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Understanding Consumers And Consumer Rights In The World Of E-Commerce

On beginning to dwell into a discussion regarding technological advancements in consumer rights, it is pertinent to understand the basics of consumer rights. When we refer to the word consumer, in a layman's language, we simply understand it to be a person who is at the receiving end of consumption of goods or services. Any person who buys a certain thing for purposes of resale, is not a consumer because he is furthering such a purchase with a commercial intent.

When we look at consumers from the perspective of businesses and service providers, the consumers seem to be the primary purpose behind the establishment of any enterprise. One creates a product or service majorly with a view to provide it further to a consuming resource.

Now that we have understood the importance of consumers from a layman's perspective, it is essential to open the doors towards legal understanding of the position of consumers. The Ides of March (15th of March) every year is observed as National Consumers' Day in India. This day has a historic importance as it was on this day in 1962, that the Bill for Consumer Rights was moved in the US Congress.[1] In the year 1985, the United Nations laid down and adopted certain guidelines which would make sure that the consumers were protected and that the distribution of goods and services was done in a regulated manner.

In India, the legal framework for consumer protection was adopted in the form of Consumer Protection Act in 1956. This was one law which was recognised as the 'poor man's legislation'. This brought out a scenario when the concept of Buyer Beware became a mere idea of caution and not principle. Prior to the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, it was the Sale of Goods Act which used to govern the rights of consumers and protect them against exploitation. However, then the terms 'buyer' and 'seller' were taken as reference.

In terms of E-Commerce, the Consumer Protection (E- Commerce) Rules, 2020 ("Act") have been notified by The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (Ministry) on July 23, 2020, under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 ("Act"), with an intent to prevent unfair trade practices in e-commerce and to protect the interest of the consumers and to ensure that there is transparency in the e-commerce platforms and also to further strengthen the regulations that govern the same.[2]

With the development of e-commerce and technology, several electronic platforms are made available to the consumers so as to help them in filing a complaint. A Nodal Officer is appointed for each e-commerce platform in order to check that the platform abides by the rules notified by the Government.

The objective of laws concerning consumer protection is not merely to protect and preserve the rights; they also aim towards providing a market with fair trade practices. This will also help several honest businesses to grow and prevent fraudulent businesses from entering or staying in the market. This is even more important today than ever because of the advent of technologies and convenient means of establishing businesses.

With an extensive platform for establishing businesses, there are even more chances of consumers getting exploited. The impact of the new technological advancements and the massive convergence of e-commerce transactions, have caught the attention of individual consumers, business enterprises, governments and international organizations not as only facilitating the growth of business endeavour but also posing a variety of challenges and confronts to various segments of social and individual interests like data protection, consumer protection, privacy violations etc.[3]

The adequate and efficient regulatory mechanisms and legal concepts to attend to the need of consumer protection in e-commerce will give protection to globally recognized consumer protection mandates in electronically equipped commercial transaction.[4]

According to the Consumer Protection Act, every consumer is entitled to have the following rights:
  1. Right to Safety
  2. Right to Information
  3. Right to Choose
  4. Right to be Heard
  5. Right to Seek Redressal and
  6. Right to Consumer Education

Although Consumer Law is not an unknown area to us, it was necessary to pick up this topic for an understanding because this is an area where Consumerism meets Technology. When we focus on the threats towards the rights of the consumers in the cyberspace, it is essential to have an inclusion of the Information Technology Act as well.

The Consumer Protection Act takes care of the procedures to preserve the rights of the consumers, but the massive control in order to prevent an abusive environment lies with the Information Technology Act when it comes to E-Commerce.

We already have the Information Technology Act in place so as to legally bind the cyberspace. However, the problem is that there is no specific provision in the Act which specifically focuses upon the protection of rights of the consumers. The IT Act is limited and focused on encouraging the growth of e-commerce nevertheless, it fails to pursue and protect the basic preconditions for such growth that is building trader and consumer confidence.[5]

Consumers require security in cyberspace in order to prevent being defrauded with duplicate products, transactions and non-responding helplines. Major complaints are made on the Government -assigned toll free number with regards to lack of response from the seller after a payment has been made. Hence, it is necessary to find and establish a link between Consumer Protection Act and the Information Technology Act to give a legal framework to the already existing remedies regarding protection of rights of the consumers.

End-Notes:
  1. Dr. Ravi Kumar Gupta, Ishwar Mittal, Dr. Anita Gupta, "Measures for Consumer Protection in India and Consumerism", RMS Journal of Management and IT, Vol.5 [June,2011
  2. https://www.mondaq.com/india/dodd-frank-consumer-protection-act/1128900/e-commerce-rules-2020-a-boon-or-a-bane
  3. Rajiv Khare and Gargi Rajvanshi, 'E-Commerce and Consumer Protection: A Critical Analysis of Legal Regulations', available at < https://clap.nls.ac.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/E-COMMERCE-AND-CONSUMER-PROTECTION-A-CRITICAL-ANALYSIS-OF-LEGAL-REGULATIONS.pdf>
  4. Ibid.
  5. https://blog.ipleaders.in/consumer-protection-and-e-commerce-jurisprudence-in-india/
Written By: Dr Farrukh Khan is an Advocate and Managing Partner of Law Firm- Diwan Advocates

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