CONSUMER PROTECTION LAWS IN INDIA
BY PRANSHU SINHA
Consumer awareness about their right has been constantly growing in the last three decades. This is based on the idea that the consumer is always the victim and the weaker party as compared to the manufacturers and the traders selling the commodities. Ideally the consumer should be the one in power and the traders should strive to serve the interests and needs of the consumers but this is not so. Consumers are often exploited by the traders since the latter indulge in unfair and restrictive trade practices. Consumer protection laws are made to prevent businesses that indulge in fraud or unfair trade practices, from gaining an advantage over customers. Consumer Protection laws are a form of government regulation which aim to protect the rights of consumers. E.g. Printing of the ingredients of any edible item on it so that the customers know what exactly it is that they are having.
Most buyers purchase merchandise subsequent to being attracted by promotions overstating the substance and nature of their items or administrations. Legal support to them is required in the event that they are to be shielded from the abuse and deception by the vendors and also that such vendors can be tried and punished.
It was for these purposes and to solve such problems prevalent in the society that the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was passed by the Government of India. This act was mainly aimed to protect the interests of the consumers and to provide for a legal remedy in case of consumer disputes and settlements. It keeps the unfair trade practices, defect in goods and deficiencies in services under check. It led to the widespread establishment of consumer forums and appellate courts all over India. It has significantly impacted how businesses approach consumer complaints and has empowered consumers greatly. Section 27 of the act provides various punishments that can be given under this act. It usually includes a fine or in offences of more serious nature, it includes imprisonment as well.
Consumer has been defined legally in Sec 2(d) of the Consumer protection Act,1986. In general terms consumer is someone who acquires goods or services by paying for the same for their direct use or ownership rather than for resale or use in production & manufacturing.
Rights of Consumers
The consumer protection act guarantees certain rights to the consumers. These are as follows
1) The Right to be heard:
The consumer has the right to be heard if he has any complaint or grievance regarding the good or service received. This implies that consumers’ complaints and grievances must receive due attention and consideration at an appropriate forum.
2) The Right to safety:
The consumers are entitled to protection of their health and safety from the goods and services they buy. They should not be supplied goods or services which are hazardous to their health and safety.
3) The Right against exploitation:
This covers right to protection from unfair trade practices and unscrupulous exploitation of consumers by charging excessive prices by suppliers of goods or services.
4) The Right to be informed:
This implies that consumers should be given correct and full information about the quality of goods that they buy. They should be provided information about the ingredients of the product, freshness of the product, any side effects that may occur as a result of consumption of a commodity. This right applies especially to the drug manufacturers and suppliers.
5) The Right to choose:
This implies that consumers should be provided a variety of products from which they can make a choice of their liking. The opportunity to choose from limited options restricts their right to choose.
6) The Right to redressal:
This implies that consumers’ complaints and grievances about the products and services supplied to them must be redressed. That is, they should not only be heard but their complaints must be redressed and compensated adequately.
In India, the Consumer Protection Act 1986 was passed which was later amended in 2002, wherein most of the consumer rights have been provided and mechanism for redressal of their complaints have been put in place.
Procedure to File a Consumer Complaint
- Preparing a complaint Petition
The complaint should be short and precise and must contain all material and relevant facts only. It should clearly state the dispute and appeals if any.
- Choosing the appropriate Consumer Court
Section 11 of the act defines The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum and prescribes Rs20lakh as the upper limit upto which this court can hear cases. Any cases exceeding the said amount cannot be filed in this court.
Section 17 of the consumer protection act discusses The State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and the the limit to which it can decide on cases. It can handle cases ranging from 20Lakhs to 1 crore.
Section 21 talks about The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. It has power to deal with cases ranging above 1crore rupees.
- Deposition of Statutory fee
The required fee as per the respective courts where the appeal is filed, is to be submitted.
- Filing for Appeals and revisions (If required)
Sometimes the decisions given by the courts in consumer matters is not satisfactory to the party against whom it was passed. In such a case an appeal or a revision may be filed in the higher court in the hierarchy. These provisions of the act provide for it.
Section 15 of the consumer protection act provides provisions for filing an appeal to the state commission.
Section 19 of the act provides for filing an appeal to the National Commission.
However if a party still feels that they have been cheated or the decision given by the national commission is unjust then they can apply for an appeal to the Supreme Court of India as per Section 23 of the act.
New India Assurance Co. V/S Abhilash Jewellery
The plaintiff had taken a jeweler’s safety policy. Later he lodged a claim with the opposite party insurer for loss of gold ornaments. The insurer rejected the claim stating that the gold got lost when it was under the possession and safety of an apprentice, who was not an employee there. The policy for indemnification of the loss was that the property insured had to be in the custody of the insured, his partner or his employee. The National Commission allowed the complaint holding that an apprentice was an ’employee’ since section 2(6) of the Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments Act defined an ’employee’ to include an ‘apprentice’. The Supreme Court, however, held that the word ’employee’ in the contract of insurance mentioned had to be given the meaning in common language. The definition in the local Act, including an ‘apprentice’ in the category of ’employee’, was only a ‘legal fiction’, which is a concept in law and could not be applied to an insurance contract. Hence Supreme Court allowed the appeal.
HDFC Bank Ltd v/s Balwinder Singh
Plaintiff complained that the bank had hired musclemen to forcibly confiscate a hypothecated vehicle from him when the defendant failed to submit his interest for the same on time and sold it to a third party. The District Forum allowed the appeal and directed the bank to pay Rs. 4 lakh as compensation for repossessing the vehicle in such a manner and reselling it to a 3rd party. The State Commission in consonance with the District commission held the order in appeal. Bank filed a revision petition to the National Commissionealing with the bank’s revision petition, the National Commission expressed shock that the bank had hired musclemen directly or through its recovery agents.
Although the number of consumers who are aware of their right has increased substantially in the last few decades owing to the hard work of the government and enacting of such consumer empowering laws, there are still millions of people who do not know their basic rights and are still falling prey to dishonest traders and their exploitation. Various initiatives like Jaago Grahak Jaago, a step towards consumer education through advertisements and door to door counseling of villagers who are away from the facilities such as internet and television, have been taken to promote protection of rights of consumers. Since no consumer should be a victim of dishonest traders looting gullible and negligent people of their money.
Pranshu Sinha is an avid researcher & writer and is currently the 3rd year Law student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow.