CONSUMER PROTECTION BILL 2015-AN OVERVIEW
In the world of globalized consumerism it is necessary that consumer must be provided with the standard products and service which on voluntary basis not expectable from the producers or service providers thus an effective reformative law aiming at changing the market scenario vis-à-vis speedy disposal, amendments in compensation policy are necessary in the present day. In the recent times where the consumer safety is of paramount importance as it is concerned with the health issue which is constitutional right under article 21 of the constitution. Due to bad quality product consumer’s interest lessen as of bad experience. Spending of money imply to receive equal amount of satisfaction too, otherwise results in litigation process. With this it is also necessary that unlawful activities curbed at larger extent covering majority of the crimes. Consumer welfare is to be maintained by the government so that no economic activities are balanced and exists fair relationship between consumers and manufactures. The new bill resolves the issues which existed till date from the former act. This paper seeks to analyse the key amendments in the act to provide better assistance in knowing the amendments. The working of parliament can make it possible to bring regulation for the economic process of the country.
The present bill replaces old consumer protection act, 1986 which connotes certain new provisions relating the consumer laws in a more comprehensive manner. The Department of Legal Affairs and the Legislative Department had given nod to the draft Consumer Protection Bill, 2015 and was finalized to be approved. It aims widening the scope of consumer law due to changing markets in the modern times. This particular bill provides for setting up of the consumer redressal commission in adjudication of the matters with increase in the pecuniary jurisdiction, also establishment of the Consumer protection authority for the purpose of investigation of the matters brought before the consumer courts by the consumer in the form of consumer complaints. Further consumer council is also established to ensure the promotion of the consumer rights and acts as an advisory body. This new bills also pre-supposes the creation of the mediation cell which was not there in the previous legislation thus an innovative approach for the expediency of the consumer matters in order to achieve speedy justice. This bill has come up with many fruitful amendments which includes widening the scope of the law, new provisions like product liability, unfair contract, regulator, and alternative dispute resolution mechanism, pecuniary jurisdiction has been increased at all levels of the consumer courts, penalties for the failure of appropriate service or defects in goods or non-compliance with the order of the courts has gone up.
OBJECT OF THE BILL
To provide for adequate protection of the interests of consumers and for prevention of unfair trade practices and for the said purposes to make provisions for establishment of the Consumer Protection Councils and other authorities for better administration and for timely and effective settlement of consumers’ disputes and for matters connected therewith”.
- To provide adequate protection for the interest of the consumers.
According to McMillan dictionary (1985) “Consumerism is concerned with the protecting consumers from all organization with which there is exchanged relationship. It encompasses the set of activities of government, business, independent organizers and concerned consumer that are designed to protect the rights of the consumers”. Consumer’s rights are protected under the act.
Further this happens to be the object of the council is to promote the rights of the consumer and are established at central, state and district level for the promotion and protection of the consumer rights. That means the council will check on the whether this consumer rights are properly served.
The interest of consumer is protected in a three-fold manner that is first where the manufacturer and the suppliers of the goods and services for the consumers imposes a good level of self-regulation and discipline, thus coordinating healthy relation with the consumers for the better future policy, secondly it comes the intervention of the executive authority (Government) enacting consumer friendly legislation (speedy disposal, adequate compensation, right to appeal etc.) for additional protection of the consumer interest and on the same lane equivalent enforcement procedure needs to be established, mere rhetoric practice is not suffice. Thirdly an effort to be made by the voluntarily organization (NGO), cooperative society to safeguard the interest of the consumers.
Prevention of unfair trade practices
The new bill contains provision to determine the unfair trade practices which can be tried before the competent judicial body, also can be further prevented with the aid of the Central Consumer Protection authority (herein after will be referred as CCPA) which acts as regulator under the framework of the act.
Unfair trade practice means a trade practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply of any goods or for the provision of any service, adopts any unfair method or unfair or deceptive practice, such as the practice of making any statement, whether orally or in writing or by visible representation which is false, permits the publication of any advertisement whether in any newspaper or otherwise at a bargain price that are not intended to be offered for sale or supply at the bargain price, permits the sale or supply of goods intended to be used or discloses to any other person any personal information given in confidence by the consumer provided that disclosure of personal information under provisions of any law in force or in public interest shall not be construed as an unfair trade practice etc.
Establishment of the Consumer Protection Councils
After the close observation of the functions of the council it can be concluded that it resembles the powers and function that of Central consumer protection authority thus there is overlapping which needs to be avoided at all stages. This council is headed by executive functionaries at all level. Further it is a new body under the bill which does not existed in the previous act
The council established as three-tier advisory body formed at district, state and national level for the promotion and protection of the consumer rights. National consumer protection council consists of the Minister-in-charge of the Department of Consumer Affairs in the Central Government, who shall be its Chairman and other members, State consumer protection council consists of he Minister-in-charge of Consumer Affairs in the State Government who shall be its Chairman and other members, whereas district consumer protection council consists of the Collector of the district who is chairman and other members.
- Other authorities
Central consumer protection authority (CCPA)
At present there is no authority rendered with the object of prevention of such unfair trade practices, thus filling the empty space in the regulation.This provision in the bill is newly added which has been established for the purpose of protection, promotion and enforcing the consumer rights. Its ambit includes protection against marketing of goods and services which are unsafe and hazardous in nature to the life as well as property, also the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services.
It is proposed that the role performed by the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) and such other sector regulators are different from that of CCPA as it is consumer-centric and intervene only when there is necessity to prevent unfair trade practice for all three stages of consumer interaction with the market that is before the purchase of product, during and after the purchase of a product or procurement of a service. The fact that the CCPA is an executive authority but is vested with both the powers of executive ( to make investigation) and judicial powers ( to pass an order) which is to be strongly condemned for the reason that it violates the principle of separation of powers and should not discharge or exercise the judicial functions.
Further it is violative of the principle of natural justice which provides right of being heard, which in the present bill is not so the case.Independence of quasi-judicial body is at risk. This authority is vested with the power to adjudicate the matters relating to Unfair Trade Practices and false & misleading ads. , for which already the District, State, and National level commission has been vested with thus leading to conflict and duplication of powers. It also aims to prevent unfair trade practices that is those advertisement which are misleading or in contravention to the provision of the act for any goods or services. It also ensure that no person engages himself in unfair trade practices or takes part in the publication of any advertisement which is false or misleading.
ANALYSIS OF THE NOTABLE AMENDMENTS OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION BILL, 2015
- Product Liability
A beneficial provision for the consumer where the liability is imposed on the manufacturer or producer of the goods or product if in case the consumer has suffered any loss, injury or death due to the defect in the product or any damage to the property due to the defective product. It tend to include service liability.
A consumer (claimant) is required to prove all the following things to claim the product liability that are as follows:
- That there is manufacturing defect or deviation from manufacturing specification
- There is defective design
- No instruction for the correct use of the product to avoid danger or warning of improper use
- It did not conform to an express warranty of the product made by the manufacturer or product seller
- Defendant is the manufacturer of the product that has caused harm
- The dangerous aspect of the product was the proximate cause of the harm suffered by the claimant.
Another provision where the claimant is required to prove that the manufacture was aware of the defect and of the danger that the product will cause harm to the consumer which apparently seems to unreasonable, simply the burden of proof is on consumer (claimant) and not on the manufacturer, where it is practically impossible to prove each and every clause of the provision. It can be concluded that if any one of them is not proved the defendant cannot be held liable for compensation to the claimant. The claimant is barred from claiming the compensation. This clause is to be re-visited in wordings that manufacturer should be guilty until proved innocent. A notable feature of the Indian laws it provides for several exception from the liability to the accused under certain circumstances which is also reflected in the present amendment bill for the product liability. The manufacturer will be liable even if no negligence or fraudulent act is made on their part.
1.2 Defect in Definition
Under the provision of the product liability the manufacturer is held liable for defect in the product. The definition does provides for liability in case of deficiency of service but there are no such condition laid down in the act which could make the service provider held liable for its deficiency in service. So it is necessary that service-provider to be inclusive of the definition and to be prosecuted under the act adequate conditions needs to specified thereof.
The new bill also contains the provision relating to unfair contract which is appended in the bill for the reason that no contract takes places between the manufacturer or service provide and the consumer which is unfair in nature and has listed up to six points which can come within the ambit of unfair contract. It aims at protecting the consumers. This provision are comprehensive approach to cover the unfair contracts under section.
The consumer protection bill also seeks to propose the concept of mediation, thus promoting the interest of consumer in a expedite manner. Establishment of the mediation cells for the district, state and national consumer redressal commission. Very prominent change in the bill where the matter can be adjudicated in short span of time with both the parties as winners.
- Power of the review.
In the new bill, there is establishment of district commission, state commission and national commission at different level aiming at adjudication of the dispute relating to defects in goods or deficiency in services. Inter alia, the district and state commission are empowered to review their own order in case there is any error apparent on the face of it which were not there in the old legislation of the consumer protection act, 1986.
- Increase in the Pecuniary Jurisdiction of the Commission.
The present amendment bill seeks to increase the pecuniary jurisdiction of the adjudicating quasi-judicial body. That is for the district redressal agency the amount has gone up from Rs. 25 lac to 50 lac, in state redressal agency the amount has been increased from Rs. 50 lac to 10 crore which was Rs.25 lac to 1 crore earlier, and at National redressal commission this amount went up from 1crore to above 10 crore based upon billed value of the goods. In the growing consumerism, inflation, high-profile contract, prices of the product etc. it is necessary that the same level of changes to be done in the technical aspects of the courts for better efficiency.
- Territorial jurisdiction
And consumer can file complaint within the local limits of whose jurisdiction he resides or personally work for gain or where cause of action has arisen or where the opposite part or any of opposite party resides or carry on the business or has branch office or personally work for the gains either at district or state commission as the case may be that is local or territorial jurisdiction. Here the problem may arise relating to filling of the complaint in case where the complainant resides and the cause of action is at different place and the service provider carries on business somewhere else.
- Composition of The Consumer Redressal Agency
There is also change in the composition of the adjudicating body at all three tier quasi-judicial adjudicating consumer body, where number of members at each level have been increased so that more case can be dealt conveniently but is also at the same time against the guidelines of the Supreme Court regarding competence of the members.
- Establishment Of The Circuit Bench
For the speedy disposal and expediency in the consumer matters the bill empowers the state and national commission to establish the circuit bench ordinarily at the state capital or at any other place which may be decided from time to time depending upon the pendency from one particular District, so that to reduce the burden on the courts.
- Provision For Frivolous Complaint
This particular section will check on the limit on the frivolous complaint made by the consumer, which also attracts the punishment up to Rs. 50,000 which was earlier 10,000.
- Enforcement of the Orders
Under section 60 of the act the orders of three-tier machinery can be lawfully enforced in the manner as if it were a decree of the court in a pending suit, in case of its inability to execute such order and to pass necessary direction to the law authorities to execute the order. In the subsection it has also attached the penal provisions in case of non-compliance of the order of court five hundred rupees or one-half per cent. of the value of the amount awarded, whichever is higher, for each day of delay of such non-compliance of the order till it is paid, in addition to the payment of the awarded amount. If the court deems fit it may order the property of the person, not complying with such order to be attached and sold and proceed if the non-compliance continues more than three months.
- Expertise Assistance And Online Complaint
National/state/district commission may direct any individual or organisation or expert to assist the adjudicating body. As for the analysis of the defect and to know the quantum of the damage the aid of the expert can be really fruitful and trustworthy so that interest of the consumer can be saved. With the latest amendment now the complaints can be filed electronically, in order to move on with the digital campaign launched by the government the consumers can send their complaint online.
The present bill is comprehensive in nature that will keep vigilance on the intact consumer interest as by the creation of the authorities and empowering them to act independently along with establishment of the commission and council. Moreover there is simplification of the adjudication procedure with the inclusion of mediation cell at each level and increase in the number of adjudicating bench of quasi-judicial body. An interesting feature that has included is of recall, refund and return of goods which was no previously there in the old act, it is also made mandatory provision benefitting to the consumer. Emphasis is also placed on the misleading advertisement which tends to defraud the consumers directly or indirectly. The Consumer was amended in the year 1991, 1993, and 2002 but was not suffice to protect the right of the consumers in the modern day of globalization, technology and improvisation. There are shortcomings too which are ought to be rectified at the later stage, the passing of the bill will strengthen the lame consumer right in a better manner. The Government, voluntary organization and its associated agencies is tend to bring consumer friendly environment in the nation. An effort is also required at the same time by the people that while purchasing, to remain aware of his rights & make aware others, the producers and sellers will fear of making any malpractices because consumers are now equipped with the tool to counter the bad instances.
Harpal Parmar is a student of 4th Year, B.Com,LL.B. (Hons.) of R.N. Patel Ipcowala School of Law and Justice, Sardar Patel University.
 S. 2 (41), Consumer protection bill, 2015.
 Ibid at sub-clause A to I of which (f), (g), (h), are new provisions.
 Standing Committee On Food, Consumer Affairs And Public Distribution (2015-16) Sixteenth Lok Sabha, Ministry Of Consumer Affairs, Food And Public Distribution (Department Of Consumer Affairs), The Consumer Protection Bill, 2015
 S.16 (1) (x), and (xvii), Consumer protection bill, 2015.
 S.16 (1) (xiii), (xiv) and (xv), Consumer protection bill, 2015
 S.72, Consumer protection bill, 2015
 S.42. Consumer protection bill, 2015
 S.36, Consumer protection bill, 2015
 S.46, Consumer protection bill, 2015