In what seems to be a milestone in legislation towards addressing grievances of the Indian consumers, the Lok Sabha recently passed the Consumer Protection Bill (CPB), 2018.
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The bill, tabled first in 2015 and passed by the Lok Sabha on December 20, 2018 seeks to replace the three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The latter was amended thrice but failed to tackle challenges posed by online transactions and digital marketing.
According to the Corporate Affairs Ministry, the objective of the Bill is ‘‘to provide for the protection of the interests of consumers and for the said purpose, to establish authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumers’ disputes.’’ However, the Rajya Sabha is yet to debate and pass the bill. The newly elected Parliament is scheduled to take this up after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Consumer friendly provisions
The new bill has several provisions which make the seller more accountable to the customer. It seeks to set up a Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to “promote, protect and enforce the rights of the consumers.” The CCPA can act on complaints of unfair trade practices, issue safety guidelines, order product recall or discontinuation of services.
Once the bill is passed by both the houses, consumer laws in India will empower customers to sue sellers over false and misleading advertisements.
If a consumer suffers an injury from a defect in a good or a deficiency in service, he may file a claim of product liability against the manufacturer, the seller, or the service provider.
The Bill provides for the establishment of Consumer Protection Councils at the district, state and national levels to share advice on consumer protection, encouraging alternative dispute litigation methods. The State and National Councils are to be headed by Ministers in-charge of Consumer Affairs.
Loopholes in the previous law
Some may argue about the relevance of another law when the previous one had not been of much use for the citizens.
Over the years, there have been challenges in the implementation of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986. A high number of consumers were unaware of their rights. Moreover, it did not address consumer contracts between a consumer and manufacturer that contain unfair terms.
Consumer courts established under the previous act adapted the dysfunctional culture of prolonged adjournments. It took 12 months on an average to resolve a consumer case. They failed to provide speedy judgments with no or minimum adjournment in 90 days.
This is mostly because we, as citizens, failed to put enough pressure on the government to implement the law properly. Hopefully, the new consumer movement, promoted by NGOs will push the political parties and make a difference.
Power of Petition
Meanwhile, Consumer Voice, a well known Delhi-based consumer protection NGO has started a petition to urge all political parties to pass the consumer protection bill (CPB 2018) once the new Parliament commences its sessions. Unless citizens show an interest, the newly formed Government, irrespective of the parties in power, is unlikely to prioritise this bill.
It is a shame that even after four long years since the bill was tabled, we have failed to draft a progressive consumer protection act to replace the archaic one of 1986. The delay is mostly a result of consumer indifference.
Some efforts were made in the past to collect signatures for petition in this regard, but it did not cross the critical mark of one lakh signatures (even one lakh is not enough in a society where crores of netizens are active on the social media). If citizens take an interest, they should be able to get at least a million signatures for the petition through social media. The link to sign to the petition is http://chng.it/LfD68DFn.
After reading the article, do not hesitate to sign it. Swami Vivekananda once said, “Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached”. Our goal is to get millions to sign the petition and convince all the political leaders to prioritise the consumer protection bill.[Disclosure: The author is a governing council member of Consumer Voice, a Delhi-based NGO. Consumer Voice also publishes a monthly magazine which keeps readers updated about the comparative testing of products and services. Such information is invaluable for consumers and cannot be distorted by advertisements.]