The growing interdependence of the global economy as well as the global nature of many business activities have contributed to the universal emphasis on protecting and promoting consumer rights. Consumers demand better products and services. While recent technical advancements have had a huge impact in this direction, the reality is that consumers still fall victim to unscrupulous activity and exploitation. In India, despite the fact that the Consumer Protection Act 2019 applies nationwide, exploitation of consumers continues in a variety of ways, including food adulteration, counterfeit drugs, questionable hire-purchase, high prices, poor quality, poor services, deceptive services. advertisements, dangerous products, black marketing, etc.
It has rightly been realized that consumer protection is a socio-economic agenda to be pursued by government as well as the private sector, as consumer satisfaction is in the interests of both. In this context, however, the government has the primary responsibility to protect the interests and rights of consumers through appropriate policy measures, legal structure and administrative framework.
In 2019, a new law was enacted, the 2019 Consumer Protection Act, which replaced the 1986 three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act. The new law proposes a series of measures and strengthens existing rules to further protect consumers’ rights. The introduction of a central regulator, strict penalties for misleading advertising, and guidelines for e-commerce and e-service providers are some of the highlights. A new era of digital commerce and branding, along with a new set of customer expectations, has arrived with the digital age. Easy access, a wide range of options, convenient payment mechanisms, improved services and convenience shopping have all been made possible by digitization. However, as technology progressed, so did the number of challenges related to consumer protection, prompting the government to pass the Consumer Protection Act of 2019 with the aim of resolving the new set of issues. issues facing consumers in the digital age.
Under the new legislation, the overall process for resolving consumer grievances has been streamlined. It also recommends the establishment of a Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers as a class, as well as to intervene to prevent harm to consumers resulting from unfair commercial practices. . The agency can also initiate a class action, including the execution of the recall, the refund and the return of the products. Under the law, a manufacturer or service provider of products or a seller of products will now be liable to compensate for injuries or damage caused by a defective product or a deficiency in services. In addition, the bill authorizes the notification of legislation on electronic commerce and direct selling, with an emphasis on consumer protection.
The law envisages the creation of a central consumer protection authority but gives it too much power and control, without offering adequate administrative guarantees. Endorsement of goods and services, normally performed by celebrities, is also covered by the 2019 law. In fact, an additional burden has been placed on endorsers, other than manufacturers and service providers, to prevent advertisements false or misleading. Unlike the 1986 law, the definition of “products” has been amended to include “food” as defined by the 2006 Food Safety and Standards Act.
It is interesting to note that “telecoms” has been added to the definition of “services” to bring telecommunications service providers within the scope of the 2019 law. However, the term “telecommunications service” such as defined by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India Act, which would have covered Internet, cellular and data services, was not used.
An important addition to the 2019 law is the introduction of “product liability” under which manufacturers and sellers of products or services have been held liable to make good any harm caused to a consumer by products. defective, manufactured or sold, or for a deficiency in services. Another newly introduced concept is that of “unfair contracts” aimed at protecting consumers against unilaterally distorted and unreasonable contracts that tilt in favor of manufacturers or service providers. The definition of “unfair commercial practices” has also been broadened. It is now also an offense if personal information, given in confidence and collected during a transaction, is disclosed.
These changes mean an attempt to increase market openness through legal protection, with the aim of ensuring that the interests of consumers come first. The 2019 law continues to have consumer dispute resolution commissions at the district, state, and national levels (consumer commissions), but the pecuniary jurisdiction of each of these commissions has been significantly increased to reduce the burden. state and national commissions by encouraging consumers to approach the district commission for complaints worth up to 1 crore rupees.
In addition, the jurisdiction of consumer commissions was also broadened to allow complaints to be made where the complainant resides or works personally for gain, as opposed to the 1986 law where complaints had to be filed where the opposing party resides or does business, or where the cause of action arose. This will ease the burden on consumers who will now be able to file complaints at the district level where they reside and will not be required to travel to other areas to pursue their complaints.
In particular, the admissibility of complaints filed with the Consumer Commissions must be decided within twenty-one days. Although such a provision also existed in the 1986 law, the 2019 law adds that if the question of the admissibility of the complaint is not resolved within this period, the complaint is presumed to have been admitted. Unfortunately, the corresponding procedural changes have not been introduced, which raises doubts about the practical effectiveness of the changes. The 2019 law introduces the power of judicial review allowing consumer commissions to review their orders, thereby reducing the burden incurred due to preferred remedies to rectify errors apparent when reading the record. Unlike the 1986 law, the remedies of the State Commission to the National Commission are now limited to cases involving important questions of law. Appeals from the National Commission to the Supreme Court can only be lodged against complaints from the National Commission. The deadline for lodging appeals has also been made stricter, with a view to tightening up the grip on the filing of appeals on time.
Compared to the Consumer Protection Act 1986 and the Consumer Protection Act of Jammu and Kashmir 1987, the Consumer Protection Act 2019 provides for enhanced protection of consumer interests, taking into account account of the current era of digitization. The 2019 law also addresses technological advancements in the industry, facilitates the filing of complaints, and also imposes strict liability on businesses, including endorsers, for violating consumer interests. However, only time will prove the fate of the 2019 law which at first glance appears to be much more consumer friendly than the 1986 law.
– The writer is a researcher at the Muslim University of Aligarh. [email protected]