The number of consumer complaints with the Consumer Affairs Ministry has doubled in 2022 from 2021, said Nidhi Khare, Chief Commissioner, CCPA (Central Consumer Protection Authority).
“Earlier the ministry used to get only 50,000 complaints a month, but now there’s an improvement on that front as it has begun clocking in more than 90,000 complaints per month, today,” commented Khare.
In an exclusive interview with BestMediaInfo.com, Khare said that the ministry is now aiming to raise the number of complaints received by at least 10 times - which means the ministry is looking to clock in at least 5,00,000 complaints per month.
“We are now aiming to raise the number of complaints received by at least 10 times which means we are looking to clock in at least 5,00,000 complaints per month. It is on our target list for 2023 and we will try to accomplish it as soon as possible. We are using technology and are also trying to address the issue of call drops, etc.,” stated Khare.
When asked whether all the actions that the ministry had taken in 2022, be it in terms of the guidelines for gaming, education or even the generic misleading ad guidelines, have germinated from the consumer complaints, Khare stated that one of the activities of the CCPA is to come out with guidelines on issues which are causing great difficulty to the consumers, hence the ministry came out with these safety notices so that consumer can be aware of certain practices.
Earlier in 2022, the ministry had also rolled out the guidelines for misleading ads, thus when questioned as to how brands, especially in the tobacco and alco-bev category, have responded to the new guidelines, Khare replied that in the absence of these guidelines, there was nothing to guide the marketers.
But in lieu of the new guidelines, the ‘petty violations’ or ‘non-adherence’ have reduced as the industry has also understood that there are ‘red flags’.
“The most important thing is that one has to honestly and truthfully disclose what is needed. Secondly, one has to also ensure that nothing, which is crucial for public knowledge, is hidden and no lofty promises are made in the name of puffery. One has to respect the consumers’ right to be safe, right to know and moreover, their right to seek redressal for grievances,” Khare said.
Upon being asked which are some of the categories which see heavy violations of the guidelines rolled out, Khare replied that the ministry sees the most amount of disobedience from cosmetics, followed by the education sector - including ed-tech.
Additionally, she also stated that in cases where marketers continue to make such violations and take the guidelines for a toss, there is a law now and that the ministry has already taken action against many of these violations under misleading advertisements, wherein marketers have deposited a penalty.
“The ministry has issued notices to nearly 50 brands so far and many of them have consented to carry out either a modified advertisement or have withdrawn the advertisement altogether. Some of them were even penalised and had to pay a penalty including Naaptol, Sensodyne, Sure Vision Glass, etc.,” Khare pointed out.
She went on to emphasise that the industry has been very welcoming to all the guidelines rolled out by the ministry and that they have started understanding that this guidance is for their own good.
CCPA’s Khare pointed out that the ministry is further looking to improve the reception of consumer complaints.
Khare said, “The ministry is looking at ensuring that individual consumers get their grievances redressed in a relatively quick fashion and is therefore strengthening the pre-litigation stage of ‘grievance redressal’.”
Khare also ascertained that the resolution of consumer complaints is also being closely monitored by the ministry, hence more than 90% of complaints get resolved and only 10% of the remaining cases account for an unsatisfied consumer.
“Many times the consumer also wants to punish the seller and is not interested in getting the refund or the reimbursement solely. In such cases, the consumers are requested to file their complaints before the Consumer Commission through eDakhil or the e-filing method,” she said.
With all such moves, the ministry has made it easier and more comfortable for the consumers to move from one medium to another during pre-litigation and also for litigation purposes, Khare highlighted.
As a result of all these actions, there has been an increase in traffic as more and more people are filing complaints which is an indicator that more people have started trusting the system for quick redressal.
She also stated that once a consumer has approached the company's or the manufacturer's consumer helpline, the individual can come to the National Consumer Helpline, which is a toll-free number and is available on all mediums if they are not satisfied with the company’s consumer helpline.
“Once the consumer registers his/her complaint at the NCH, the grievance needs to escalate. It is a quick, speedy and very inexpensive way of redressing the day-to-day grievances of the consumers and through this, we can not only reduce the burden on the Consumer Commission for litigation but can address the grievances of the consumer at the pre-litigation stage in a more effective manner,” she added.
Furthermore, Khare also went on to state that on the litigation side, the ministry is also planning to institutionalise a mechanism on a monthly basis wherein consumers can voluntarily come for settlement for their complaints in the aftermath of the grand success of National Lok Adalat.
“Under this, every District Consumer Commission and every State Consumer Commission will assign a certain time every month and try to see which all cases are there for or have an element of mutual settlement. After identifying these cases, they will counsel both parties and bring them to the court for a mediation settlement. In this way, we’ll also be able to reduce the long pendency of cases in the Consumer Commission,” she added.
She also stated that in terms of the class action matters, the ministry’s efforts would be to search for similar issues which emanate from the consumer complaints that get registered on NCH to determine whether there are any class-action matters involved.
Additionally, Khare also pointed out that she still feels that very few people actually approach NCH for registering their complaints, hence the ministry is looking to bring together all the repeated yet consistent complaints of one nature against certain service providers or sellers of a particular good and determine whether these issues involve masses.
“Many times the consumers may not even realise that they are being cheated or kept in the dark through misleading campaigns and advertisements,” she said.
“Once people are aware that there is such a helpline which is available 24x7, we will be able to see and resolve more complaints on a daily basis. As of now, due to word of mouth, the credibility of NCF has improved. The ministry has also seen an increase in the footfall due to eased out process of writing, approaching or accessing the helpline for consumer complaints,” she added.