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People must complain against misleading weight-loss schemes

They continue to fool consumers into believing that by consuming those mysterious ‘capsules’ or ‘special chais’ or’ herbal potions’ or using some gadgets of dubious value, they can shed that extra fat without moving an inch.

columns Updated: Aug 12, 2017 20:51 IST
They continue to fool consumers into believing that by consuming those mysterious ‘capsules’ or ‘special chais’ or’ herbal potions’ or using some gadgets of dubious value, they can shed that extra fat without moving an inch.
They continue to fool consumers into believing that by consuming those mysterious ‘capsules’ or ‘special chais’ or’ herbal potions’ or using some gadgets of dubious value, they can shed that extra fat without moving an inch.

If one was to analyse all those unsolicited short messages that come on the mobile, those promising to help you reduce your weight without sweat, will probably constitute the largest number. In fact such promotions have become ubiquitous. You see them on telemarketing channels, on the back of auto-rickshaws, on small placards strapped to trees and electric poles, on large hoardings, well, they are everywhere. And they continue to fool consumers into believing that by consuming those mysterious ‘capsules’ or ‘special chais’ or’ herbal potions’ or using some gadgets of dubious value, they can shed that extra fat without moving an inch.

If you look at websites that publish consumer complaints, you will notice a large number of consumer grievances pertaining to these weight-loss schemes, where consumers are complaining about the adverse effects suffered by them from the consumption of the so-called herbal or other slimming potions or capsules. Some of them have also experienced weight gain following their consumption. But unfortunately, all of them just vent their frustration and anger and warn others about those companies, but do not take their complaint to its logical conclusion. So long as this is not done, such advertisements will continue to spin a web of falsehood and deceit.

In fact way back in 2006, in response to one such complaint, the apex consumer court expressed concern over such unfair trade practices and said they need to be curbed. In this case, the complaint was that the promise of weight loss without dieting made in the advertisement was a hoax.

The Bangalore District Consumer Forum had directed refund of the amount paid (Rs 10,500) and had awarded a compensation of Rs 25,000. This was upheld by the consumer courts at the state and later, the national level. While doing so, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission had commented that “Such tempting advertisements, giving misleading statements with regard to the alleged treatment, are increasing day-by-day and are required to be controlled so that persons may not be lured to pay large amount to such bodies in the hope that they can reduce their weight by undergoing the so-called treatment”. It had also observed that the compensation awarded was on the lower side. (Smt Divya Sood vs Ms Gurdeep Kaur Buhi, RP No 3467 of 2006, decided on November 27, 2006)

Today, the consumer courts take a more stringent view of such unfair practices, yet, most consumers do not file complaints. In fact, the consumer courts can also award steep punitive damages and in addition, ask the advertiser to issue corrective advertisements, rectifying the erroneous impression created by the earlier advertisement. This, I do believe, can be a strong deterrent for companies indulging in such unfair trade practices and eventually put stop to such advertisements. But for that to happen, consumers should be encouraged to file complaints before the consumer courts.

And this is where the union ministry of consumer affairs has to step in and enforce the consumer’s right to be protected against all unfair trade practices, including misleading advertisements.

Yes, the ministry has set up a portal (Grievance Against Misleading Advertisements: gama.gov.in) for registering complaints against such advertisements and prompting withdrawal of advertisements found to be false or misleading. But that is not enough. It must help the victims seek redress through the consumer courts or file complaints on their behalf. After all, this was what was being done under the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, till the MRTP Commission was dissolved to make way for the Competition Commission.

And today, the consumer affairs ministry has the responsibility of protecting consumer interest, at least till the independent regulator envisaged under the new consumer protection bill becomes a reality.