Statement by Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, Hon’ble Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution during the opening plenary session of the 3rd Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy

Statement by Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, Hon’ble Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution during the opening plenary session of the 3rd Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy

[Geneva: 9th July, 2018]

Respected Chair,

Excellencies, learned delegates,

Ladies & Gentlemen,

  1. On behalf of the Government of India and myself, I extend my warm welcome to all of you who have come here from different countries. It is a pleasure to share with you the measures taken by us in the interests of consumers for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  2. Sustainable Development is the need of the present time not only for the survival of mankind but also for its future protection. Unlike the other great revolutions in human history the Green Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, the ‘sustainable revolution’ will have to take place rapidly, consciously and on many different levels and in many different spheres, simulta­neously.
  3. As you all know, Sustainable Development cannot be achieved unilaterally by any one country. We are all interlinked in one way or other. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have brought a realization in all of us that, if a significant economic or social group is left behind, our development can never be sustainable.
  4. The 2030 Agenda, therefore, includes a commitment to leave no one behind. This essentially means we need to work together to find solutions that are sustainable and durable, and that recognize our interdependence.
  5. Friends,
  6. Under the visionary leadership of Shri Narendra Modi, Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, India has continued its programme of economic reforms to achieve sustained rapid growth. The reforms have included fiscal consolidation, inflation targeting, all around improved governance, financial inclusion, accelerated infrastructure development, curbing of corruption and black money. We have enacted supporting legislations like Aadhaar Act, Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act, further liberalization of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and much more. The result has been that, today, India is the fastest growing large economy in the world. It grew 7.9 per cent during fiscal year 2015-16 and 7.1 per cent during 2016-17. Growth has brought increased volume of revenues, which have permitted the Government to sustain a high-level of social spending that directly targets poverty.
  7. India has taken tangible steps to fully implement the SDGs and mainstream the 2030 Agenda in its national programmes. During the SDGs negotiation process itself, India had played a significant role in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, it is no surprise that the country’s national development goals are reflected in the SDGs.
  8. The Prime Minister of India, is himself overseeing the implementation of SDGs through the premier policy think tank of the Government, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog).
  9. National Institution for Transforming India has mapped the goals and targets to various nodal ministries as well as flagship programmes. State Governments are also engaged in developing roadmaps for achieving the SDGs with several of them having already published their plans. Draft indicators for tracking the SDGs have been developed and placed in the public domain by the Government for wider consultation.
  10. Ladies and Gentlemen,
  11. Since Independence, we have pursued the dream of eliminating poverty from India. We have chosen the path of removing poverty by empowering the poor. Our attack on poverty today includes not only expanded conventional schemes of development, but we have also launched a new era of inclusion and empowerment, turning distant dreams into immediate opportunities.
  12. The primary policy objective of our Government is to ensure food security for the country through timely and efficient procurement and distribution of food grains. Government of India has guaranteed entitlement of food grains though exclusive legislation, the National Food Security Act. 2013. It involves procurement of various food grains from the farmers, building up storage and maintenance of food stocks, movement and delivery to the State agencies. The food grains are finally distributed to around 0.8 billion beneficiaries through the public distribution system, perhaps world’s largest welfare program.
  13. The focus is on incentivizing farmers by remunerating them with fair value for their produce by way of Minimum Support Price mechanism, distribution of food grains to Priority House Hold (PHH) families and covering poor households at the risk-of-hunger.
  14. We are implementing an “End-to-End Computerisation of Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) Operations” enabling correct identification of beneficiaries; removal of duplicate/fake ration cards and better targeting of food subsidies, transparency in allocation of food grains, up to Fair Price Shops level, check leakages/diversion, and timely availability of food grains to intended beneficiaries.
  15. Government of India has also set up the “Price Stabilization Fund” (PSF), for the first time in 2014-15, with the objective of protecting consumers from excessive price volatility in agri-horticultural commodities like onion, potatoes and pulses. The PSF has a total corpus fund which now stands at Rs.12610 crore. This fund is used for procurement of agri-hoticultural commodities to enable supply at reasonable prices through calibrated release of stock. In so doing, it also seeks to benefit farmers by promoting direct purchase of these commodities at the farm gate and Agriculture Markets.
  16. An effective protection of a consumer through law and policy entails the bestowing and protection of justiciable consumer rights. This is particularly relevant in the context of the more vulnerable digital and e-commerce consumer. Consumers in India have been guaranteed rights by an Act of Parliament, namely:
    • Right to Safety;
    • Right to be informed;
    • Right to choose;
    • Right to be heard;
    • Right to seek redressal; &
    • Right to consumer education.
  17. We are now in the thick of enacting a new Consumer Protection Act replacing the 32 year old Consumer Protection Act, 1986 aligning it with the current realities. The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 was introduced in the Parliament on 5th January, 2018. The Bill provides for setting up of an executive agency to be called Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), which will look into Unfair Trade Practices, Misleading Advertisements etc., provision for ‘mediation’ as an alternate disputes resolution mechanism to facilitate quick disposal of consumer disputes, provision for product liability action arising out of injury to a consumer from a defective product, provisions for preventing unfair trade practices in e-commerce and direct selling and several provisions relating to simplification of the adjudication process in the Consumer Fora.
  18. We have set up a Consumer Grievance Redressal Mechanism, the National Consumer Helpline which has country wide reach and consumers from any part of the country can access it through toll free calls, SMS, web chat or online .
  19. To ensure speedy disposal of grievances, the National Consumer Helpline, has partnered with more than 400 companies including major e-commerce, product and service companies (as convergence partners) whereby complaints received are forwarded online to them for timely resolution and monitored by the helpline.
  20. India is a country of 1.25 Billion people and with huge diversity, the levels of awareness of consumer rights varies in different regions and different strata of the society. Protecting and promoting the welfare of consumers thus presents unique challenges. The consuming class in India is steadily growing. In addition, over 65 percent of Indians are under the age of 35 years - the age of maximum consumption. The negative impact of consumption on the environment and climate is also likely to grow. It is, therefore, of great importance that growth of the economy is supported by measures that enable consumers to make not only informed but environmentally and socially responsible purchasing decisions.
  21. The Government has been carrying out a country wide multi-media awareness campaign, namely “Jago Grahak Jago” (wake up Consumers) that has become a house hold name.
  22. Government has issued guidelines for regulating direct selling and is in the process of issuing rules for e-commerce also. These are guiding principles to strengthen the regulatory mechanism on Direct Selling Companies and e-commerce for allowing legitimate business to continue, preventing frauds and protecting the legitimate rights and interests of consumers.
  23. The Packaged Commodities Rules were amended in September, 2016 to harmonize the provisions of the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules and the Essential Commodities Act for quantity and Retail Sale Price. This was done to ensure that essential commodities for which Government fixes a retail sale price are sold at the same price in their packaged form also. We have further amended the rules so that goods displayed by the seller on e-commerce platform shall contain mandatory declarations to safeguard the interest of consumers.
  24. We have enacted a new Bureau of Indian standards (BIS) Act 2016, establishing the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) as the National Standards Body of India. The new Act contains provisions for including goods, services and systems, besides articles and processes for the purpose of standardization.
  25. It has enabling provisions for compulsory Certification of any goods or article or service which is considered necessary in the public interest or for the protection of health, safety of the environment, or prevention of unfair trade practices, or national security.
  26. Excellencies,
  27. Greater access to financial services has been recognised as a key enabler for achieving many aspects of Sustainable Development. This, in effect, means that formal financial services are readily available to consumers and that they are actively and effectively using these services to meet their specific needs. We have created new bank accounts for over 180 million people under financial inclusion programme; direct transfer of benefits; funds to the unbanked; insurance within the reach of all; and, pension for everyone's sunset years.
  28. Food inflation adversely affects all and in particular the vulnerable sections of the society. We have tackled this problem very efficiently. In the last four years we have sustained only a single digit inflation. Government has been able to contain prices of food articles during the period 2014 to 2018 and prices have remained by-and-large under check, and despite the rise in crude prices recently, inflation is within an acceptable range.
  29. Consumer price index-linked (CPI) inflation declined sharply between fiscals 2015 and 2018, averaging 4.7% – more than half down from 10.2% in the preceding five years.
  30. India has launched a uniform Goods & Services Tax (GST) regime across the country making the tax regime most transparent. Prime Minister of India has described this as “Our aim is economical and educational empowerment of the poor. GST can help us achieve this aim, and it is great step towards transformation, great step towards transparency”. GST will also help in strengthening our core systems and will protect the consumers of any indiscriminate tax policy in our federal structure.
  31. The emergence of global supply chains, lowering of trade barriers, rise in international trade and the rapid development of e-commerce have enhanced the vulnerability to new forms of unfair trade and unethical business practices.
  32. With globalization, the e-commerce has penetrated the Indian markets. E-Commerce is India’s fastest growing and most exciting channel for commercial transactions. Indian e-commerce is growing at an annual rate of 51%, the highest in the world, and is expected to jump from $30 billion in 2016 to $120 billion by 2020. Laws regulating e-Commerce in India are still evolving. We are in the process of customizing the virtual world especially of the rural consumers who are the major target group for future. The launch of a Unified Payments Interface (UPI) by the Reserve Bank of India has been a game changer. The UPI has enabled e-commerce delivery staff to collect money electronically for even cash on delivery transactions.
  33. A revitalized global partnership is crucial for the achievement of the SDGs. India is committed to taking measurable actions for implementing the SDG agenda.
  34. The 2030 Agenda is our shared key to hope and opportunities. By working together, we can prove to the world, to the new generation, that the 2030 Agenda of SDGs are a solemn promise to its people. Let me conclude quoting the Prime Minister of India
  35. There is no cause greater than shaping a world in which every life that enters it can look to a future of security, opportunity and dignity; and, where we leave our environment in better shape for the next generation. And, no cause that is more challenging.”
  36. Thank you for your generous invitation, and I greatly look forward to the discussions.

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