It is said that every business can do wonders if they abide by the laws and wish of the customers.
In order to do the same, it is imperative that a country has strong and well implemented system of laws that aim at the protection of the consumers. Consumer Protection Act is one of the main laws that provide this much needed protection to the consumers in India. The Act was introduced in the year 1986 and then amended in the year 2002 and later in 2019. This act aims to not only provide better protection to the consumers but also to establish a strong mechanism for the settlement of consumer disputes.
Some of the laws and regulations enacted under the Consumer Protection Act include the Consumer Protection Act (E-Commerce), 2020, Consumer Protection Rules (Mediation), 2020, Consumer Protection Laws (Consumer Dispute Resolution Commissions), 2020 and Consumer Protection (General) Acts, 2020. Apart from the Consumer Protection Act, there are various other laws and regulations enacted regarding the protection of consumer interests that cover specific issues such as food, drugs and cosmetics.
In a nutshell, the act seeks to:
• Protect against the marketing of goods which are hazardous to life and property.
• Inform about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices.
• Assure, wherever possible, access to an authority of goods at competitive prices.
• Hear and to assure that consumers interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums.
• Seek redressal against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers.
• Consumer education.
The consumer protection laws in India arose as more and more retailers started exploiting the consumers in a bid to increase their profits unlawfully and cheat the consumers by passing off goods that were not fit to be sold. For a long time, such was the state of affairs that if a consumer was unhappy with a product of a particular company or store, he either stopped buying it all together or just ended up avoiding that company/store. The concept was that it was the customer who had to be vigilant before buying and if the product bought ended up being bad then it was the customer who was in the wrong as he was not careful enough before selecting it. It took years of generating awareness in order to put some pressure on the business firms and the government to exert some control and to correct business practices that were unethical and opposed the consumer interest. The enactment of The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was one such step in the right direction.
Who is a consumer?
A consumer might be generally understood as a purchaser of goods and services for the personal satisfaction of themselves or other members of their households, as distinct from the use to generate further income. It is important to note that there is no universally agreed definition of the term consumer. Different laws of different country have variable definitions of this term depending upon the various contexts and requirements.
Who is not a consumer?
Any person who obtains goods for resale or for any commercial purpose or a person who avails any services for any commercial purpose is not considered to be a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act.
The expression "commercial purpose" does not include buying or using any goods or services by a person for the purposes of earning his/ her livelihood, by means of self-employment.
What is a product?
A product means any article or goods or substance or raw material in any physical state which is produced for introduction to trade or commerce.
To whom does the consumer protection laws apply?
The consumer protection law applies to various players and entities including:
2. Product manufacturers.
3. Product sellers.
4. Product service providers.
6. Advertising agencies.
8. E-commerce market players such as e-commerce entities, e-commerce sellers.
Who can make a complaint for a defective product or service?
Following person can make a complaint:
1. A consumer.
2. Any voluntary consumer association registered under any law.
3. The Central Government or any State Government.
4. The Central Authority established under the Consumer Protection Act.
5. Legal heir or legal representatives of a consumer in case of death of a consumer.
6. Parents or legal guardian of a consumer in case such consumer is a minor.
When to file a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act?
Any consumer may raise a complaint in writing under the Consumer Protection Act if in case he/she faces:
• Adoption of any unfair trade practise or a restrictive trade practice by any trader or service provider.
• The goods bought by him or agreed to be bought by him suffer from one or more defects.
• The services hired or availed of or agreed to be hired or availed of by him suffer from a deficiency in any respect.
• Trader or the service provider, as the case may be, has charged for the goods or for the services mentioned in the complaint, a price in excess of the price.
? Fixed by or under any law for the time being in force.
? Displayed on the goods or any package containing such goods.
? Displayed on the price list exhibited by him by or under any law for the time being in force.
? Agreed between the parties.
• Offering goods for sale to the public which will be hazardous to life and safety when used.
• Offering services which will be hazardous to life and safety of the public when used.
How to file a complaint in the consumer forum?
Any consumer facing a problem with the goods or services purchased may file a consumer complaint in writing in the District/State/National Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum depending upon the pecuniary value and the territorial jurisdiction of the complaint concerned. A complaint should be made in writing and can be made before the competent forum in offline or online mode after paying the requisite fees. A complaint can be presented by the complainant in person or by his agent. It can even be sent by registered post along with the court fee. An online complaint can be made at http://edaakhil.nic.in/.The consumer forum starts at the district level and goes up to the National level. Thereafter, the appeals may be filed in the Supreme Court of India which is the final court of adjudication in India. Any consumer who is aggrieved by the order of a commission can make an appeal before the higher commission subject to the timelines prescribed in the Consumer Protection Act.
An appeal against the order of district commission can be made before the state commission on grounds of facts or law within a period of forty-five days from the date of the order. Similarly, an appeal against the order of state commission can be made before the national commission within a period of thirty days from the date of such order. The national commission shall also be the competent forum for an appeal against the order of the central authority established under the Consumer Protection Act and such an appeal should be made within thirty days from the date of receipt of such order. An appeal before the state or national commission shall be heard and disposed within a period of ninety days from the date of admission. An appeal against the order passed by the national commission shall be made before the Supreme Court of India within a period of thirty days from the date of the order.
On receipt of a complaint, the consumer forum may reject or approve the complaint, usually within 21 days from the date of the complaint. A copy of the complaint will reach the opposite side/party for approval to be made within 45 days. All efforts are made to ensure that all consumer cases are heard as expeditiously as possible. In fact, it is endeavoured to decide all consumer complaints within a period of 3 months from the date of receipt of notice by the opposite party. If after the notice is issued on a consumer complaint, the complainant fails to appear, the complaint is either dismissed in default or decided on merits. A complaint should be filled within two years from the date on which the cause of action has arisen.
At the first hearing of the complaint after admission or at any later stage, the National or State or the District Commission, as the case may be, may direct the parties to settle the dispute by mediation if there exist any elements of a settlement which may be acceptable by the parties to the dispute. And where a dispute could not be settled by mediation, the concerned Commission shall continue to heal all the issue and dispose the said dispute.
The journey of a 1000 miles begins with the first step. The constitution and working of the various consumer forums is the first step towards building a nation that respects and takes care of its consumers and with time, these forums will only gain more power.