By Sanya Darakhshan Kishwar, Central University of Bihar, Gaya.
A consumer is one who makes the flow of business smooth if he is satisfied to the fullest, but if a consumer has grievances, it is the duty of the government to look after the same. Lately the Modi Government has been striving hard to work for the betterment of the consumers and make them the stronger party. With the existing laws, the consumer is no less than a puppet in the hands of the manufacturer. Let us analyse how.
Mr. A buys a packet of chips from XYZ Kirana Store. When he opens the packet, he finds the chips to be stale. Can Mr. A bring a suit of action against the shopkeeper or file a complaint against the manufacturing unit for providing under-quality goods?
These questions find an answer in the provisions of The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 which has been amended in 2002 and the latest buzz about it in the Consumer Affairs Department is the Consumer Protection Amendment Bill, 2011.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986
The objectives of the act are as under:
i) Right to be protected against the marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property.
ii) Right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices.
iii) Right to be assured , wherever possible , access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices
iv) Right to be heard and to be assured that consumers’ interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums
v) Right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices and unscrupulous exploitation of consumers
vi) Right to consumer education.
The definition of the term ‘consumer’ as per section 2(d) is very important to understand. He must be a person:
- “who buys any goods for a consideration which has been paid or promised, or partly paid and partly promised, or under a system of deferred payment.
- Hires any services for a consideration on the above conditions
Consumers have various rights:
i) Right to Safety
ii) Right to be Informed
iii) Right to Choose
iv) Right to be heard
v) Right to seek Redressal
vi) Right to Consumer Education
Under the Act, there is provision for Consumer protection council at central, state and district level.
The Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies have power:
i) To remove the defect,
ii) To replace the goods with new goods of similar description,
iii) To return the complainant the price,
iv) To pay compensation to the consumer for any loss or injury suffered,
v) To discontinue the unfair trade practices,
But the new government feels a need for amendment in the existing laws and has put some pressure on the Consumer Protection Amendment Bill, 2011. Lately PM Narendra Modi has been putting forward the slogan of “Make in India” which has now become an international marketing campaign to attract business from around the world to invest and manufacture in India. The campaign born on September 25, 2014 has been concentrated to fulfil purpose of ‘Job Creation’, ‘Boosting National Economy’, and ‘Converting India to Self Reliant Country’ as well as to give Indian economy a ‘Global Recognition’. The roots of any good business tree starts from good consumers. If the consumers are safe and satisfied and if there are no unfair trade practices, the Indian economy would automatically bloom.
The major problem discussed under the proposed bill is of the growing unfair trade practices. The amendments in the bill introduced in Lok Sabha on Dec 16, 2011 by Mr. K.V Thomas are broadly classified as:
i) Those which aim at widening the scope of the law by adding some new definitions and expanding the scope of some existing provisions; and
ii) Those which aim at structuring and strengthening the implementation machinery.
EXPANSION OF THE SCOPE OF THE TERM ‘UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICE’ BY THE PROPOSED 2011 AMENDMENT TO THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986
A key change that has been proposed is by the expansion of the term Unfair Trade Practices which can be broadly described as the use of various deceptive, fraudulent or unethical methods to obtain business. According to the Consumer Protection Act 1986, clause (r) of sub-section (1) of Section (2) listed 10 activities which would constitute an unfair trade practice but through the proposed amendment, the definition of unfair trade practice is to be expanded to include the unforeseen modus operandi of traders as offences. It will allow the law to not specify every unfair practice in the law.[[i]] This is a significant step towards safeguarding the consumers who are fleeced by the sellers through various contracts.
There are no sources in the current document or conditions which place them in “unequal bargaining capacity” or puts the seller in an unfair strong position.[[ii]] The 199th report of the Law Commission had suggested bringing about this change to bring the consumers on a stronger footing to challenge any unfair practice.[[iii]]
The need for this Amendment Bill came through the case of Akhil Bhartiya Upbhokta Congress v. Aggarwal Jewellers[[iv]]where the respondent-jeweller issued cash memo which stated that in case of return of any of the products, only 80% value of the price will be returned. This consumer raised an objection to this condition, but the State Commission could not disallow the respondent-jeweller from having such a condition as there was no law which restricted this. But according to the proposed amendment, if the trader refuses or restricts the right to return the good or stops the service within 30 days, he would be liable for carrying on an unfair trade practice. Therefore, a requirement to improve the protection granted to consumers against unfair trade practices is gauged herein, which may be achieved by providing a wider scope to the term as proposed by the amendment.
PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO CONSUMER LAWS-A BOOST TO PM MODI’S VISION ‘MAKE IN INDIA, MADE IN INDIA’
The recent amendments proposed talk about creation of National Consumer Protection Authority with the objective to protect Indian consumers from unfair trade practices. The authority will be given executive powers and will be able to take suo moto action as well as there will be a clear set of rules for recall, refund and return of products.
As per the proposed amendments, “class-action suits” as legal tool will be extended to consumer law so that one individual complaint of faulty product or service could be treated as an interest group of people in similar circumstances. At present, India has no such provision for mandatory mass recall of products.
Some of the comprehensive changes also include a product liability clause that will entitle any consumer to damages irrespective of a civil contract if a product has physical, mental, emotional inconvenience.
Non-advocates may also plead before the district consumer forums as per the proposed amendments and it is being thought of to get rid of the large number of cases pending in courts.
Other reforms include streamlining all 623 district consumer courts with uniform salaries and allowances and BIS to set up quality standards for paid services such as bus journeys hotel packages and beauty clinics.
VISION: MAKE IN INDIA, MADE IN INDIA
Expressing the importance of the quality of products and services in making India and export hub the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distributions emphatically referred to the PM Narendra Modi’s ‘Make In India and Made In India’ vision adding that in order to implement this in letter and spirit there is a need to follow best quality standard. Terming misleading advertisements as “dangerous”, he also informed that an inter-ministerial group has also been put in place to suggest remedial measure.[[v]]
On a conclusive note it can be said that the Consumer Protection Act and the Bill are designed so as to prevent any kind of trade that engage in unfair trade practices whether specified or not and more importantly provides for protection for the consumers who are subject to this trade. This amendment is a step towards the importance of recognition of the concept of unfair trade practice which shall not be neglected at any cost, especially with the Consumer Protection Act being the sole defining authority for it, where the term shall be given additional attention in its definition in order to protect all the requisite rights of consumers in order to avoid any ambiguities. For example, when we look into the right of return given to the consumers, we notice that this is only possible if the goods remain unused or if the service is continuous in nature. [[vi]]Whereas, in situations when the goods or services are used only once and are extinguished, there is no mention as to whether, on being unsatisfied, any facility or option for the money to be returned to the consumer is available. Even though there are still such questions which remain unanswered, we have to appreciate these changes being made in the Bill, as they bring to our attention the safeguards that need to be provided to the consumers against unfair trade practices.
[i] Sec c2 (1) (r) of Consumer Protection Act 1986
[ii]http://www.mondaq.com/india/x/278276/Consumer+Law/Expansion+Of+The+Scope+Of+The+Term+Unfair+Trade+Practice+By+The+Proposed+2011+Amendment+To+The+Consumer+Protection+Act+1986. Retrieved 27th December 2014
[iii] http://www.consumerlaw.in/consumerprotection- amendment-bill-2010/. Retrieved 27th December 2014
[v] http://ssrana.in/News/2014/38/Proposed_Amendments_to_Consumer_Laws-Boostt_to_PM_Modi_vision-Make_in_India,_Made_in_India.htm#India. Retrieved 27th December 2014
[vi]http://www.mondaq.com/india/x/278276/Consumer+Law/Expansion+Of+The+Scope+Of+The+Term+Unfair+Trade+Practice+By+The+Proposed+2011+Amendment+To+The+Consumer+Protection+Act+1986. Retrieved 27th December 2014