Coming straight to the crux of the matter, let me begin first and foremost pointing out that a new Consumer Protection Bill has been tabled in the Lok Sabha on January 5, 2018. This was presented on the last day of the winter session of Parliament. The Union Minister for Consumer Affairs – Ram Vilas Paswan introduced the new Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 in the Lok Sabha.
Replacing Old Act By New
s to say, if all goes well, the Bill will certainly become an Act sooner than later. It will replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 is more wider in its ambit as compared to the Act of 1986.
Object Of New Bill
Conditions For Liability
1. The product contains a manufacturing defect;
2. It is defective in design;
3. There is a deviation from the manufacturing specifications;
4. It does not conform to the express warranty; and
5. It does not contain adequate instructions for correct usage.
Regulator On Anvil
It is well known that to promote and protect the consumer rights, the Consumer Protection Councils at the district, state and national levels are prescribed under the current law. But its biggest handicap is that it is only an advisory body and hence does not have powers of enforcement. To overcome this handicap, this new Bill brings in a regulator for consumer affairs, much like the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) for the markets or the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) for insurers.
Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (CDRC)
(i) unfair or restrictive trade practices;
(ii) defective goods or services;
(iii) overcharging or deceptive charging; and
(iv) the offering of goods or services for sale which may be hazardous to life and safety.
Complaints against an unfair contract can be filed with only the State and National CDRCs. Appeals from a District CDRC will be heard by the State CDRC. Appeals from the State CDRC will be heard by the National CDRC. The final appeal will lie before the Supreme Court.
Jurisdiction Of CDRCs
To tell the truth, the District CDRC will entertain complaints where value of goods and services does not exceed Rs one crore. The State CDRC will entertain complaints when the value is more than Rs one crore but does not exceed Rs 10 crore. Finally, the complaints with value of foods and services over Rs 10 crore will be entertained by the National CDRC.
Punishment For Non-Compliance
To put things in perspective, the non-compliance of the order issued by the Consumer Protection Authority is punishable with am imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 20 lakh, or both. The Authority may also impose penalties with regard to the misleading advertisements, food adulteration and spurious goods. A penalty on the endorser of the misleading advertisement is suggested as well, which could put celebrities who endorse products that don’t live up to its claims, in the dock.
Punishment For False Claims In Advertisements
It must be highlighted here that misleading ads in various media touting exaggerated claims are very common and it is the consumers who have to suffer the most because of all this! Earlier there was a lack of clear legal provisions. But this new Consumer Bill of 2018 seeks to specify what constitutes false and unfulfilled claims.
Defence For Endorsers
According to the Bill, the endorsers who can prove that they applied “due diligence” or appeared in an ad in “normal course of business” without knowledge of fraudulent intentions may use it as a “defence”. They have every right to stand immune from legal proceedings if they can prove that they had no fraudulent intentions of any kind while endorsing. No one can deny or dispute this! However, the Bill in the same vein also states that, “The burden of proof of such defence shall lie on the person raising such defence”.
Vulnerability Of Consumers
Curbing The Misuse Of Limitation
fair trade practices often take advantage of limitations in the current law. This must be plugged in the new Bill. If this is not done, the whole purpose of the new Bill will stand defeated. Pradeep Mehta of the CUTS International which is a consumer rights activist group points out that, “In an earlier era, issues like misleading ads and cheating were dealt with under the Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Act. But since the Competition Act, 2002, replaced the MRTP Act, it left out effective regulations to deal with unfair trade practices. This new Bill hopefully will address these shortcomings.” The Bill also provides for framing of rules subsequent to passage of the Bill for product recalls and on the responsibility of a firm for both safety and efficacy of its products.
Presently, a Redressal Commission operates at the district, state and national levels to adjudicate consumer disputes. The new law stipulates for an alternative dispute redressal mechanism if there is chance for a settlement agreeable to the parties to the dispute. The new Bill calls for setting up of mediation cells attached to the district, state and national commissions.
All said and done, this new Bill is certainly a marked improvement over the previous one. But still many more loopholes can and must be plugged before finally getting it assented to by the President. It certainly merits more deliberation in both Houses of Parliament. Only after a proper debate, discussion and deliberations by both Houses of Parliament should it be passed after going through it in detail so that no loophole is left out. This new Bill directly affects consumers in a huge way and so has to be taken most seriously so that consumers don’t suffer under any circumstances and have enough remedy to pursue when aggrieved which can be possible only if all their genuine concerns are taken into board and simultaneously also addressed before making it into a law by getting it passed in both Houses of Parliament!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.