January 21, 2022

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Consumer empowerment : protection, rights, and obligations

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Image source: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/spend/heres-how-consumers-will-benefit-under-the-new-consumer-protection-act/articleshow/70711304.cms

This article is written by Dhruv Kumar from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies and the article is edited by Khushi Sharma (Trainee Associate, Blog iPleaders)

Table of Contents

The consumer is anyone who buys and consumes goods and services from the seller in exchange for the money available to him/her in the market or through natural resources. Consumer protection act, 1986, now repealed with Consumer Protection Act, 2019 which is more exhaustive, meticulous and reasonable in terms of providing justice to the consumer. This act has some essential and basic rights enshrined in it for the protection of the interests of the consumers. It was this act that gave legal authority to the social force which was introduced much earlier to safeguard the rights of the consumer. National Consumer Rights Day is observed on 24 December every year in India.  In the year 1985 United Nations Guidelines were adopted in the General Assembly related to consumer protection which was the base of the establishment of policies protecting the rights and interests of the consumer. Furthermore, the United Nations also laid down certain safety standards for the quality of products available to the consumer matching the quality criteria. 

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Consumer satisfaction is the paramount concern of the government when it comes to protecting the interests of consumers whilst ensuring the safety of goods and safeguarding their rights. Biased consumer agreement terms, consumer education, disputes of consumers, consumer atrocity, damaged and defective products, poor quality products and services, unfair market practices and fake labeling of price tags are areas where consumer protection comes into action.  Various acts were introduced with the passage of time for ensuring safe consumption that including the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, Drugs and Cosmetic Act, 1940 and Right to Information Act 2005. A consumer redressal agency has been created for maintaining the dignity and right to safety of consumers. Many developing countries including India emerged with the idea of consumer protection and rights in the early or mid-twentieth century ultimately resulting in the formation of sturdy consumer protection acts all around the globe. Right to information act has empowered the consumers as now they can seek information about the goods and services before buying the same. The consumer has the right to seek redressal in different consumer platforms. Consumer education has been a crucial aspect since consumers came across frauds that are beyond their imagination to make them responsible and intelligent buyers. Adopting food standards through Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO) and CODEX Alimentarius, are some agencies ensuring the enforcement of rights at the international level. With rights comes responsibilities and duties towards the society and environment and consumers should respect its very existence. Beginning from the introduction of consumer protection acts in India to its real implication and interpretations, this paper has attempted pondering, analyzing, exploring, and reviewing consumer protection, rights, behavior and responsibilities in the best manner possible.

In the year 2020, 20th July, a completely new act came into force namely the Consumer Protection Act. The old Consumer Protection Bill, 1986 was given a statutory recognition while in addition, it states “Consumer Is the King”. The 1986 bill underwent many amendments but the legislature felt that merely amendments were not fulfilling the interests of the consumer. It is then only, the new act was notified on 20th July 2020. Within the new act, several facets are found to be completely up to date which straightaway reflects the power of review by the consumer courts themselves and also by the consumers, appeal on point of law by either of the consumer or through the provision of public interest litigation, power to form and hold agreements and focuses on liability of the service and goods provider towards the market and consumers explicitly. 

It took about a whole two decades for this new law to come up in existence in the form of a statute. For the past 10 years, the story has remained the same as previous governments and the current government kept on trying for the finest possible improvements to develop the consumer law in the favor of consumers without doing injustice to the sellers or manufacturers. The earlier law of 1986 has served the country for 36 years with always a scope to practically develop the act and the provisions meeting the demands of public at large. Whenever there is a necessity and need of the hour for changing the consumer governance system, the law was amended and altered as per the circumstances of the society.

The growth of E-commerce, telemarketing, global supply chains, and various fresh services options has time and again enhanced the condition of consumers which are available to the consumer.

Currently, the consumers have a lot many options which help them in their personal as well as professional lives getting better which were not covered In The Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

The new act was presented before the Lok Sabha in the year 2018 and got passed by the same house of the parliament. Later on, the bill was somewhere stuck between the process and couldn’t be presented before the Rajya Sabha resulting in which the bill got dismissed ultimately. Finally, in the year 2019, the same bill again came into recognition and was passed by Lok Sabha on 30 July 2019 and later approved by the Rajya Sabha on 6 August 2019 followed by the assent of the former president ( Ram Nath Kovind) dated 9th august 2019. Afterward, on 15th July 2020, the rules were made and reviewed thoroughly stating that the law would be applicable in whole of the country from 20th July 2020.

There was an immediate need to formulate such law and introduce new and updated provisions concerning consumers of the country in the market economy because unfortunately law and rules were merely in existence before 2019 as the governing bodies can’t interpret laws fairly as some vital aspects were absent. Also, the act failed to put a splendid impact on the public and gain the trust of the common citizen, and also the governing body was unable to interpret the laws as the act lacked the major provisions and created ambiguity in the minds of the people.

The pecuniary jurisdiction of all the three commissions (district, state and national) earlier called forums, has elevated to Rs 10 crore and more monetary related cases. District commission would be dealing with the cases falling under the monetary value of 1 crore. The State commission would be handling the disputes falling under the monetary value of 1 crore to 10 crores. A national commission would be handling the cases concerning a monetary value of 10 crores and beyond that. For the very first time, all three commissions had the power to review. They can review their judgments. before the enactment of the new consumer protection act of 2020, what use to happen was that, if there is some error apparent on the face of record by the district forum then the dispute reaches the state forum consistently and constantly without having a review of the same decision by the same court to save time and energy of the judicial system at the state level. As if now, the error can be rectified by the decision-making bodies themselves through the process of reviewing their own passed verdict. 

In the new act, e-filing is allowed, which was missing in the old act. Similarly, the new chapter number five has been added very specifically i.e. mediation. Before approaching the court of law, both the parties will be called upon for resolving their dispute by adopting the methodology of mediation through a mediation lawyer or the mediator as commonly said. The introduction of mediation in the alternate dispute system has improved the decision-making functioning by using reduced monetary resources and court’s period together with saving the time and energy of both the concerned parties.

More than half of the suits and plaints are preferred and suggested initially to be resolved in the mediation structure of the dispute resolution mechanism as many parties also feel and prefer the method which is feasible and inherent quick matter disposition in itself instead of spending more time, investing more money and energy and taking the dispute inside the court where the guaranteed fair justice is absent and also becomes a long term deal. The mediation process is equally beneficial for the complainant and the respondents as it supports or favours neither of the sides and opt for fair and just means of dispute resolution by engaging in a peaceful negotiated discussion.

The limitation period of filing the plaint remains the same in both the acts (Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and Consumer Protection Act 2019). A 2 years limitation period is prescribed as in the law till date which has never been altered or changed. Additionally, Section 69 has been added in the new act stating the provisions of “condonation of delay”. Specifically, an application for the condonation of delay can be filed by the party who got delayed in presenting the case or at any time during the court proceedings. The delayed attorney or party can therefore file an application of condonation of delay in adherence to Section 69. The aforementioned application would only succeed in acceptance if the party who got delayed provides proper, mindful and reasonable justification for the same and depends on the court whether to agree to that explanation of the party or to reject the application. 

In the 1986 consumer protection act, administrative control was not in the hands of these consumer forums at all levels. District forums were controlled and regulated by the state forums/authority; likewise, state forums were under the direct supervision control of the national forums authoritative body.

The currently followed act (Consumer Protection Act 2019) has a definition of recall mentioned in it with a specific provision that embraces its importance in the present scenario. Product recall provision was absent in the previous act as the need for recalling and reviewing the product was felt later because of the emerging cases related to the defective and hazardous products selling and manufacturing in the open market without anybody having any check on the quality of the same before it enters into the retail or wholesale marketplace for the consumption purpose and not further selling or transporting the product. But as of now, the product can be recalled in part or complete means, the corollary being that the product can be well examined even if it has passed the manufacturing stage or has reached the market. Rather certain landmark judgments of the national commission can be well traced from the past in this regard. Maggie noodle ban case emerged in the year 2015 where the Nestle company went against the decision of the court imposing a fine of Rs. 20 lakh fine on the company for producing and selling harmful products in the market. This event was followed by the Nestle company filing the appeal in the court and challenging the courts’ order and denying the allegation framed and put on the company which seemed to be disrespectful and defamatory. Here in this case also the product was recalled by the court for absolute inspection. The Maggie noodle crisis proved to be a very significant and groundbreaking case with regards to consumer safety and security where it was observed by the court that there were some much-needed provisions, which were lacking in the older act and must be added imminently. Leading light judgments did clarify the need for provision of recalling due to which it was adopted later on and was permanently codified in the new consumer protection act.

The improved act very strictly deals with the people engaging in the business of hazardous substances. Any item, may or may not be a food product if found hazardous for consumption will be banned and suspended until the national commission pronounces its judgment on the associated matter. Provision of imposing a fine up to Rs 10 lakh has been stated very clearly in the act whoever supplies or produces such dangerous products. There was no penal provision of criminal punishment in the earlier Act which is now found in the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 in the form of jail.

Merely defining and describing consumer rights won’t be enough in the new act, but it also needs to be protected for an upswing. The deficiency has widened the definition of consumer rights. Act of negligence and omission committed by such a seller who causes loss or injury to the consumer was not mentioned in the previous consumer law in India but an in-depth interpretation of the same provisions concerning negligence and omission committed by the seller or party as the case may be has been inserted in the whole new statute later on.

Class action suits arose as a method for beating the difficulties forced on an enormous number of offended parties in a court and to restrict preliminary assortment. However class action suits are prevalently accepted to be an element of the American overall set of laws, they initially arose in England in the thirteenth century under the moniker bunch lawsuit. The class-action suit, in India, was presented in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 through the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 1993, which embedded explicit arrangements for starting a case in front of consumer forums by expanding the meaning of complainant under the 1986 Act and embedding Section 2(1) (b) (iv) which expressed at least one consumer, where various buyers are having a similar interest. 

By the expansion of Section 13(6) in the act, the correction additionally required the execution of the terms of Order I Rule 8 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 in procedures stated before the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, subsequently, commanding the technique gave in the Civil Procedure Code to be embraced in instances of class action customer suits. With the coming of rules for bringing class-action suits, the enactment overseeing the training and methodology of class action cases progressed and developed with time.

By virtue of various consumer national commission judgments passed against the builders, class action suit has been introduced and given a prominent spot in the law and the term ‘class action suit’ was held lawful and valid by the court which would be considered a legal and fair suit. 

False and misleading advertisements are a threat to society as well as the advertisers themselves as they fall under the category of offence. The advertisers and the parties related to the product advertisement would be liable for such type of an advertisement where the product is found to be harmful for societal utilization. Moreover, the celebrities also have to be extremely cautious while signing for any product advertisement as they are the promoters of such unwelcomed and nasty products and they should be aware of the consequences as they are the influencers and role models of many people out there. They may also suffer along with the brand or product companies as they contributed fairly in reaching the product in the market and eventually to the houses of people for personal or general consumption.

A new watchdog has been created for the interests of the consumer namely Central Consumer Protection Authority and State Consumer Protection Authority, working at national and state levels with the essence of federalism. These authoritative bodies have their investigating wing which will investigate either suo moto or on the complaint. Certainly, there is a huge challenge in front of these authorities as they have to time and again prove their ambit of functioning as they are questioned many times about the jurisdiction they enjoy and has legal implications to that effect.

Protection of consumer rights through judicial and extra judicial mechanism in India

The main impetus of providing low court access to justice to the consumer was not taking place previously. That is the reason why the concept of Video Conferencing has been introduced and this option is now available to a consumer who can raise their concern individually without taking help from the solicitor who will file and fight the case on his behalf that too by charging money for the same. There was an enormous amount of delay in the disposal of cases when 1986 was in force. The adjournment that was sought with too many was not conceived at the time of formation of the 1986 Act. Not only at the lower stages referred to as the district courts, but it also happened at all stages and platforms. This became the reason which spurred the government to come out of such kind of legislation on account of which both the houses ( Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) applauded the insertion of the provision related to mediation. Hopefully, the variation will take care of the large pendency of cases that occurred during and before the Consumer Protection Act 1986.

The consumer protection act, 1986 had this aura and their orders needed to be executed in their actual sense. It was truthless to ensure its execution. As of now, the execution of provisions has been ensured by the consumer protection authority,  huge powers they have in their hands like getting down, withdrawing articles on the complaint and even Suo Moto. Nowadays consumer calls are no more deceptive in ensuring everything they see and do is implemented. Consumers need not wait for the action to transpire; rather at present executive action can be taken by the concerned authority. The current Act is extremely strong and robust to provide consumers with the kind of safeguards they require to survive and to have the best of services and goods that they have been utilizing in this growing economy with the goal of sustainable development in their minds. 

Product liability

In the developing marketplace, three other aspects were missing in the previous act. Product liability is one of them that didn’t exist earlier so maximum product manufacturers were not bothered about the quality and ingredients used in the making of goods. But the scenario has changed and now the product manufacturer needs to be bothered at the same frequency as the consumer because they need to give a detailed report of the manufacturing process and the techniques used for making up the products to the consumer redressal forum at the time of proceedings in the court of law.

Unfair trade practices

The second aspect is unfair trade practices. Merriam Webster characterizes a Surrogate as a ‘substitute’. What’s more, surrogate advertisements are only that. Substitute notice can be characterized as an ad that copies the brand picture of one item to advance one more result of a similar brand. The proxy or substitute could either take after the first item or could be an alternate item out and out however it is showcased under the setup brand name of the first item. Surrogate ads are utilized to advance and promote the results of brands when the first item can’t be publicized on broad communications. A few occurrences of surrogate commercials are Bagpiper Soda, Cassettes and CDs, Royal Challenge Golf Accessories and Mineral Water, Imperial Blue Cassettes and CDs and so forth. There are other authorities and regulations, like the Competition Commission of India who keep an eye on the unfair trade practices as well.

How will these separate regulations interface with the new law exclusively for consumers is something which will throw up the number of challenging issues which are yet to be resolved by adopting different interpretation methods by the judiciary or the parliament through the amendments which will prove to be a turning point if made wisely by favouring the whole nation instead of supporting a particular community or class of people?

The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA) and Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) are the laws governing the real state sector in India. There is boned to be several consumer commissions that are bound by the new rules and laws. There exist three different ministries. Consumer protection is regulated by consumer affairs; IBC is regulated by the ministry of corporate affairs and RERA by the ministry of housing and development. This is one area where several issues would emerge which would require the intervention of the apex court. Also, there lie some of the crucial issues which will continue to remain important. 

Ultimately, consumer courts or the entire consumer protection regime will be directed at solving the problems of the consumer at the cheapest cost affordable in the best possible time. It is only then efficiency and efficacy can be seen in the law and governance of consumer rights and protection. In the legislation, the government has not allowed it to be rushed through. The departmental standing committee has sat for two years dealing with a single topic, where several meetings took place simultaneously several suggestions were accepted and have been put in the consumer protection Act, 2019, resulting in it being quite bulkier than the previous act.

The constitution speaks about providing justice to every citizen of the country adjoining to which economic, social, environmental and political welfare of the public at large is to be ensured by the state itself by taking the aid of significant constitutional articles expressed in parts 3 and 4 of the Indian constitution which is very much devoted for giving the rights to the common man. Therefore, the consumer law is one of the outcomes where the consumer is guaranteed to be provided with a cheap and timely remedy. Thus, section 3 of the consumer protection act 1986 provides in addition to any other law but not indulge law, by which consumer law can be taken into action. On that note, in the landmark case of Charan Singh vs Healing Touch Hospital & Ors on 20 September 2000, the supreme court was of the view that the consumer law has to be handled in such a manner where the power and responsibility is been divided fairly and kindly between the regulatory bodies to lay down the quality justice to the consumer seeking justice. The evolution of consumer law comes as the constitution develops with time.

New jurisprudence has taken birth by law Videlicet consumer jurisprudence. Earlier, criminal, Civil and juvenile jurisprudence was present but as time and legal aspects evolved the whole concept of Consumer jurisprudence came into recognition. Different quasi-judicial authorities are trying their best at least to give their positive and beneficial inputs as a judicial authority where the direct communication is between the judicial as well as the non-judicial learned dignitaries who have contributed effectively in their respective are of practices. These people give the best of their ability to see whether the law and governance can be developed by either of them valid, legal or just approach at all possible state of affairs. 

Empowering consumer strengthening and a groundbreaking purchaser

There is no doubt that the act of 1986 protected the interest of the consumers. In the consumer protection act, 2019 one of the needed provisions has been added i.e. ‘Consumer rights’ along with its meaning and definition. Consumer rights include the rights to be protected against the marketing of goods, services and products which are hazardous to life and property. A recent dispute that emerged in the city of Hyderabad, highlights the rights and duties of consumers. Here, in this case, the consumer court asks Star Bazaar to refund the money (Rs 6) to the consumer, which was charged in the name of a plastic bag. The aforementioned situation available to the contrary parties didn’t record any authentication to show that they enrolled with the concerned body by paying the imperative sum as above relying upon the deal limit without even a trace of such verification. The court was under the considered view that the opponents have not paid an imperative sum payable for enlistment and selling of plastic bags to the customer.

Bhopal gas tragedy has taught various aspects of prevention from harmful mishappenings which have proved to be a nightmare event for the living beings in the history of human existence. Not only the consumers and workers were harmed and affected for years but the common public also suffered a lot due to the horrible accident.  The Central Government and worldwide organizations should concentrate on generally material strategies for corporate obligation and mishap avoidance as much in the creating world scenario as in developed modern countries. In particular, counteraction ought to remember hazard decrease for plant area and plan and security enactment.

The local state-run administrations unmistakably can’t permit industrial offices to be arranged inside metropolitan regions, paying little heed to the development of land use over the long haul. Industry and government need to carry legitimate monetary help to neighborhood networks so they can give clinical and other important administrations to decrease horribleness, mortality and material misfortune on account of modern mishaps. The catastrophe showed a requirement for enforceable global principles for ecological wellbeing, deterrent methodologies to stay away from comparable mishaps and modern debacle readiness. 

Since the accident, India has encountered fast industrialization. While some sure changes in government strategy and conduct of a couple of businesses have occurred, significant dangers to the environment and consumers protection from quick and ineffectively managed modern development remain. Boundless natural corruption with critical antagonistic consumer’s security outcomes keeps on happening all through India.

Duties of consumer and seller

Deliberate withholding of relevant information by such a person to be consumed is a vital aspect for consumer protection as it lays down the duties of the consumer to fulfil at the right time and right place without delay. Simultaneously, the seller of the product or services also must provide relevant and complete information to the consumer without hiding any necessary information about the product or service being sold in due course of time.

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So many pattern designs have been introduced and would hopefully be coming up in the near future. Furthermore, India is not less in Intellectual property rights law. Designed patterns indicate the expansion of various distinct designs, moreover, if the design maker is not taking care of this means then consumer law along with IPR law comes into action suo moto

Intellectual property is a term alluding to a brand, development, plan or another sort of creation, which an individual or business has legitimate privileges over. Practically all organizations own some type of IP, which could be a business resource.  Indian markets have proved to be the UK’s need abroad business sectors. If you intend to work together in India, or then again in case you are as of now exchanging there, it is vital to realize how to utilize, monitor and authorize the privileges you have over the Intellectual property (IP) that you or your business own.

Direct selling is a new phenomenon added to contemporary law. Direct selling in India became 4.7 percent in the main portion of the pandemic hit 2020-21 to contract complete deals of Rs 7,518 crore, supported by the elevated interest for wellbeing and sustenance fragment items, as per a report by industry body Indian Direct Selling Association (IDSA).  During the period, 53.18 lakh people got the immediate sale together with an everyday normal of 29,064 new contestants, with the development of the work from home idea, empowering individuals to investigate extra kinds of revenue, said the IDSA.

From 24th July 2020, the E-Commerce rule has been activated and that is to say, it will be coming into force with at most development and ease to the seller and consumer. It will become a diligent task for the commissions to enforce the said law by bringing out the finest attainable outcome at present and also in forthcoming years. This is one of the ingredients where the honorable member of Bar and honorable member of the civil society will have to contribute frequently and with regularity to impart supreme justice to the consumers. 

Different responsibilities, rights, and reliefs have been put into the hands of consumers under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 as well as the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. A lot of drives are taken by the public authority for the advancement of the consumers but till now there are numerous loopholes present in the statute and it can’t fill the need for which it was made. One of the major points of sanctioning this Bill was to ensure the interest of the buyer and give them a quick cure yet it has not been completely accomplished due to different reasons like ignorance, debasement, and so forth there is a huge number of forthcoming cases in the consumer courts all around the country. Following 30 years of establishing the act of 1986 still, the buyers don’t know about their rights and obligations and no successful advance has been taken by the governmental authority to ensure that the customer gets knowledgeable about different privileges and obligations they have as purchasers. The principle point of this consumer law is to ensure the interest of the customers and it is conceivable just when some successful advances are taken enlightening the consumers about their respective rights and duties as a citizen moreover altogether in the current activities are eliminated.


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