Exploitation of consumers in market brought out the need for the introduction of Consumer Protection Act in 1986 with the main objective of protecting the interest of the consumers. It came into existence to provide justice to the consumers in a legal manner through the consumer forums with less formality and delay.
Under this act, many councils and authorities have been established to protect the interest of consumers by keeping a check on the unfair trade practices like black marketing, adulteration, hoarding, false advertising, etc and guide them to use their rights and remedies and also files cases on behalf of the consumers.
But with the changes in environment and to meet the new set of challenges the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 got replaced by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The new act received the President’s assent on 29th august 2019 and came into force on 20th July 2020. It includes-
- E-Commerce transactions – The new act has included those consumers also who are buying goods from the online platforms like teleshopping, or through websites like flip kart, amazon, myntra etc. Sometimes the goods are defective and inappropriate in online purchase and the consumers are unable to file any complaint but now they can easily do so.
- Filling of complaints where a consumer reside – Under the new act the consumers can file the complaint at place where they reside or work which was not possible earlier when consumers have to file the complaint where the seller reside or sell has been made which creates inconvenience for the consumer.
- Establishment of CCPA – Under new act there is a introduction of Central Consumer Protection Authority which has a investigation wing headed by a Director General. This authority has got powers to do suo-moto investigation, can file cases at different forums, promote consumer rights, and can issue guidelines for the unfair trade practices.
- Punishment for misleading advertisement – In this the punishment for misleading advertisement can be up to a fine of 10 lakh and imprisonment for 2 years. For the subsequent offense then imprisonment can be of 5 years and fine up to 50 lakhs.
- Product liability action – It has been introduced to provide the consumers compensation for the harm caused to them by the use of a particular product. It includes product manufacturer, product service provider and product seller which will cover e-commerce as well. Now the defence that e-commerce is just a platform will not be acceptable.
- Mediation centre – Under the new act for the alternative dispute resolution mechanism, mediation centre has been attached with every forum for reducing the burden of the consumer courts and quicker resolution of disputes.
Three Tier Consumer Redressal Agencies
- District Forum
It is established by the State Government in each district of the State. In CPA 1986, it included the complaints for goods and services worth Rs 20 lakhs or less. Now in the new Act the complaints for goods and services worth Rs1 crore or less can be filed.
If the aggrieved party is not satisfied with the jurisdiction of the district forum then they can file an appeal in State Commission against the judgement within 30 days.
- State Commission
It is established by the State Government in the State. Under CPA 1986 the complaints for goods and services worth between 20 lakhs and 1 crore can be filed in the State Forum. But in the new act, the complaints can be filed for goods and services whose value is between 1 crore and 10 crore.
The aggrieved party if not satisfied with the judgement of State Forum can file an appeal in the National Commission within 30 days.
- National Commission
It is established by the Central Government. Earlier consumer can file complaints for goods and services worth more than Rs 1 crore in the National Commission. But under the new CPA 2019, the complaints for goods and services worth more than Rs10 crore can be filed in the National Commission.
If the aggrieved party is not satisfied with the decision of the National Commission then they can go to the Supreme Court.
Challenges of Consumer Protection Act, 2019
The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) got the power of inquiry and investigation, which is done through an investigative wing headed by a director-general. Though this provision is admirable in its real sense the functions of the authority is unclear as district collectors have the responsibility to undertake inquiries and investigations. Thus, the task of investigative wing and functions of the district collector might create a clash in their interests in near future.
There is no clarity whether the disputes which are with the present consumer commission will be heard by them or will be transferred to the courts having the pecuniary jurisdiction according to the new act. This will lead to further delays.
This Act doesn’t include any strict liability for seller or supplier offering goods that are hazardous for the public at large whenever they are put to use, as the act only provides safety to the consumer from such products being marketed in public. Marketing of the goods should be done according to the procedure laid down in the Act, but if there is a violation of these rules then it does not prescribe anything for such consequences.
The CPA has still not included any Right to Safety and Healthy Environment for the consumer, although it has six main rights but it completely remains silent on creating any right related to environment.
The CPA, 2019 has broaden the range of the District forums for receiving complaints with regards to monetary value of goods, but when it comes to the application and obedience of rules and regulations then the main issue arises as the department of District Forum has very small number of members to work which results in workload on existing members.
In reality, the situation is very far from the idea of giving justice. The Legislation has failed in getting implemented, and its execution is becoming difficult to resolve. There are a large number of cases which are still pending at the Court and in addition to this slow processing of the court is a biggest and most complex problem which is needed to be resolved.
The government has put various efforts to protect the interest of the consumers but at the same time the consumer should also play his part by exercising his rights and responsibilities. So, it won’t be wrong to say that the new Act has provided its benefits but still it needs to get more improved and it need to come into the knowledge of various consumers. It can further work on following-
- It should also increase the members in the District Forum as the scope of it has been widened and many cases still remains pending which also needs to be solved.
- The companies should make some efforts by putting on numbers and procedure on the labeling of every product through which the consumers can resolve their disputes sitting at home within few hours. It is important that those numbers should work and can relief the consumers.
- Regular seminars should be conducted at global and local level to spread awareness among the consumers towards the Act. More emphasis should be given on the rural areas and amongst the illiterate people as they are not aware about it.
Author: Radhika Khandelwal from Indore Institute of Law.