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Consumer Empowerment: Protection, Rights And Obligations

Consumer is anyone who buys and consumes goods and services from the seller in exchange for the money available to him/her in the market or through natural resources. Consumer protection act, 1986, now has repealed with Consumer Protection Act, 2019 which is more exhaustive, meticulous and reasonable in terms of providing justice to the consumer.

This act has some essential and basic rights enshrined in it for the protection of interest of the consumers. It was this act which gave legal authority to the social force which was introduced much earlier to safeguard the rights of the consumer. National Consumer Rights Day is observed on 24 December every year in India.

In the year 1985 United Nations Guidelines were adopted in General Assembly related to consumer protection which was the base of establishment of policies protecting the rights and interests of the consumer. Furthermore United Nations also layer down certain safety standards for the quality of products available to the consumer matching the quality criteria.

Consumer satisfaction is the paramount concern of the government when it comes to protecting the interests of consumer whilst ensuring the safety of goods and safeguarding the rights. Biased consumer agreement terms, consumer education, disputes of consumer, consumer atrocity, damaged and defective products, poor quality products and services, unfair market practices and fake labeling of price tags are areas where consumer protection comes into action.

Various acts introduced with the passage of time for ensuring safe consumption that includes Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, Drugs and Cosmetic Act, 1940 and Right to Information Act 2005. Consumer redressal agency has been created for maintaining the dignity and right to safety of consumers protected.

Many developing countries including India emerged with the idea of consumer protection and rights in the early or mid twentieth century ultimately resulting in formation of sturdy consumer protection acts all around the globe. Right to information act has empowered the consumers as now they can seek information about the goods and services before buying the same. Consumer has right to seek redressal in different consumer platforms.

Consumer education has been a crucial aspect since consumers came across frauds which are beyond their imagination to make them responsible and intelligent buyers. Adopting food standards through Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO) and CODEX Alimentarius, are some agencies ensuring the enforcement of rights at international level.

With rights comes responsibilities and duties towards the society and environment and consumers should respect its very existence. Beginning from the introduction of consumer protection acts in India to its real implication and interpretations, this paper has attempted pondering, analyzing, exploring and reviewing of consumer protection, rights, behavior and responsibilities in the best manner possible.

Consumer Empowerment: Protection, Rights And Obligations

In the year 2020, 20th July, a complete new act came into force namely the Consumer Protection Act. The old Consumer Protection Bill, 1986 was given a statutory recognition while in addition it states "Consumer Is the King". The 1986 bill underwent many amendments but the legislature felt that merely amendments were not fulfilling the interests of the consumer. It is then only, the new act was notified on 20th July, 2020.

Within the new act, there are several facets that are found to be completely up to date which straightaway reflects power of review by the consumer courts themselves and also by the consumers, appeal on point of law by either of the consumer or through the provision of public interest litigation, power to form and hold agreements and focuses on liability of the service and goods provider towards the market and consumers explicitly.

It took about a whole two decades for this new law to come up in existence in the form of a statute. From past 10 years the story has remained same as previous governments and current government kept on trying for the finest possible improvements so as to develop the consumer law in the favor of consumers without doing injustice to the sellers or manufacturers.

The earlier law of 1986 has served the country for 36 years with always a scope to practically develop the act and the provisions meeting the demands of public at large. Whenever there is a necessity and need of the hour for changing the consumer governance system, the law was amended and altered as per the circumstances of the society.

The growth of E-commerce, telemarketing, global supply chains and various fresh services options has time and again enhanced the condition of consumers which are available to the consumer.

Currently the consumers have a lot many options which helps them in their personal as well as professional lives getting better which were not covered In The Consumer Protection Act, 1986.[1]

The new act was presented before the Lok Sabha in the year 2018 and got passed by the same house of the parliament. Later on the bill was somewhere stuck between the process and couldn't be presented before the Rajya Sabha resulting to which the bill got dismissed ultimately. Finally in the year 2019, the same bill again came into the recognition and was passed by Lok Sabha on 30 July 2019 and later approved by the Rajya Sabha on 6 August 2019 followed by the assent of former president ( Ram Nath Kovind) dated 9th august 2019. Afterwards, on 15th July, 2020 the rules were made and reviewed thoroughly stating that the law would be applicable in whole of the country from 20th July, 2020.[2]

There was an immediate need to formulate such law and introduce new and updated provisions concerning consumers of the country in the market economy because unfortunately law and rules was merely in existence before 2019 as the governing bodies can't interpret laws fairly as some vital aspects were absent. Also the act failed to put a splendid impact on the public and gain trust of the common citizen and also governing body was unable to interpret the laws as the act was lacking the major provisions and arose ambiguity in the minds of people.

Significant alterations and insertions in the Consumer Protection Act, 2019:

Pecuniary jurisdiction of all the three commissions (district, state and national) earlier called forums, has elevated to Rs 10 crore and more monetary related cases. District commission would be dealing with the cases falling under the monetary value of 1 crore. State commission would be handling the disputes falling under the monetary value of 1crore to 10 crore. And national commission would be handling the cases concerning a monetary value of 10 crore and beyond that.

For the very first time, all three commissions had the power to review. They can review their own judgments. before the enactment of the new consumer protection act of 2020, what use to happen was that, if there is some error apparent on the face of record by the district forum then the dispute reaches to the state forum consistently and constantly without having a review of the same decision by the same court so as to save time and energy of the judicial system at state level. As if now, the error can be rectified by the decision making bodies themselves through the process of reviewing their own passed verdict. [3]

In the new act, E-filing is allowed, which was missing in the old act. Similarly, the new chapter number five has been added very specifically i.e. mediation. Prior to approaching the court of law, both the parties will be called upon for resolving their dispute by adopting the methodology of mediation through mediation lawyer or the mediator as commonly said. Introduction of mediation in the alternate dispute system has improved the decision making functioning with using reduced monetary resource and court's time period together with saving the time and energy of both the concerned parties.

More than half of the suits and plaints are preferred and suggested initially to be resolved in the mediation structure of the dispute resolution mechanism as many parties also feels and prefer the method which is feasible and inherent quick matter disposition in itself instead of spending more time, investing more money and energy and taking the dispute inside the court where the guaranteed fair justice is absent and also becomes a long term deal.

The mediation process is equally beneficial for the complainant and the respondents as it supports or favors neither of the sides and opt fair and just means of dispute resolution by engaging in a peaceful negotiated discussion.[4]

Limitation period of filing the plaint remains same in both the acts (Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and Consumer Protection Act 2019). 2 years limitation period is prescribed as in the law till date which has never been altered or changed.[5]

Additionally, section 69 has been added in the new act stating the provisions of "condonation of delay". Specifically, an application for the condonation of delay can be filed by the party who got delayed in presenting the case or in any time during the court proceedings. The delayed attorney or party can therefore file and application of condonation of delay in adherence to section 69. The aforementioned application would only succeed in acceptance if the party who got delayed provides proper, mindful and reasonable justification for the same and depends on the court whether to agree to that explanation of the party or to reject the application.

In the 1986 consumer protection act, administrative control was not in the hands of these consumer forums at all levels. District forums were controlled and regulated by the state forums/authority; likewise state forums were under the direct supervision control of national forums authoritative body.

The currently followed act (consumer protection act 2019) has a definition of recall mentioned in it with a specific provision which embraces its importance in the present scenario. [6]Product recall provision was absent in the previous act as the need for recalling and reviewing the product was felt later because of the emerging cases related to the defective and hazardous products selling and manufacturing in the open market without anybody having any check on the quality of the same before it enters into the retail or wholesale marketplace for the consumption purpose and not further selling or transporting the product.

But as of now, the product can be recalled in part or complete means, the corollary being that the product can be well examined even if it has passed the manufacturing stage or has reached the market. Rather certain landmark judgments of national commission can be well traced from the past in this regard. Maggie noodle ban case emerged in the year 2015 where the nestle company went against the decision of the court imposing a fine of Rs. 20 lakh fine on the company for producing and selling harmful product in the market.

This event was followed by the nestle company filling appeal in the court and challenged the courts order and denied the allegation framed and put on the company which they seemed to be disrespectful and defamatory in nature. Here in this case also the product was recalled by the court for absolute inspection.

The Maggie noodle crises proved to be a very significant and ground breaking case with regards to the consumer safety and security where it was observed by the court that there were some much needed provisions, which were lacking in the older act and must be added imminently. Leading light judgments did clarified the need of provision of recalling due to which it was adopted later on and was permanently codified in the new consumer protection act.

The improved act very strictly deals with the people engaging in the business of hazardous substances. Any item, may or may not be food product, if found hazardous for the purpose of consumption will be banned and suspended until the national commission pronounce its judgment on the associated matter. Provision of imposing a fine up to Rs 10 lakh has been stated very clearly in the act whoever supplies or produce such dangerous and perilous products.

There was no penal provision of criminal punishment in the earlier Act which is now found in the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 in the form of Jail.[7]

Merely defining and describing the consumer rights won't be enough in the new act, but it also need to be protected for upswing. The deficiency has widened the definition of consumer rights. Act of negligence and omission committed by such seller who causes loss or injury to the consumer was not mentioned in the previous consumer law in India but in depth interpretation of the same provisions concerning negligence and omission committed by the seller or party as the case may be has been inserted in the whole new statute later on.

Importance and need for class action suits in consumer law:[8]

Class action suits arose as a method for beating the difficulties forced on an enormous number of offended parties in a court and to restrict preliminary assortment. However class action suits are prevalently accepted to be an element of the American overall set of laws, they initially arose in England in the thirteenth century under the moniker bunch lawsuit.

Class action suit, in India was presented in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 through the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 1993, which embedded explicit arrangements for starting case in front of consumer forums by expanding the meaning of complainant under the 1986 Act and embedding Section 2(1) (b) (iv) which expressed at least one consumer, where there are various buyers having a similar interest.

By the expansion of Section 13(6) in the act, the correction additionally required the execution of the terms of Order I Rule 8 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 in procedures stated before the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, subsequently, commanding the technique gave in the Civil Procedure Code to be embraced in instances of class action customer suits. With the coming of rules for bringing class action suits, the enactment overseeing the training and methodology of class action cases progressed and developed with time.

By the virtue of various consumer national commission judgments passed against the builders, class action suit has been introduced and given prominent spot in the law and the term 'class action suit' was held lawful and valid by the court which would be considered a legal and fair suit if filed.

Preventing false and misleading advertisements and consumer safety:

False and misleading advertisements are a threat to society as well as the advertisers themselves as they fall under the category of offence. The advertisers and the parties related to the product advertisement would be liable for such type of an advertisement where the product is found to be harmful for the societal utilization.

Moreover the celebrities also has to be extremely cautious while signing for any product advertisement as they are the promoters of such unwelcomed and nasty product and they should be aware of the consequences as they are the influencers and role models of many people out there. They may also suffer along with the brand or product companies as they contributed fairly in reaching the product in the market and eventually to the houses of people for personal or general consumption.[9]

Consumer Protection - Regulatory ecosystem in India:

New watchdog has been created for the interests of the consumer namely Central Consumer Protection Authority and State Consumer Protection Authority, working at national and state levels with the essence of federalism.

These authoritative bodies have their own investigating wing which will investigate either suo moto or on the complaint. Certainly there is a huge challenge in front of these authorities as they have to time and again prove their ambit of functioning as they are questioned many times about the jurisdiction they enjoy and has legal implication to that effect.[10]

Protection of Consumer Rights through Judicial and Extra Judicial Mechanism in India:

The main impetus of providing a low court access to justice to the consumer was not taking place previously. That is the reason why the concept of Video Conferencing has been introduced and this option is now available to a consumer who can raise their concern individually without taking help from the solicitor who will file and fight the case on his behalf that too by charging money for the same.

There was an enormous amount of delay in disposal of cases when the 1986 was in force. The adjournment that was sought with too many was not really conceived at the time of formation of the 1986 Act. Not only at the lower stages referred to as the district courts, it happened at all stages and platforms.

This became the reason which spurred the government to come out of such kind of a legislation on account of which both the houses ( Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) applauded the insertion of the provision related to mediation. Hopefully, the variation will take care of the large pendency of cases that occurred during and before the Consumer Protection Act 1986.[11]

The consumer protection act, 1986 had this aura and there orders needed to be executed in its actual sense. It was truth less to ensure its execution. As of now, the execution of provisions has been ensured by the consumer protection authority, huge powers they has in their hands like get down, withdraw articles on complain and even Suo Moto. Nowadays consumer calls are no more deceptive in ensuring everything they see and do is implemented. Consumer need not as a matter of fact wait for the action to transpired; rather at present executive action can be taken by the concerned authority.

The current Act is extremely strong and robust to provide consumer the kind of safeguards they require to survive and to have the best of services and goods that they have been utilizing in this growing economy with the goal of sustainable development in the minds.

Product Liability:

In the developing marketplace, there are three other aspects which were missing in the previous act. Product liability being one of them didn't exited earlier so maximum product manufacturer was not really bothered about the quality and ingredients used in the making of goods. But the scenario has changed and now the product manufacturer need to be bothered at the same frequency as the consumer because they need to give a detailed report of the manufacturing process and the techniques used for making up the products to the consumer redressal forum at the time of proceedings in the court of law.

Unfair Trade Practices:

The second aspect is Unfair Trade Practices. Merriam Webster characterizes a Surrogate as a 'substitute'. What's more, surrogate advertisements are only that. A substitute notice can be characterized as an ad that copies the brand picture of one item to advance one more result of a similar brand. The proxy or substitute could either take after the first item or could be an alternate item out and out however it is showcased under the set up brand name of the first item.

Surrogate ads are utilized to advance and promote results of brands when the first item can't be publicized on broad communications. A few occurrences of surrogate commercials are: Bagpiper Soda, Cassettes and CDs, Royal Challenge Golf Accessories and Mineral Water, Imperial Blue Cassettes and CDs and so forth.

There are other authorities and regulations, like the Competition Commission of India who keeps an eye on the unfair trade practices as well.[12]

How will these separate regulations interface with the new law exclusively for consumer is something which will throw up in number of challenging issues which are yet to be resolved by adopting different interpretation methods by the judiciary or the parliament through the amendments which will prove to be a turning point if made wisely by favoring the whole nation instead of supporting a particular community or class of people.

The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA) and Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC) are the laws governing the real state sector in India. There is boned to be number of consumer commissions which are bound by the new rules and laws. There exist three different ministries. Consumer protection is regulated by the consumer affairs; IBC is regulated by the ministry of corporate affairs and RERA by the ministry of housing and development. This is one area where number of issues would emerge which would require the intervention of the apex court. Also there lies some of the crucial issues which will continue to remain important.

Consumer protection Jurisprudence: A constitutional perspective:

Ultimately, consumer courts or the entire consumer protection regime will be directed at solving the problems of the consumer at the cheapest cost affordable in the best possible time. It is only then efficiency and efficacy can be seen in the law and governance of consumer rights and protection. In the legislation, government has not allowed it to be rushed through. The departmental standing committee has sat for two years dealing with a single topic, where number of meetings took place simultaneously number of suggestions were accepted and have been put in the consumer protection Act, 2019, resulting in it quiet bulkier than the previous act.

The constitution speaks about providing justice to each and every citizen of the country adjoining to which economic, social, environmental and political welfare of public at large are to be ensured by the state itself by taking the aid of significant constitutional articles expressed in part 3 and 4 of the Indian constitution which are very much devoted for giving the rights to the common man.

Therefore, the consumer law is one of the outcomes where the consumer is guaranteed to be provided cheap and timely remedy. Thus, the section 3 of the consumer protection act 1986 provides in addition to any other law but not indulge law, by which consumer law can be taken into action. [13]

On that note, the landmark case of Charan Singh vs Healing Touch Hospital & Ors on 20 September, 2000, supreme court was of the view that the consumer law has to be handled in such a manner where the power and responsibility is been divided fairly and mindly between the regulatory bodies in order to lay down the quality justice to the consumer seeking justice. Evolution of consumer law comes as the constitution develops with the passage of time.

New jurisprudence has taken birth by virtue of law Videlicet consumer jurisprudence. Earlier, criminal, Civil and juvenile jurisprudence was present but as the time and legal aspects evolved the whole concept of Consumer jurisprudence came into recognition.

There are different quasi judicial authorities trying their best at least to give their positive and beneficial inputs as a judicial authority where the direct communication is between the judicial as well as the non judicial learned dignitaries who have contributed effectively in their respective are of practices. These people give best of their ability to see whether the law and governance can be developed by either of the valid, legal and just approach at all possible state of affairs. [14]

Empowering consumer strengthening and a groundbreaking purchaser:

It is of no doubt that the act of 1986 protected the interest of the consumers. In the consumer protection act, 2019 one of the much needed provision has been added i.e. 'Consumer rights' along with its meaning and definition. Consumer rights include the rights to be protected against the marketing of goods, services and products which are hazardous to life and property.

Recent dispute emerged in the city of Hyderabad, highlights the rights and duties of consumer. Here in this case, consumer court asks Star Bazaar to refund the money (Rs 6) to the consumer, which was charged in the name of plastic bag. Aforementioned situation available to the contrary parties didn't recorded any authentication to show that they enrolled with the concerned body by paying the imperative sum as above relying upon the deal limit without even a trace of such verification. The court was under the considered view that the opponents have not paid imperative sum payable for enlistment and for selling of plastic bags to the customer.[15]

Bhopal gas tragedy has taught various aspects of prevention from harmful mishappenings which is proved to be a nightmare event for the living beings in the history of the human existence. Not only the consumers and workers were harmed and affected for years but the common public also suffered a lot due to the horrible accident.

Central government and worldwide organizations should concentrate in on generally material strategies for corporate obligation and mishap avoidance as much in the creating world scenario as in developed modern countries. In particular, counteraction ought to remember hazard decrease for plant area and plan and security enactment.

The local state run administrations unmistakably can't permit industrial offices to be arranged inside metropolitan regions, paying little heed to the development of land use over the long haul. Industry and government need to carry legitimate monetary help to neighborhood networks so they can give clinical and other important administrations to decrease horribleness, mortality and material misfortune on account of modern mishaps.

The catastrophe showed a requirement for enforceable global principles for ecological wellbeing, deterrent methodologies to stay away from comparable mishaps and modern debacle readiness.

Since the accident, India has encountered fast industrialization. While some sure changes in government strategy and conduct of a couple of businesses have occurred, significant dangers to the environment and consumers protection from quick and ineffectively managed modern development remain. Boundless natural corruption with critical antagonistic consumer's security outcomes keeps on happening all through India.[16]

Duties of consumer[17] and seller[18]:

Deliberate withholding of relevant information by such person to be consumer is vital aspect for the consumer protection as it lays down the duties of the consumer to fulfill at the right time right place without delay. Simultaneously, the seller of the product or services also has the obligation to provide relevant and complete information to the consumer without hiding any of necessary information about the product or service being sold in due course of time.

Legal design patterns of consumer and the producer: [19]

So many pattern designs are been introduced and would hopefully be coming up in near future. Furthermore, India is not less in Intellectual property rights law. Designed patterns indicates the expansion of various distinct designs, moreover if the design maker is not taking care of this means than consumer law along with IPR law comes into action suo moto.

Intellectual property is a term alluding to a brand, development, plan or other sort of creation, which an individual or business has legitimate privileges over. Practically all organizations own some type of IP, which could be a business resource.

Indian markets have proved to be the UKs need abroad business sectors.

In the event that you intend to work together in India, or then again in case you are as of now exchanging there, it is vital for realize how to utilize, monitor and authorize the privileges you have over the Intellectual property (IP) that you or your business own.

Direct selling is a new phenomenon added to the contemporary law.

Direct selling in India became 4.7 percent in the main portion of the pandemic hit 2020-21 to contact complete deals of Rs 7,518 crore, supported by elevated interest for wellbeing and sustenance fragment items, as per a report by industry body Indian Direct Selling Association (IDSA).

During the period, 53.18 lakh people got the immediate selling together with an everyday normal of 29,064 new contestants, with the development of the work from home idea, empowering individuals to investigate extra kinds of revenue, said the IDSA.[20]

From 24th July, 2020, E-Commerce rule has been activated and that to say it will be coming into force with at most development and ease to the seller and consumer.[21] It will become a diligent task for the commissions to enforce the said law with bringing out the finest attainable outcome at present and also in forthcoming years. This is one of the ingredient where the honorable member of Bar and honorable member of the civil society will have to contribute frequently and with regularity in order to impart supreme justice to the consumers.

Different responsibilities, rights and reliefs have been put into the hands of consumer under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 as well as the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. Great deal of drives are taken by the public authority for the advancement of the consumers but till now there are numerous loopholes present in the statute and it can't actually fill the need for which it was made.

One of the major points of sanctioning this Bill was to ensure the interest of the buyer and give them quick cure yet it has not been completely accomplished due to different reasons like ignorance, debasement, and so forth there are huge number of forthcoming cases in the consumer courts all around the country.

Following 30 years of establishing the act of 1986 still the buyers don't know about their rights and obligations and no successful advance has been taken by the governmental authority to ensure that the customer get knowledgeable about different privileges and obligations they have as purchasers.

The principle point of this consumer law is to ensure the interest of the customers and it is conceivable just when some successful advances are taken enlightening the consumers about their respective rights and duties as a citizen moreover altogether in the current act are eliminated.

Written By: Dhruv Kumar, Fourth Year - University Of Petroleum And Energy Studies
Ph No: 9587747972

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