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ANALYSIS OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION LAWS IN INDIA

INTRODUCTION

It is the consumers who contribute to the national income of a country and with the growing competition and globalization, the exploitation of consumers is increasing. In India, the protection of consumer rights and interests is primarily governed by The Consumer Protection Act, 2019, and the rules and regulations are made thereunder.

The 2019 act is the enactment of The Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Department of Consumer Affairs of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, and the Consumer Protection Authority is the governing authority with respect to consumer affairs in India.

The consumer protection laws aim to protect consumers from exploitation and malpractices of sellers by setting up forums, introducing rules and regulations, and providing various rights to consumers. The forums established have to give their judgments within 3 months. World Consumer Rights Day is observed on 15 March whereas, in India, National Consumer Rights Day is celebrated on 24 December.

The consumer movement in India started a long time back when trade and commerce have begun but until the 1970s, there was no systematic movement to protect consumers. In Kautilya’s Arthashastra, there are references to the concept of consumer protection against exploitation by the trade and retailer with respect to quality, short weight, measurement, and adulteration of goods. 

According to The Consumer Protection Act, a consumer is someone who buys any goods or avails or hires any services through online or offline modes. The person who consumes goods or services with the permission of the buyer of the product is also known to be a consumer. Anyone who buys goods or avails or hires services for a commercial purpose is not the consumer. The service includes any services and goods include all types of goods whether tangible or intangible.

In Indian Medical Association vs V.P. Shantha & Ors, the court said that medical services are also included in the act. The Apex Court in the case Karnataka Power … vs Ashok Iron Works Pvt. Ltd., said that the corporate firms are also included in the definition of the person in the act.

In Spring Meadows Hospital & Anr vs Harjol Ahluwalia, the parents faced tension and problem because their minor child had health issues and went to a vegetable shop because of the negligence of hospital staff.  The court said that parents can also claim compensation as they along with their child come under the definition of consumer.

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The most important amendment in the act is the expansion of the definition of unfair trade practices. The act also now includes disclosure of the personal information shared by any consumer unless the disclosure is made in regard to any law being in force at that time. The amendment increased the scope of the act.

The act protects consumers from unfair trade practices, fraud, misleading advertisements, adulteration, underweight, etc. It provides various duties and rights to consumers. It is the responsibility and duty of consumers to not indulge in and support black marketing, take proper receipt of the transaction, complain in case of exploitation, claim compensation, read the proper labels and acquire proper information about the product and take reasonable care while using the product.

RIGHTS OF A CONSUMER

Consumers are provided with many rights to protect themselves against any malpractice.

  • Right to Safety: The consumers have the right to get protection from the products whose consumption can be hazardous and harmful. The consumer can claim compensation if the product has caused harm to him despite his reasonable care. For example- A man purchased an electric cooker. His wife handled it carefully cooked food and during cooking, she met with an accident and got an injury. So, they can claim compensation against that injury as it harmed their safety.
  • Right to be informed: The consumer has the right to get all the information about the product’s quality, quantity, weight, ingredients, precautions, purity, standard, grade, use, a method to use it and etc. This helps to avoid any loss or injury.
    • For example- A person is suffering from a disease in which he cannot consume wheat flour at all. He purchases a chips packet, sees the label to learn about its ingredients, and finds wheat flour nowhere. After its consumption, he falls sick and comes to know that the chips contained wheat flour but the company didn’t mention it. The consumer can claim compensation as he was not provided with the proper information about the product.
  • Right to Choose: The consumer has the right to choose and reject the product from a wide variety of goods and services. Often it is seen that the sellers use tactics and pressurizes the customers to purchase the high-priced product or the inferior quality product. Consumers can sue or take action against such sellers.
  • Right to be heard: Consumer has the right to be heard in legal proceedings. He has the right to be heard about his problem, injury, and suffering about which he has complained. He has the right to get compensation too. This right provides assurance to the consumer that his complaint will be filed and action will be taken against the exploiter.
  • Right to seek redressal: When any consumer has a complaint due to unfair trade practices like charging a higher price, selling of inferior quality or unsafe products, lack of regularity in the supply of services, etc., or if he has suffered loss or injury due to defective or adulterated products, he has the right to seek remedies. This right provides that the legal process will be carried and consumers will get compensation either by product replacement or by providing complete service in case of any deficiency or in the form of money. If the firm sued is indulged in any hazardous or illegal activities then that will also be banned.
  • Right to consumer education: To prevent market malpractices and exploitation of consumers, consumer awareness and education is essentially required. Consumers should be made aware of various government policies and laws formulated to protect their interests of consumers.
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The act provides a mechanism for filing a complaint. The consumer can file a complaint to dispute redressal forums depending on the amount of the claim. The district level has jurisdiction over matters involving amounts up to INR 10 million; the State level has jurisdiction over matters involving amounts between INR 10 million to INR 100 million, and the National level has jurisdiction over matters involving amounts more than INR 100 million.

If the party is dissatisfied with the judgment of the District forum then he can file a complaint to State Commission within 30 days. He can also sue in National Commission when he is dissatisfied with the judgment of the State commission.

Similarly, if the party to suit in State Commission is dissatisfied with the judgment then he can sue the other in National Commission within 30 days of the judgment delivered. If the party who has filed a complaint about the first time in National Commission is dissatisfied with the judgment then he can challenge the judgment in Supreme Court within 30 days.

The complaint should be filed within two (2) years from the date on which the cause of action has arisen.

The first step while filing a complaint is to send a legal notice to the person whom the consumer wants to sue. The notice may warn the defaulter and tell him that the consumer might reach the forum. After the notice is served, the matter is taken to consumer court.

After reaching court, the next step is to file a complaint containing the problem, evidence, claims and etc. the next step is to pay the fees and then argue the case. The consumer can hire a lawyer or can argue his case by himself in the consumer court.

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PENALTIES

  • For non-compliance with orders of the Central Authority, there is the provision of imprisonment of up to 6 months or a fine of up to INR 2 million or both.
  • In the cases where a false and misleading advertisement is involved, the manufacturer or the service provider will be punished with imprisonment of 2 years or with a fine of INR 1 million. For the subsequent offense, imprisonment of 5 years or a fine of INR 5 million is there.
  • Manufacturing, storing, selling, importing, and distributing products containing adulteration or spurious goods has strict punishment. If the consumer using the product gets no injury then also imprisonment of 6 months and a fine up to INR 100 thousand will be imposed. If such product causes injury not amounting to grievous hurt then there will be the punishment of imprisonment of up to 3 years and a fine of INR 300 thousand.
    • If such injury causes grievous hurt then there will be imprisonment of 7 years and a fine of INR 500 thousand and if the consumer is dead then there will be imprisonment of at least 7 years which may extend to life imprisonment and a fine of at least INR 1 million.

CONCLUSION

With the development and globalization, it is the need of the hour to have strict laws to protect consumers all over the world. The laws are effective and efficient but still, some people are either unaware of them or are unwilling to stand against the malpractices of sellers.

The active participation and steps taken by media, government, and NGOs have helped to curb adulteration but without the support of the public at large, it cannot be completely cured. The people should come forward and take effective steps regarding this then only the main purpose of the act will be fulfilled.

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