October 13, 2022
India is predicted to be amongst the fastest growing markets. By 2020, India is projected to be the world’s third largest middle class consumer market behind China and USA. As per a market research report, by 2030 India is likely to surpass both countries with an aggregated consumer spend of nearly US $13 trillion. With a growing economy and resultant increase in purchasing power of consumers, there is a need to safeguard the consumers from exploitation and adulterated and sub-standard goods and services. In order to provide for better protection of interests, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was adopted on 24th December, 1986.
Salient Features of the Act:
As per the provisions of the Act, quasi-judicial bodies have been set up in each District and State and at the National level, called the District Forums, the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission respectively. At present, there are 650 District Forums, out of which 619 are functional. In Chhattisgarh, one-third of the Consumer Forums are not functional. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have the highest number of District Consumer Forums. There are 35 State Commissions and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is (NCDRC) at the apex.
Each District Forum is headed by a person who is or has been or is eligible to be appointed as a District Judge and each State Commission is headed by a person who is or has been a Judge of High Court. The National Commission, constituted in the year 1988, is headed by a sitting or retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India.
Based on the implementation experience of the provisions of the Act, it was amended thrice in 1991, 1993 and 2002. The delay in disposal of cases at the district, state and national levels, including the level of pendency, was a major cause of concern for the Government. Therefore, proposals were made to further amend the Act which led to the passing of the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 2002. The amended provisions empowered the senior-most member to preside over the Bench in case of absence of the President so that the Forum functions uninterruptedly. Further, Presidents of the National Commission & the State Commissions were empowered to constitute Benches with one or more Members for their effective functioning.
The amendments were mainly aimed at:
Though the Act has succeeded in bringing about fair play in the supply of goods and services and redressal of consumer grievances through the consumer courts, some shortfalls in the existing provisions still need to be addressed. These shortfalls include delay in disposal of cases resulting in pendency, restrictive definitions, shortage of manpower, etc.
Table 1: Total Number of Consumer Complaints Filed / Disposed since Inception
|Name of Agency||Cases Filed since
|Cases Disposed of since Inception||Cases Pending||% of Total
As per the 26th report of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, the disposal rate is satisfactory. However, there have been instances where the proceedings have continued for very long though it is expected that they should be decided within a period of 90 days. The delay in expedited disposal of cases is highly prevalent in the State Commissions in Bihar, Manipur, Nagaland, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh.
Some of the other issues noticed in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, were as follows:
Table 2: Number of Vacant Posts
|Vacant Posts of President||Vacant Posts of Members|
The new Consumer Protection Bill 2015, which was introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament, seeks to address some of these issues and replace the extant Act. The law hopes to facilitate development of new markets and to further widen the ambit and a scope of the law to incorporate nuances and avoid loopholes.
A consumer, or anyone on his behalf, may file a complaint on matters like: (i) defect in goods, (ii) deficiency in services, (iii) unfair or restrictive trade practices, (iv) publication of a misleading advertisement, (v) harm caused to the consumer due to a defect in a product or a deficiency in a service, and (vi) unfair terms in a contract.
Any person may file a complaint against a person who has publicized a misleading advertisement as it impinges on the rights of consumers to make informed choices. Advertisement refers to any audio or visual publicity, representation or pronouncement made through all mediums including the Internet. It can also include any notice, circular, label, wrapper, invoice or any other document.
The Bill seeks to make manufacturers liable for any injury attributed to the defect in the product. It enables the person to make a claim of product liability, if he has suffered any injury, property damage or death due to a defect in a product. The claimant must prove that the product: (i) had a manufacturing defect, (ii) had a design defect, (iii) contained inadequate instructions for use, (iv) did not conform to an express warranty, (v) belonged to the manufacturer, and (vi) caused the injury. The claimant would have to establish that the manufacturer had known or ought to have known of the dangerous aspect about the product that caused the harm.
A new regulatory body, i.e. the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), will act to enforce consumer rights, impose penalties and pass orders regarding recall of products, unfair contracts, misleading advertisements etc, and others. It will play the role of an executive agency that is consumer centric, can make class action intervention, or initiate suo moto action when necessary to prevent unfair trade practices or consumer detriment.
The Bill enumerates six ‘tests’ to identify unfair contracts. A contract is said to be unfair if it contains any one of the following: (i) payment of excessive security deposits, (ii) payment of a disproportionate penalty for a breach in contract, (iii) refusal to accept early repayment of debts, (iv) right to terminate the contract without reasonable cause, (v) transfer of a contract to a third party to the detriment of the other party, without that party’s consent, or (vi) imposing of any unreasonable charge or obligations which put the consumer at a disadvantage.
Unfair trade practice has been identified to include: (i) making a false statement regarding the quality or standard of a good or service, (ii) selling of goods not complying with standards, (iii) manufacture of spurious goods, (iv) not issuing a receipt for a good or service sold, (v) refusal to withdraw or refund goods or services within 30 days, (vi) disclosing personal information provided by a consumer to any other person, etc.
Failure to comply with an order of the District, State or National Commissions, will attract imprisonment up to three years or a fine of up to Rs. 50,000, as compared to Rs. 10,000 in the past.
If a person does not comply with an order issued by the Consumer Protection Authority, he may face imprisonment of up to six months, or a fine of up to Rs 20 lakh, or both. The Authority may also impose penalties with regards to the advertisement and production of food. The penalty for publishing a false advertisement would be a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh. The penalty for the manufacture, sale, storage, distribution or import of food containing extraneous matter would be a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.
The Bill introduces mediation as a mode of alternative dispute resolution. Mediation cells are to be attached to consumer dispute redressal agencies at the district, state and national level. These will help in outof-court settlement of disputes by a mediator, except in cases of grave threats to life, physical or mental injuries.
The pecuniary jurisdiction, which is based on the billed value of goods and services, has been increased for the District, State and National adjudicatory bodies.
|1986 Act||2015 Bill|
|District||Up to Rs. 25 lakh||Up to Rs. 50 lakh|
|State||Between Rs. 25 lakh and Rs. 1 crore||Between Rs. 50 lakh and Rs. 10 crore|
|National||Above Rs. 1 crore||Above Rs. 10 crore|
The strength of State and National Commissions has been increased which may help expedite the disposal of cases. The composition of adjudicatory bodies has been broadened to include technical members as well.
|1986 Act||2015 Bill|
|District||Headed by current or former High Court judge and 2 other members.||Headed by person qualified to be a district judge or a district magistrate, and 2 other members.|
|State||Headed by current or former High Court judge and 2 other members||Headed by current or former high court judge and 4 other members.|
|National||Headed by current or former Supreme Court Judge and 4 other members.||Headed by current or former Supreme Court
Judge and at least 15 other members
The District Commission may issue the following orders: remove the defect, replace the good, return the price amount, stop the sale or manufacture of hazardous products, discontinue unfair trade practices or pay compensation for any loss suffered by the consumer. Appeals from its decisions will be heard by the State Commission. Further appeals may be filed before the National Commission, and then before the Supreme Court.
The District Commission will have the power to grant punitive damages of a sum equal to or more than 25% of the value of defective goods and services.
The bill seeks to allow online filing of cases as well, as make it mandatory for the consumer forums to publish the data regarding filing, disposal of complaints etc on their respective website. Similarly, it envisages bringing e-commerce within the purview of the CPA.
The changes brought about by the market economy, the marketing practices as well as the rapid advances in the area of digital technology, have all had an impact on consumer protection in India. The 2015 Bill seeks to address the lacunae present in the 1986 Act and increase the scope of consumer protection. However, there are certain aspects of the Bill which raise concerns:
A robust consumer protection framework will give impetus to a strong consumer-driven economy. The Consumer Protection Bill, 2015 fills gaps which were not addressed by the pre-liberalization era Consumer Protection Act, 1986. However, there is a need to look into the feedback and concerns voices by various stakeholders as certain challenges still remain.
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