The exchange of goods and services makes one person the seller and the other a buyer or consumer. Now, when we talk about the rural consumers which actually constitutes to 70 percent of India’s population and which actually accounts for more than half of the consumption of India. There arises a question. Are these rural consumers safe from exploitation or cheat? Do they actually have the idea that there exists an act named The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 which enables to solve the grievances of the consumers through a speedy redressal? And even if they know about it, do they actually avail the rights when required?
Talking in the context of today’s era it is clear to us that the buying preference of the rural consumer is changing at a greater pace. As per the facts, it has been derived that the monthly per capita spending among rural consumers has increased by 17% between FY10 and FY12, higher than the 12% rise among urban consumers. Hence, the disposable incomes also hiked up and fuelled aspirations and that resulted in a change in buying preference. It was also seen that the spending on non-food items rose from 40% of total spend in FY 2005 to more than 50% in FY2012.
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In terms of economic output; rural India accounts for 48 percent of the country’s economy and the rural markets have the potential to reach $500 billion by 2020. The transformation of Indian economy into a vibrant growing consumer market. Research reports of National Commission for Applied Economics Research have revealed that the rural growth rates have already outpaced urban ones and will continue to do so through the next decade. Out of 62.97 million households of India that are getting more than 5 lakh per annum, nearly 28.68 million household live in rural India. Hence with such a large consumer base, rural consumers must be aware of their rights and protection.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 seeks to provide better protection of the interests of the consumers. A complaint can be filed on a plain paper in any consumer court. It should contain the name description and address of the complainant and the opposite party. The act also talks about a term “Caveat Emptor” which is a Latin word for Buyer Beware which means that the buyer is responsible for the safety of goods purchased by him or her. The Act mandates establishment of Consumer Protection Councils at Centre, State, and District. There are also separate Consumer District Redressal Forums being set up to address the grievances. The basic problem is Laws and Acts also exists but the functioning of it depends upon the consumer awareness.
‘Jago Grahak Jago’ was a campaign led by the Government of India. It has been an important medium to communicate with the consumers. It is very important to understand the fear, hopes, and aspirations of rural consumers. A channel for farmers, DD Kisan which would provide all necessary information about farming was also launched. But the other side of this is unnoticed, the fact that rural India still suffers from frequent power cuts. Is only launching a programme on a channel enough for the consumer? It is not! The government contribution towards consumer awareness also includes two programmes namely, National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) which was launched in 2014 and Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Sakshatra Abhiyan (PMGDISHA). NDLM had the objective of making one person from every family digitally literate and as per the website of NDLM had achieved the target with the help of the partners associated with it like NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies), Intel and HP. Whereas, PMGDISHA aims to provide digital literacy in rural India by March 2019. And to ensure the equitable geographical reach; every Gram Panchayat of the country was expected to register an average of 200-300 candidates. But again the fact is unnoticed that availing digital literacy is not enough until and unless these digital literates have proper access to the Internet. This is one of the major loopholes of all such programmes.
Panchayati Raj Institutions plays a major role. It can not only educate the consumers but can also have a check on the fake products being sold in rural areas. By encouraging housewives and girls to read and at least understand the logos (AGMARK, ISI) can help them from being less cheated. Because in India there still exists a good number of people who are not aware of their rights and the redressal mechanisms. These small little things will help us in creating a more healthy and aware rural economy of India. Rural India has been targeted by the International giants and they understand that Rural India gives great market opportunity. And as the disposable income of the masses are rising more and more corporate houses are entering, the chance of being more and more exploited and cheated are increasing. It is high time for educating the rural consumers and this can be possible by removal of the loopholes that still exist in Government Programmes.
Singh,R. (2017,December). Educating Rural Consumer. Yojana ,Vol.61, 51-57. ISBN 09718400
Verma,D.P.S. (2017,December). Consumer Protection in India. Yojana, Vol.61, 13-17. ISBN 09718400
Author is a Development Professional