One of the most important milestones in the area of consumer protection/consumer movement in the country has been the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It was a progressive and comprehensive pieces of legislation of its time, covering all goods and services. The Act ensures the rights of consumer for safety, information, choice, representation, and redressal and consumer education, and provides for a simple, speedy and inexpensive redressal to the consumers’ in the nature of a specific nature and also awards compensation, wherever appropriate, to the consumer. An exclusive three tier redressal machinery as an alternative to the civil court and other legal remedies available in the country has been established under the Act, wherein an aggrieved consumer can seek redressal against any defect in the goods purchased or deficiencies in services availed, including restrictive/unfair trade practices adopted by such manufacturer and trader of goods/service provider. In the past thirty years more than 4.3 million consumer cases were adjudicated and decided by the consumer fora.
Besides the Consumer Protection Act 1986, various laws and Regulations in India protect the interests of consumers, some of which are:
1.The Bureau of Indian Standard Act 2016: The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) Act 2016 establishes BIS as the National Standards Body of India. Besides containing provisions for establishing voluntary standards, the Act also contains provisions to bring under compulsory certification regime any article, process or service which it considers necessary from point of view of health, safety, environment, prevention of deceptive practices, security etc. Enabling provisions have also been made for making hallmarking of the precious metal articles mandatory. The Act allows multiple types of conformity assessment schemes, including Self Declaration of Conformity against any standard which provides simplified options to manufacturers to adhere to the standards and get certificate of conformity. It enables the Central Government to appoint any authority, in addition to the BIS, to verify the conformity of products and services to a standard and issue certificate of conformity.
2.The Legal Metrology Act 2009: The Act has come into force on 01.04.2011 and has repealed the Standards of Weights & Measures Act, 1976 & Standards of Weights & Measures (Enforcement) Act, 1985. The Government ensures through the Act that all weight and measure used for trade or commerce or for protection of human health and safety are accurate and reliable so that users are guaranteed for correct Weighment and Measurement. Provisions of the Act also empower regulatory and enforcement actions for ensuring that the consumer get the right quantity for which he has paid for.
3.The Essential Commodities Act 1955 : The Act empowers the Government to regulate prices, production, supply, distribution etc. of essential commodities for maintaining or increasing their supplies and for securing their equitable distribution and availability at fair prices. Most of the powers under the Act have been delegated by the Central Government to the State Governments with the direction that they shall exercise these powers. Exercising powers under the Act, various Ministries/Departments of the Central Government and State Governments/UT Administrations have issued Control Orders for regulating production, distribution, pricing etc. and trading of the commodities declared as essential to the public. At present seven commodities have been retained under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to protect the interests of the consumers which include farmers, general population and the families below the poverty line.
4.The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006: The Act envisages regulation of manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import of food to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption and for consumers connected therewith. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has been established under this Act for laying down scientific standards for articles of foods and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption. The Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act, 2006 was operationalized with the notification of Food Safety and Standards Rules, 2011 and six Regulations w.e.f the 5 August 2011. The setting of food standards is undertaken through a number of Scientific Panels and the Scientific Committee of the FSSAI and final approval by the Authority.
5.The Contract Act 1872: The Act binds people on their promises made in a contract. The Act also provides remedies available to parties in case of breach of contract.
6.The Sale of Goods Act 1930: The act provides safeguard and relief to customers in case goods are not complying with the expressed conditions and warranty.
7.The Competition Act, 2002: The Act governs Indian competition law. It replaced the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969. Under this legislation, the Competition Commission of India was established to prevent the activities that have an adverse effect on competition in India. It is a tool to implement and enforce competition policy and to prevent and punish anti-competitive business practices by firms and unnecessary Government interference in the market. Competition law is equally applicable on written as well as oral agreement, arrangements between the enterprises or persons.
8.The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 . The Act controls advertising of drugs in India. It prohibits advertisements of drugs and remedies that claim to have magical properties, and makes doing so a cognizable offence. The act defines "magic remedy" as any talisman, mantra, amulet or any other object, which is claimed to have miraculous powers to cure, diagnose, prevent or mitigate a disease in humans or animal. It also includes such devices that are claimed to have power to influence structure or function of an organ in humans or animals. It prohibits advertisements of drugs and remedies that claim to have magical properties, and makes doing so a cognizable offence.
9.The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940: The Act regulates the import, manufacture and distribution of drugs in India. The primary objective of the act is to ensure that the drugs and cosmetics sold in India are safe, effective and conform to state quality standards. The Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 framed under the Act contain provisions for classification of drugs under given schedules and there are guidelines for the storage, sale, display and prescription of each schedule. The Act defines the standards of quality for drugs and defines "misbranding". A drug is considered misbranded if it claims to be of more therapeutic value than it actually is. The manufacturer of such a drug may be asked to suspend manufacture of the drug . the Act also deals with fake and adulterated drugs.
A comprehensive up gradation of the existing Consumer Protection Act, 1986, by way of introduction of a new Bill is currently under consideration of the Parliament, aimed at making the consumer law more effective, functional and purposeful. Salient features of the Bill include:
(a) Establishment of the central consumer protection authority (CCPA) to promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers, to investigate and intervene when necessary to prevent consumer detriment arising from unfair trade practices, and to and take action against misleading advertisements.
(b) Provisions for “product liability” action for or on account of harm caused by or resulting from any product by way fixing laibility the liability of a manufacturer
(c) Provision for “mediation” as an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism which aims at giving legislative basis to resolution of consumer disputes through mediation, thus making the process less cumbersome, simple and quicker. This will be done under the aegis of the consumer fora.
(d) Several provisions aimed at simplifying the consumer dispute adjudication process in the consumer fora are envisaged. These include, among others, enhancing the pecuniary jurisdiction of the consumer disputes redressal agencies, increasing minimum number of members in the consumer fora to facilitate quick disposal of complaints, power to review their own orders by the state and district commission, constitution of ‘circuit bench’ to facilitate quicker disposal of complaints, reforming the process for the appointment of the president and members of the district fora, enabling provisions for consumers to file complaints electronically and file complaints in consumer fora that have jurisdiction over the place of residence of the complainant, and deemed admissibility of complaints if the question of admissibility is not decided within the specified period of 21 days.
NATIONAL CONSUMER HELPLINE: Government of India has set up a National Consumer Helpline (NCH), with a toll-free number 1800-11-4000 or 14404, which provides advice, information and guidance to empower consumers and persuade businesses to reorient their policy and management systems to address consumer concerns and grievances adopting global standards. The NCH responds to more than 40,000 complaints in a month, and it has partnered with more than 300 major companies to whom complaints are transferred online for resolution and getting feedback from them. An Integrated Grievance Redress Mechanism (INGRAM) portal was launched for bringing all stakeholders such as consumers, Central and State Government Agencies, private companies, regulators, Ombudsmen and call centers etc. on to a single platform. The portal helps in creating awareness among consumers to protect their rights and inform them of their responsibilities. Consumers can register online their grievances through this portal. The National Consumer Helpline is accessible now through this portal.
STATE CONSUMER HELPLINES: State Consumer Helplines have been set up by State Governments with the objective to encourage Alternate Consumer Disputes Redressal mechanism at State level and help in resolving cases through mediation.
SMART CONSUMER APPLICATION: The Government has launched a mobile application “Smart Consumer” to enable the consumer to scan the bar code of the product and get all details of the product such as name of the product, details of manufacturer, year and month of manufacture, net content and consumer care details for making complaint in case of any defect.
GRIEVANCES AGAINST MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS(GAMA): In its endeavor to address the problem of misleading advertisements, the Government has launched a portal called “Grievances Against Misleading Advertisements (GAMA)”.for registering complaints online. A Consumer can register a complaint along with a copy / video / audio of such advertisement through the web portal.
ONLINE DISPUTE RESOLUTION : An Online Consumer Mediation Centre, established at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru under the aegis of Ministry Of Consumer Affairs, Government of India aims to provide for a state-of-the-art infrastructure for resolving consumer disputes both through physical as well as online mediation through its platform. The center will provide innovative technology for consumers and organisations to manage and resolve conflicts and to propel online mediation as a first choice to resolving consumer disputes. This is an innovative tool that affords consumers better access to justice through quick and easy redressal mechanism and at the same time provide opportunity for businesses to maintain good customer relations.
ONLINE CONSUMER COMMUNITIES:In association with the Local Circles, a social media platform, the Government has launched a platform ‘Online Consumer Communities’ for citizens to discuss and opine about governance and daily life issues. Through this, a citizen can get connected with their Government, City, Causes, Neighborhood, Interest, needs and any other communities they are a part of.
CAMPAIGN ON INTERNET SAFETY: India has currently one of the largest number of internet users. With the rapid increase in digitization across all spheres, the message of internet safety needs to be integrated into the everyday tasks that the consumer undertakes online. Government in association with a Partner Company has initiated a year-long campaign organizing ‘Digital Literacy, Safety & Security’ workshops to educate users about the challenges of internet safety and security.
CAMPAIGN ON INTERNET SAFETY: India has currently one of the largest number of internet users. With the rapid increase in digitisation across all spheres, the message of internet safety needs to be integrated into the everyday tasks that the consumer undertakes online. Government in association with a Partner Company has initiated a year-long campaign organizing ‘Digital Literacy, Safety & Security’ workshops to educate users about the challenges of internet safety and security.
CONSUMER AWARENESS: The Government has been conducting a countrywide multimedia awareness campaign since 2005 on various issues related to consumer rights and responsibilities across diverse subjects. “Jago Grahak Jago” [Awake Consumers awake] has today become a household axiom. More recently, joint publicity campaigns have been launched in partnership with the related Government Departments/ Organizations that deal with a mass consumer clientele. For instance, on food, with the Food Safety & Standard Standards Authority of India (FSSAI); on financial services with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI); and on medicines with the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) through various electronic and print media such as Television, Radio, Newspapers and outdoor advertising. The consumer awareness campaign is implemented through the Directorate of Audio and visual Publicity (DAVP). In order to create awareness among the people living in rural and backward areas, the Government has decided to take part in important fairs/festivals of various states/UTs, in view of the fact that such fairs/festivals draw a large number of people from rural and backward areas.
THE UNITED NATIONS GUIDELINES ON CONSUMER PROTECTION (UNGCP) launched in 1985 was revised, after due deliberations by all stakeholders, in December 2015. The UN General Assembly on 22nd December 2015 approved the revised UNGCP 2015. India had actively participated in the process of revision of the UNGCP in 2015 and emphasized for having an oversight mechanism, which has been set up in the form of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) under Guideline 95 of the revised UNGCP 2015. All the member states are de-facto members of the IGE. The first session of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Consumer Protection Law and Policy was held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, on 17 and 18 October 2016 under the aegis of UNCTAD. Representatives from 66 countries and 5 intergovernmental organizations, including the heads of competition and consumer protection authorities, attended the high-level discussions. In the meeting, the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, India, stated that the Intergovernmental Group of Experts provided a forum that facilitated engagement and mutual understanding, as well as the development of appropriate strategies to improve consumer protection. The Second IGE meeting held in July 2017, recognised the important role of relevant stakeholders, particularly with regard to the inclusive consumer protection policies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; It underlined the importance of designing and implementing specific measures aimed at the protection of vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers, recognizing that member States may adopt differing definitions to address specific domestic needs, and suggested further research in particular for this category of consumers in developing countries; It emphasized the importance of harnessing e-commerce to increase the welfare of consumers worldwide while limiting its potential risks and stressed the need to strengthen international cooperation, including informal collaboration, among agencies, to enhance consumer trust in e-commerce, and the initiatives taken to build trust in the digital economy.
Aimed at promoting the international cooperation in the field of Consumer Protection among the Asian countries, for mutual sharing of best practices, India in partnership with UNCTAD will be hosting a regional conference for South, South East and East Asian countries on 26 & 27 October, 2017.