MRP. If one tries to show resistance against the overcharging, he is denied the product and a notion is given to the consumer that goods at airport cost more than the normal rate.

Is it true? Nobody has a credible answer. But the practice of overcharging of goods continues well under the nose of authorities at places like airports.

If there is any legal practice to sell goods at higher rates at airport, then the packaged bottle should have mentioned that it is to be sold at airport and the double cost which is charged from the consumer should have been mentioned on the bottle. But it is not so. So if bottles meant for mass market are sold at airport at a higher price, it is simply a breach of law.

Take the case of restaurants. They charge more for cold drinks and bottled water. Hardly anybody shows resistance and most of the consumers pay gladly. Is this overcharging justified? No, provided the restaurants serve the packaged water or bottled cold drink in their own crockery. In this case they are offering a service in addition to the product.

Sometimes it also happens that the manufacturer increases the price of a product and sells old stocks/products on new price rates. But this new price does not apply to the stock already with the retailer. And this is where retailers try to make a quick buck by trying to sell the old stock at the new revised rate. So this is simply an unfair trade practice.

There are numerous instances about the goods sold a much higher price. If you as a consumer want to set the overcharging trader or retailer right, you have help at hand. Instead of being a dumb driven consumer, you can take consumer court route.

You never know when can a problem surface. When it does, consumer protection laws are on your side. These laws are designed to protect the consumer from deceptive and unfair practices. It is of utmost importance that consumers are made aware about the consumer protections laws so that they can use them to their advantage.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is considered as a remarkable piece of legislation for its focus and clear objective, the minimal technical and legalistic procedures, providing access to redressal systems and the composition of courts with a majority of non-legal background members. The Act establishes a hierarchy of courts, with at least one District Forum at the district level, a State Commission at the State capitals and the National Commission at New Delhi. However, goods obtained for commercial purposes or for resale are not covered under the Act.

Here a consumer can file a complaint in Divisional Forum for claims up to Rs. 5lacs and for reliefs of over and above Rs. 5lacs are to be filed before State Commissions. Notably, we don’t have district forums in J&K unlike in other states.

The Act has primarily been enacted to dispose of the consumer complaints promptly in summary trial. It provides for disposal of complaints within minimum period of one year. Once a complaint is filed against the opposite party, the opposite party is required to file written version within a period of 30 days failing which the Forum / Commission may pass orders against the opposite party. However, the time for filing written version can be extended by a further period of 15 days but at the sole discretion of the President of the Forum / Commission.

Meanwhile, consumers should know the difference between the maximum retail price and actual price of the goods. The maximum retail price is inclusive of all taxes and a retailer can sell at a price below the MRP. In fact consumers should always look for retailers who sell below the MRP because the MRP is the maximum retail price allowed for that commodity and not the actual price and a retailer can well reduce his margin built into the MRP. They should not forget to obtain proper receipt/cash memo. They should always obtain the guarantee/warranty card duly stamped and signed by the shopkeeper, wherever necessary. These can be helpful in consumer courts.

To sum up Consumer protection movement is much needed in Kashmir, if the government is serious in curbing the unabated unfair trade practices

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