Consumer ! Know Thy Rights —By Krishna Mohan KS (email@example.com )
In a society that is interdependent, every person purchases either goods or services from traders or service providers almost every day. If those purchases are not directly related to entrepreneurial or business activities, ie. if it is meant for personal, social, family, household and similar needs, the person making the purchase or availing a service becomes a consumer. Groceries, Household goods, Furniture, Consumer Durables, Drugs & Cosmetics, Packaged Foods &Beverages, Jewellery, Petroleum Products and Real Estate are some of the products that people purchase while Insurance, Banking, Travel, Hotel, Telecom, Broadband, DTH, Courier, Cargo, Education, Healthcare and Digital Payments are some of the services. The buying patterns have gradually drifted from compulsive to impulsive with more and more offers provided by Super Bazaars, Malls and Online Stores. There is every possibility that a consumer gets cheated either by innocence or ignorance in some transaction or the other.
Various rules and regulations, laws and enactments, ministries and departments have been created by the governments from time to time to educate, protect and redress the consumers. The Department of Consumer affairs under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution of the Centre and State administers the policies for Consumer Cooperatives, price monitoring, essential commodity availability, consumer movement and control of statutory bodies such as the Bureau of Indian Standards(BIS) and Weights and Measures. The department also regulates the availability and prescribes measures ensure food security of the vulnerable population. While this department directly oversees and is responsible for the consumer protection, various regulatory authorities such as Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Drug Control General of India (DCGI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA), Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), National Highways Development Authority of India (NHAI), Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA), protect the consumer indirectly.
Most of the times, it’s because the Consumers do not evince interest in understanding the good and bad of purchasing goods, the pros and cons of availing services and even the rights and responsibilities. While so many laws and legislations, rules and regulations exist for the protection of the consumer, they cannot be availed unless the consumer is aware of these and can assert the rights. The complacency and take-it-easy attitude of the consumers is a blessing in disguise for the traders and service providers for unfair practices and exploitation. As always said, ignorance of law is not an excuse. Therefore, it is the bounded responsibility of the consumer to understand the various provisions under the consumer protection act, understand what is to be ensured during a purchase and also understand where to seek redressal.
The Consumer Protection Act
In order to shield the consumer from being deceived by the traders and to address the deficiency in service, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India introduced the Consumer Protection Act in 1986. That was to provide better protection of the interests of consumers and for that purpose to make provision for the establishment of consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumers’ disputes and for matters connected therewith. Every District had a Consumer Forum, at the next level was a State Commission followed by the National Commission. Later, The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), was set up in 1988 as a quasi-judicial commission under the aegis of which the consumer forums and state commissions operated. With the advent of ecommerce, it became imminent to bring it under the ambit of Consumer Protection Act 2019. The District Forums were renamed District Commissions in the CPA 2019.
Significant Provisions in the CPA 2019
The new Act proposes the establishment of the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers. The CCPA is also determined to initiate class action, including enforcing recall, refund and return of products. It also empowers consumers via rules relating to Consumer Protection Councils, Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions, Mediation, Product Liability & punishment for manufacture/sale of products having adulterant/spurious goods. The provision of mediation helps in providing speedy redressal and also for reducing the number of pending cases in the consumer commissions. A case can be referred to a mediator if the commission feels that there is an element of compromise in it. Once mediation is done in a case, it cannot be appealed again. Product liability is the area of refreshed law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and retailers are held responsible for any injuries products cause. Regardless of any contractual limitations of liability, if a product or any of its component parts are defective its manufacturer may be liable for damage under the CPA 2019 or the common law of negligence. An action under the CPA or for negligence can be brought for death, personal injury and damage caused to private property as the result of a product defect. The culpable business can be penalized with up to 6 months of jail term or fined as high as Rs 1 lakh if the consumers has not suffered injuries. In case a consumer is injured, the penalties can go up to Rs 5 lakhs or up to seven years in jail.The New Act lays down Six Terms of Contract that may be held as Unfair to the consumer.The CPA 2019 puts the liability on people/celebrities who endorse brands, since there have been several instances in the past where under the influence of celebrities endorsing certain products/services, consumers have fallen prey to unfair trade practices. In such a case, it becomes the liability of the endorser to take the responsibility to verify the truthfulness of the claims made in the advertisement to prevent liability claims under the Endorsers Liability.
Enhanced Pecuniary Jurisdiction and Penalties
As per the revised pecuniary limits under the Consumer Protection Act 2019 the district forum can entertain consumer complaints where the value of goods or services paid does not exceed Rs. 50 Lakhs, the State Commission between Rs.50 Crore to Rs. 2 Crores and the National Commission can exercise jurisdiction where such value exceeds Rs. 2 Crores.As per the revised Act, non-compliance of the Orders of the Commission may lead to imprisonment up to three years, or a fine not less than Rs 25,000 extendable to Rs 1 lakh, or both.
Right to Safety, Right to be informed, Right to Choose, Right to be heard, Right to Redressal and the Right to Consumer Education are the six Consumer Rights guaranteed by the Consumer Protection Act. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution has provided a National Consumer Helpline (NCH) with a toll-free number 1800114000 OR 14404 which works on all days except National Holidays from 09:30 AM to 05:30 PM. The website https://consumerhelpline.gov.in/ also provides a chat facility for consumers to discuss their problems.
The Integrated Grievance Redress Mechanism (INGRAM) portal was launched for bringing all Stakeholders such as Consumers, Central and State Government Agencies, Private Companies, Regulators, Ombudsmen and call centres etc. onto a single platform. The portal also helps in creating awareness among consumers to protect their rights and inform them of their responsibilities. Consumers can also register their grievances online through this portal.Grievances on Misleading Advertisements can be filed online through https://gama.gov.in/
Consumer empowerment has been done by the government through various laws, rules and regulations. But it is the duty of the consumer to be aware of these provisions, stay alert and assertive while making any purchase or utilizing any service. ConfoNet (Computerization and Computer Networking of Consumer Forums in Country) is yet another initiative by the government. The portal https://confonet.nic.in/ caters to a wide range of beneficiaries with disparate needs and requirements including Consumers, Consumer Activists and NGOs, Members of Consumer Fourms, Bar Councils and Advocates. ConfoNet aims at improving operational efficiency, co-ordination, accessibility, speed in judicial administration and to set Information Communication Technology (ICT) Infrastructure at Consumer Redressal forums all over India. The consumers can now file complaints at any district or state Consumer Commission closest to them instead of travelling to the location where the service was sold. The latest feather in the cap of Consumer Empowerment is the provision for e-filing of cases through the https://edaakhil.nic.in/ .
Be an Assertive Consumer
For a consumer to be empowered and to assert the rights, the consumer must first ensure the quality and quantity of the goods being purchased, check thedates of manufacture and validity, know the maximum retail price and discounts, collect bills and warranty certificates, understand the terms of agreement and scope of services before availing services from service providers and above all, make it a habit of preserving all the documents. A consumer should never hesitate to raise the voice in assertion against any trader or service provider when cheated.
—Krishna Mohan KS is actively associated with an International Consumer Advocacy Group and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers are welcome to submit their valuable comments on the issue in the comment box beneath the article so that positive discussion is built up to spread message about Consumer Rights and Consumers’ Protection.