A research paper on:
“Evolution of Consumer Protection and Way Forward”
The Journals and Publications Society, School of Law, Christ University
Faculty of Law,
JAMIA MILLIA ISLAMIA UNIVERSITY, NEW DELHI
At the outset, I would like to thank School of Law, Christ University with its core team of The Journals and Publications Society, School of Law, Christ University for organising this paper submission and publication.
I would like to thank my Dean, Prof. Rose Varghese, Jamia Millia Islamia University, for being a guiding force throughout the course of this submission and being instrumental in the successful completion of this Research paper without which, my efforts would have been in vain.
I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the other faculty Members, for being immeasurably accommodating the requirements of this humble endeavor.
Jamia Millia Islamia University
* Introduction.....................................................................................................4 * Origin and Evolution of consumer laws..........................................................5 * Consumer Laws in India..................................................................................7 * Consumer Protection in India.........................................................................10 * Key Concepts..........................................................................12 * Consumer Disputes Redressal Machinery......................................................16 * Manners of Making Complaints.....................................................................18 * Reliefs Available to Consumers......................................................................19 * United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection......................................20 * Origin of Consumerism...................................................................................23 * Consumerism (How Consumers are exploited and Cons of Present Laws and standards)........................................................................................................25 * Present Scenario.............................................................................................29 * Initiatives by Government..............................................................................31 * Latest Policies for Consumer Protection in Twelfth Five Years Plan............34 * Consumer Protection: Future Prospect...........................................................36 * Conclusion......................................................................................................39 * Bibliography...................................................................................................40
1.1 INTRODUCTION The growing interdependence of the world economy and international character of many business practices have contributed to the development of universal emphasis on protection and promotion of consumer rights. Modern technological developments have no doubt made a great impact on the quality, availability and safety of goods and services. But the fact of life is that the consumers are still victims of unscrupulous and exploitative practices. ‘Consumer is sovereign’ and ‘customer is the king’ are nothing more than myths in the present scenario; particularly in the developing societies. The government, however, has a primary responsibility to protect the consumers’ interests and rights through appropriate policy measures, legal structure and administrative framework.
In this research paper we have laid down the origin and evolution of consumer protection laws and modern framework to deal with consumer exploitation. With this view, there is also the formulation of Consumerism and how it evolves to be such an imperative issue for consumer protection. Lastly, need and emerging of the competition policy and its present scenario.
2.1 ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF CONSUMER LAWS
Trading and commerce is an age old activity witnessed by India, so as Consumer movement is not such a new concept. In Kautilya’s Arthashastra, the reference of consumer protection is given. But the big step of consumer activity was started by the Renaissance in Europe and other parts of the world that flourished industrialisation and brought a market for producers and consumers. In addition to the growing size and complexity of production and distribution system ,with high level of sophistication in marketing and advertising reduces interaction of buyers and sellers which contributes for the need of effective consumer protection law. The Consumer protection law has been originated and developed as a natural response to the rights of every consumer to be protected against exploitation and abuse by any manufacturer or service provider. Consumer protection laws constituted only a part of statues relations to commerce, trade or administration. But US President, John F Kennedy issued, “President Message on Protection” in 1961, a pro-consumer legislation was adopted and in 1962, the major development took place by Congress Bill of Rights which proclaimed: 1. Right to choice 2. Right to Information 3. Right to safety 4. Right to be heard
In respect to this, Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972 has been landmark legislation as before it, there were a large number of products in distribution, which presented unreasonable level of injury to consumers. So likely in Japan, some laws like Food Sanitation Law, enacted after World War 2, contained certain benefits for consumers. This trend of enacting consumer law spread over to other countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Korea, China, Malaysia and many other countries. The enactment of these countries provides protection to consumers by establishing redressal mechanism, prohibition of misleading advertisements and promotes consumer education and activities. In European countries, the period of sustainable development in the consumer protection laws began during 1960s and their main purpose was to prevent trading abuses caused due to imbalance of power between the ordinary persons and the producer of goods and services. In Japan, some laws like Food Sanitation law, enacted in the period of economic recovery after World War 2 , contained certain benefits for consumers. In 1980, the UN Secretary General emphasized that “international co-operation with regard to consumer protection is needed as the development of consumers’ protection is needed because the measures be taken only at the national level. Measures adopted to protect the consumers in one country can have implications for consumers in other countries as well. In view of the effectiveness of programmes at the International level, many International Organisations have been actively contributing towards developing a global consumer co-operation. Inter-governmental organisations are also participating in the process by creating special divisions for the protection of consumers in different areas.
2.2 CONSUMER LAWS IN INDIA
In India, the consumer protection Laws comprise a wide spectrum of legislations with specific dimensions and parameters, from the constitution to the general and specific consumer-centric laws. Some of these includes: Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954; Essentials Commodities Act, 1955; the Standards of Weights and Measures (enforcement) Act, 1985; the Bureau of Indian Standard Act, 1986; Drugs and Cosmetic Act, 1940; Sale of Goods Act, 1930; the Competition Act, 2002. The Constitution of India does not contain any explicit provisions on the subject of the consumers, but there are many provisions that have direct bearing on the consumer interests, most of these though pertain to the Directive Principles of State Policy. As a part of Fundamental freedoms, the Constitution guarantees under sub-clause (g) of article 19 (1), freedom of Profession , trade or business, thereby insuring that the state cannot prevent a citizen from carrying on a business, except by a law imposing a reasonable restriction in the interests of the general public. In Dr. Shivarao Shantaram Wagle and Others v. Union of India and others, the Supreme Court followed the same principle of imposing reasonable restrictions to forbear from releasing Irish Butter for human consumption. In Vincent v. Union of India, directions had been sought in public interest for banning imports, sale and distribution of certain drugs as recommended by Drugs Consultative Committee. The Constitution has distributed the subjects, relating to product and service regulation, between the centre and the states for their better quality and efficiency. Most of the subjects concerning consumer protection have been placed in the concurrent list. The relevant entries are: 1) Preventive detention for the reasons connected with maintenance of supplies and services essential for the community. 2) Adulteration of foodstuffs and other goods. 3) Drugs and poisons excepting cultivation manufacture and sale for export of opium. 4) Economic and social planning. 5) Commercial and industrial monopolies, combines and trusts. 6) Legal, medical and other professions. 7) Trade and Commerce in, and the production, supply and distribution of- a. The products of any industry where the control of such industry by the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest, and imported goods of same kind as such products; b. Food stuffs, including edible oilseeds and oils; c. Cattle fodder, including oil cakes and other concentrates; d. Raw cotton, whether ginned and cotton seed; and e. Raw jute. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) Weights and measures except establishment of standards. 9) Price control. 10) Electricity 11) News papers, books and printing presses.
2.3 CONSUMER PROTECTION IN INDIA The Consumer Protection Act was enacted in 1986 based on United Nations guidelines with the objective of providing better protection of consumers’ interests. The Act provides for effective safeguards to consumers against various types of exploitations and unfair dealings, relying on mainly compensatory rather than a punitive or preventive approach. The Act applies to all goods and services unless specifically exempted, and covers the private, public, and cooperative sectors and provides for speedy and inexpensive adjudication. 2.3.1 Objective and the Legislative History:
The first concrete effort for establishment of consumer councils and other authorities was made in March, 1985, when UN guidelines on Consumer Protection were adopted in New York. A 28 member National Consumer Protection Council consisting of various ministry representatives decided for a Workshop of Consumer Protection on March 11-15, 1985, after which a bill was drafted on January, 1986. The Act was passed on 17 December, 1986. The Act sought, inter alias, to promote and protect the rights of consumers as;
a) The right to be protected. b) The right to be informed. c) The right to be assured. d) The right to be heard. e) The right to seek redressal. f) The right to consumer education.
In order to clarify certain procedural matters, the Act was amended in 1991. The Act was further amended by the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act of 1993 seeking enlargement of the scope of areas covered under the Act and to entrust more power to the redressal agencies. With a view to achieve quicker and effective disposal of consumer complaints and to widen the scope of the Act, it was again amended by Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 2002. The amendment provides for;
a) Creation of Benches of the National Commission and state commission as well as holding circuit Benches of these Commission; b) Prescribing the period within which complaints are to be admitted, notices issued and the complaints/ appeals are to be decided; c) Restricting adjournments; and, d) Enhancing the pecuniary limits of jurisdictions as district fora are able to deal complaints upto 20 lakhs, the state Commission form 20 lakhs upto 1 crore and the National commission above 1 crore.
The development in the Act has passed through a natural phase of evolution and its scope has widened to cover more and more areas of consumer concern.
2.3.2 Key Concepts of the Consumer Protection Act
The term “CONSUMER” is defined in two parts (a) the first place defines the “consumer” with reference to “goods” and the second with reference to “services”. According to this definition, any purchaser of goods and hirer of services for a consideration come under the purview of the consumer. It is not necessary that the consideration should have already been paid for the goods or services in question. For qualifying as a consumer, mere promise to pay the consideration is sufficient. So the purchaser of goods with deferred payment can also be treated as consumer. The relevant cases are as:
In Vijay Narayan Aggarwal v. M/s Chowgule Industries Ltd., the National Commission has held that if a person is carrying on a business on a large scale and he purchases goods for earning profits, the purchase is for commercial purpose and not as a consumer.
M/S Cheema Engineering Services v . Rajan Singh, has established the rule that if any person purchases a machine for earning his livelihood, he should be treated as a consumer even if he takes assistance of one or two persons to assist or help him in operating the machines.
M/S Spring Meadows Hospital and Another v . Harjal Ahluwalia, has also held that the definition of “consumer” is wide enough beneficiary of such services.
In Brig. K.G. Kuthiala v . Army Welfare Housing Organization, the National Commission considered the question of jurisdiction of consumer courts with respect to entertain a complaint against the Army Welfare Housing Organisation for deficiency in services. The Commission held that since the Army Welfare Housing organisation is engaged in the systematic activity of construction of houses/ flats for the benefit of the members for consideration, a complaining member would be a consumer.
Section 2 (1) (e) of the Act defines Consumer disputes. It means disputes, where the persons against whom a complaint has been made, denies or disputes the allegations contained in the complaint. A consumer disputes under the Act can rise only when; i. The consumer makes a complaint before an appropriate consumer forum; and ii. The opposite party /respondent denies a dispute the allegations contained in the complaint or omits or fails to respondent within the stipulated time specified under section 13 of the Act.
In the case of S.R Das Mills v. U.P. State Electricity Board, the dispute between the parties must indeed be a bonafide consumer disputes. If it is not so, the complaint would be liable to be dismissed.
Section 2 (1) (i) of the Act does not define this term, but says it means the goods defined in the Sale of Goods Act, 1930. Section 2(7) of the Sale of Goods Act, 1930 says, ‘‘ every kind of movable property other than actionable claims and money and includes stocks and shares, growing crops grass and things attached to or forming part of the land which are agreed to be severed before sale or under the contract of sale”. In view of this things like ‘goodwill’, ‘copyright’, ‘patents’, ‘gas and electricity’, ‘motor vehicles’, ‘ships’,etc.
In Moss v. Hancock it was stated that any coins or notes which have been ceased may be treated as goods.
The service is defined in Section 2 (1) (o) of the Act which covers service of any description which may be available to any potential users. It includes the services like banking, housing, construction, entertainment and purveying of news or other information. It excludes the service rendered free of charge or under contract of personal service.
On clear analysis of the definition, it can be split into three parts; viz- (a) Main part :- potential users (b) Inclusive part:- Provisions of facilities (c) Exclusive part: - which excludes free or under contract of personal service. But it does include free service rendered by governmental hospitals.
DEFECTS AND DEFICIENCIES
The Act has defined these terms clearly to explain the nature of defects and deficiencies on the basis of which proceedings can be initiated and Section 2 (1) (f) defines it. The definition covers any fault, imperfection or shortcoming in the quality, quantity or the standard of the goods.
UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICES
The Section 2 (1) (r) declares any unfair or deceptive method or practice used for promoting sale or supply of goods or service at the detriment of the consumers as an unfair trade practices. Different types of unfair trade practices have been mentioned in the section.
2.4 CONSUMER DISPUTES REDRESSAL MACHINERY
Section 9 of the Act provides for the establishment of a three-tier Consumer Disputes Redressal System: (a) The consumer Disputes Redressal Fora (District Fora) to be established in each district by the state government. (b) The Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (State Commission) to be established in each state by the state government. (c) The National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) to be established by the Central government. The Act contains detailed provisions about the composition, jurisdictions and procedure to be followed by these fora.
The pecuniary as well as territorial jurisdiction of a district forum is specified in section 11 of the Act. As per enhancement of the pecuniary jurisdiction of the forum by the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 2002, a complaint can be instituted in a district forum when the value of the goods or services and the compensation is up to rupees twenty lakhs . Earlier this limit was rupees five lakhs.
Each state commission has three types of jurisdiction: (a) Original jurisdiction (b) Appellate jurisdiction (c) Revisional jurisdiction
The original jurisdiction of the state commission refers to the power of entertaining complaints directly. This depends upon the pecuniary and territorial limits of each commission. As per the latest amendment of 2002, a state commission can entertain complaints directly on matters in which the value of goods or services and the compensation exceeds rupees twenty lakhs but does not exceeds rupees one crore.
The National Commission is vested with original, appellate and revisional jurisdiction. Under the original Jurisdiction, the National Commission is empowered to entertain complaints where the value of goods or services and the compensation claimed exceeds rupees one crore. The National Commission can entertain complaints from anywhere in India. It can also entertain appeals against the order of any State Commission.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF JURISDICTIONS
A large number of complaints are being brought before the consumer fora against sellers and service providers by complainants suffering losses or injury in different forms. The number of cases and their nature reflect that consumers are invariably facing exploitation at the hands of all kinds of suppliers of goods and service providers.
2.5 MANNERS OF MAKING COMPLAINTS.
A complaint in relation to any goods or services may be filed with a district forum by any of the following: (a) The consumer himself; (b) Any recognized consumer association; (c) One or more consumers; (d) The central government; or (e) The state government.
Earlier, a complaint could be made without paying any fee. By the amendment Act of 2002, provision regarding payment of fee has been inserted in the Act. The amount of fee for each complaint would be as may be prescribed by the central government. On receipt of a complaint, the district forum may allow the complaint to be proceeded or may reject it. But a complaint can be rejected only after giving the complainant an opportunity of being heard.
2.6 RELIEFS AVAILABLE TO CONSUMERS:
Following reliefs are available to the Consumers under the Act:
- Removal of defects from the goods;
- Replacement of the goods;
- Refund of the price paid;
- Award of compensation for the loss or injury suffered;
- Discontinue and not to repeat unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practice;
- Not to offer hazardous goods for sale;
- To withdraw hazardous goods from sale;
- To cease manufacture of hazardous goods and desist from offering services which are hazardous in nature;
- If the loss or injury has been suffered by a large number of consumers who are not identifiable conveniently, to pay such sum (not less than 5% of the value of such defective goods or services provided) which shall be determined by Forum;
- To issue corrective advertisement to neutralise the effect of misleading advertisement;
- To provide adequate costs to parties.
3.1 UNITED NATIONS GUIDELINES FOR CONSUMER PROTECTION
Taking into account the interests and needs of consumers in all countries, particularly those in developing countries ; recognizing that consumers often face imbalances in economic terms, educational levels and bargaining power; and bearing in mind that consumers should have the right of access to non-hazardous products , as well as the right to promote just ,equitable and sustainable economic and social development and environmental protection, these guidelines for consumer protection have the following objectives: (a) To assist countries in achieving or maintaining adequate protection for their population as consumers; (b) To facilitate production and distribution patterns responsive to the needs and desires of consumers; (c) To encourage high levels of ethical conduct for those engaged in the production and distribution of goods and services to consumers; (d) To assist countries in curbing abusive business practices by all enterprises at the national and international levels which adversely affect consumers ; (e) To facilitate the development of independent consumer groups; (f) To further international cooperation in the field of consumer protection; (g) To encourage the development of market conditions which provide consumers with greater choice at lower prices; (h) To promote sustainable consumptions. GENERAL PRINCIPLES
Governments should develop or maintain a strong consumer protection policy, taking into account the guidelines set out below and relevant international agreements. In so doing, each Government should set its own priorities for the protection of consumers in accordance with the economic, social and environmental circumstances of the country and the needs of its population, bearing in mind the costs and benefits of proposed measures.
The legitimate needs which the guidelines reinterpreted to meet are as : (a) The protection of consumers from hazards to their health and safety; (b) The promotion and protection of the economic interests of consumers; (c) Access of consumers to adequate information to enable them to make informed choices according to individual wishes and needs; (d) Consumer education, including education on the environment, social and economic impacts of consumer choice; (e) Availability of effective consumer redresses; (f) Freedom to form consumer and other relevant groups or organisations; (g) The promotion of sustainable consumption patterns.
The basic guidelines are also proposed for the Countries which ought to apply on both home-produced goods and services and to imports; * Physical Safety. * Promotion and protection of Consumers economic interests. * Standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and services. * Distribution facilities for essential consumer goods and services. * Measures enabling consumers to obtain redress. * Education and Information Programmes * Promotion of sustainable consumption * Measures relating to specific areas like, Food, Water and Pharmaceuticals.
4.1 ORIGIN OF CONSUMERISM
Prior to Industrial Revolution, the needs of human beings were very few and these were met through exchange of goods. There was “barter system” i.e. exchange of possession of one goods with the other catering to their mutual requirements. There was no competition as the concept of market was not in vogue at all. The wants of people were not many. However, the Industrial Revolution has ushered in radical changes in the lives of human beings as regards the goods and articles consumed by them in their day to day life. As the society was Laissez Faire, the State used to intervene in the lives of its citizens very rarely. There were no effective laws to regulate the relationship between the buyer and the seller. This emboldened the trades to monopolise the market and the trader became the king. There were no measures to check dereliction on the part of the traders unless the same amounted to serious offences. The principles of “Caveat Emptor” that is “let the buyer beware” was the rule of the day. The conditions and warranties, fixed by the manufacturer and trader were binding on the consumers. The consumers came to be abused and exploited by unscrupulous traders whose only object was to make profits at every cost. The doctrine of freedom of contract made the traders even bolder in their pursuit of making more profit. All these factors culminated in a new phenomenon resulting in the abuses and exploitation of consumers. This led to the consumer movement throughout the world. The developed countries like United States of America & United Kingdom were the first to realise the need to protect the interest of consumers who became a powerful and intelligent class in the society. Various legislations were passed to achieve this objective. The concept of consumer came into existence and consumer protection became one of the primary duties of the State. The subject of consumer protection has received an increase attention in India as well as in the other developing countries.
The United Nation General Assembly passed a resolution in 1985 emphasizing the need for consumer education. It laid down certain guidelines as discussed earlier. In India, consumer protection act was passed and many other pre-constitutional laws and also post constitutional laws aimed in protection of consumer interest.
It falls within the most scientific conceptions of contemporary social movements. It can be defined as a diverse and evolving social movement seeking to enhance the economic well-being and political power of consumers. In fact the terms ‘Consumerism and “consumer movement” can be used interchangeably. Consumerism denotes a common thread that runs through the consumer activism, characteristic of different times and places. Consumerism is all about protection of the interests of the consumer.
4.2.1 How Consumers are exploited
A common Complaint heard from consumers is that they are being exploited. This is due to various ingenious ways adopted by traders and manufacturer like:
* Selling substandard products. * Selling products at higher price than warranted. * Misleading Claims and advertisements. * Adulteration. * Selling duplicate articles. * Denial of service as promised. * Creating scarcity artificially.
4.2.2 Cons of Present Law and Standards Although implementation of the Consumer Protection Act can be viewed as a success, there are still serious shortfalls in achieving consumer welfare because of the deficiencies in quality infrastructure in the country. First, there is a regulatory deficit in many products services which have impact on the health, safety and environment of the consumers and mandatory standards have not been prescribed for such products as electrical and electronic goods, IT and telecom equipment, industrial and fire safety equipment and toys. There is a multiplicity of regulatory/standardization/conformity assessment bodies and proliferation of certification and inspection bodies. At present, the Quality Council of India (QCI) is the main accreditation body for conformity assessment bodies taking up product or system certification or for inspection bodies, and the National Accreditation Board for Laboratories performs the same function for laboratories. However, there is no compulsion on the conformity assessment bodies, inspection bodies or laboratories to obtain accreditation, thus creating a lack of certainty about the existence of quality products, systems, inspections and laboratories. Laboratory infrastructure is weak in terms of international norms. Quality professionals lack the skills to guide quality improvement efforts in industry. There is apathy among businesses towards standardization in general, and lack of awareness among them about the impact of standards on quality, competitiveness, and profitability.
Setting standards is not enough for assuring the consumer of quality. For this, governments need to establish the full quality infrastructure, embracing standardization, conformity assessment and enforcement. The constituents of quality infrastructure are :
• Standard development
• Standard information
• Quality assurance/conformity assessment
• Product certification
• Management Systems Certification (ISO 9000/14000/ 22000/27001/ OHSMS, etc.)
• Regulation and enforcement
4.2.3 How consumers can be prevented from Exploitation.
Various Consumer Protection Laws and guidelines have a great impact on conserving consumer interests but they cannot be fully implicated until consumers are fully aware of their rights. Education is the most powerful tool for the progress of the country and is a social and political necessity. Education helps an individual—as a consumer—in making rational choices and protects him from trade and business-related exploitation. But more is needed for the effective functioning of the national market to create an increased level of awareness of consumer rights, and for this consumers have to be educated about rights and responsibilities through concerted publicity and awareness campaigns. In the awareness campaigns, special emphasis needs to be given to vulnerable groups such as women and children, students, farmers and rural families and the working class. The report of the study on the Consumer Protection Act commissioned by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India and conducted in July– August 2005, brought out that 66% of consumers were not aware of consumer rights and 82% were not even aware of the Consumer Protection Act. In rural areas, only 13% of the population had heard of the Consumer Protection Act. Standards, which are the essential building block for quality, play a key role in consumer protection.
Standards could be on technical requirements (specifications), standard terminology (glossary of terms), good practices (codes of practice) or test methods or management system standards. Developed countries generally rely on management system standards like ISO 9001 (Quality Management System), ISO 14001 (Environmental Management Systems) and hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) as an indicator of the ability of an organization to meet quality needs and address environmental concerns. These standards are set generally by governmental or inter-governmental bodies but there are some private initiatives as well, which are widely used such as OHSAS 18000 (Occupational Health and Safety), SA 8000 (Social Accountability) and WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production).
The Consumer Protection Act as discussed earlier and other Consumer centric laws also seek every possible measure to prevent consumers from being exploited. The Consumer Council and redressal machinery helps to provide quick and effective relief to indignant consumers.
We also have UN guidelines for Consumer protection which tend to regulate consumer rights in developing and under developed countries. Government is trying its level best to deal with every possible issue regarding consumer rights.
5.0 PRESENT SCENARIO
Globalisation and liberalisation of trade and business has resulted in many products and services being available to the consumers. Growth in economy has resulted in increase in the purchasing power of the middle class section, which is the largest segment of the population. This has necessitated giving high priority for the protection of the consumers and promotion of responsible consumer movement in the country.
The increase in population has resulted in enormous pendency and delay in disposal of cases in the civil courts. . Hence, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted to better protect the interests of consumers. It is one of the most progressive and comprehensive pieces of legislation and is umbrella legislation covering all goods and services. This is indeed a very unique and highly progressive piece of social welfare legislation.
CPA has been in operation for about 25 years. A number of deficiencies and shortcoming in respect of its operation have come to light thereby requiring Amendments on three occasions, still leaving scope for further improvements. Despite all this it has stood the test of time and has been an effective tool in the hands of the consumers to ensure accountability of procedures of goods and providers of services.
1. The Department is small one compared to the task it has at hand. 2. All activities affect the consumer finally in some way or other.
3. As per Allocation of Business, there are different ministries undertaking activities which have a direct bearing on consumer.
4. There is no mandatory system to get prior clearance of this department before any new scheme or project is initiated.
5. Consumer protection is still of a lower priority among the State governments.
6. As a result sufficient funds are not allocated for infrastructure and other recurring expenditure.
7. This affects implementation of schemes.
5.1 Initiatives by Government:
In terms of provisions of the Act, it is the responsibility of the State Governments to establish and effectively run the District Fora and State Commissions in their respective States/UTs. However, to supplement the efforts of the State Governments, the Department of Consumer Affairs has been extending financial assistance to the States/UTs to strengthen the infrastructure of Consumer Fora.
Some of the major Initiatives are:
* Computerization and Computer Networking of Consumer Fora (CONFONET).
Consumer Fora are being computerized and networked to enable dissemination of information leading to quicker disposal of cases. A project for Computerization and Computer Networking of Consumer Fora in the country, (CONFONET) was launched during the 10th Plan period at a cost of Rs. 48.64 crore. The project is being implemented by the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
* Construction of Building of the National Commission
A new office building for National Commission is being constructed at INA, New Delhi, which is part of an Integrated Building Complex at INA, New Delhi at a cost of Rs. 19.91 crore.
* Setting up of the National Trade Practices Regulation Authority
The proposal to set up a National Consumer Protection Regulatory Authority (NTPRA) in consultation with all stakeholders was under consideration. The Ministry of Law & Justice advised that since the matter of regulation of unfair trade practice involving business to business transaction does not concern the end-consumers, it would be a fit case to amend the Competition Act, 2002 by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in order to avoid overlapping of jurisdiction of regulatory authorities. It was decided that the matter may be transferred to Ministry of Corporate Affairs for amending the Competition Act, 2002 or further necessary action as may be deemed fit.
* The State Consumer Helplines and National Consumer Helplines
National Consumer Helpline was launched in 2005 in collaboration with the University of Delhi .Consumers from all over the country can access the toll-free number 1800-11-4000 and seek telephonic counselling, advice and guidance to sort out their consumer related problems. An independent evaluation conducted noted that there are very few calls originating from North East, West and non-Hindi speaking States. Since the service is available only in English and Hindi, State level Helplines were initiated which provides service in regional language, Hindi and English. This functions in 23 States at present.
* Consumer Online Resource & Empowerment (Core) Project
This is an Online Disputes Redressal forum (ODR) and is an initiative taken by the Ministry towards web based consumer awareness & protection programme aimed at identification of consumer problems and their redressal using Information Technology tools.
* Consumer Advice Centres(CAC)
The consumer centres’ set up on pilot basis in the four States play a decisive role in as an extended arm of State Helplines and provide consumers with up to date, reliable information and independent consultation. They provide an overview of the market and help consumers deal with complex market conditions.
6.0 Twelfth Five Year Plan:-
* To empower consumers by making them aware about their rights and responsibilities. * To provide effective, inexpensive and speedy redressal system to Consumers * To strengthen the infrastructure on Consumer Fora through computerization and computer networking across the country. * To augment the infrastructure of enforcement machinery of Legal Metrology Department of States/UTs and implementation of The Legal Metrology Act, 2009 * To assist Consumers by giving advice and guidance in Consumer related issues through National Consumer Helpline and State Consumer Helplines functioning in States/UTs across the country. * To create avenues for Consumers for settlement of Consumer related cases through Mediation process involving Voluntary Organisations and settlement of Grievances * To dispose of all Grievances and Complaints through a well established Grievances Redressal Mechanism.
Recommendations for 12th Plan period.
* Amending the important Acts administered by the Department and thereby bringing in provisions in tune with the time and necessitated by changes in economy, trade and business and consumer expectations is the basic strategy of the Department. * Come up with National Consumer policy which will enable this Department to effectively coordinate and intervene in the functions of those Departments which has a consumer inter-phase. * Streamlining the functioning of State departments, and other line organisations and agencies is another area. * Effective communication being the means for wider impact, exploring novel methods of awareness campaign is an area where lot of innovation is possible. * Utilisation of IT tools in furthering improvement of the redressal system making it more efficient and transparent. * Frequent meetings of the Central Consumer protections Council, periodical workshops with various stakeholders like Ministries which has consumer interphase, consumer organisations, academic and law institutions, training &research institutions and representatives of State governments and conference of State commission Presidents and Members provide ample opportunity to interact and understand the issues/ problems and take measures to mitigate them. * Media committee meetings periodically to discuss new ideas/advisories and assess the impact of publicity measures undertaken. * Bringing consumer interest in focus in all govt and private sector decisions. To that end the best practices being followed by other countries could be successfully implemented here after tailoring them to fit to our situation. * The impact of various activities undertaken on consumer satisfaction need to assessed periodically to learn from them and undertake mid course corrections/ modifications if necessary. * Associating State governments in a major way in implementing the programmes is of utmost importance
7.0 Consumer Protection: Future Prospect:
An effective, efficient and fair implementation of the Consumer Protection Act is one of the conditions precedents for promoting the culture of good governance and thereby ensuring the better promotion and protection of the rights of the consumers. If the rights of the consumers in relation to the quality of goods and services are assured and taken care of, then there will be no cause for complaints. This situation would certainly create an atmosphere wherein the clients, customers and consumers would feel satisfied with the things needed most to them. In this context, the concerns of the good governance need to be mentioned briefly with a view to establish linkage with the concern of the Consumer Protection law and institutions.
In view of the remedies available to the consumers under the Consumer Protection laws, there is no doubt that at the end of the day, if efforts of the operators of law and agencies are genuine and there is a sense of commitment, the culture of good governance would pervade wherein the consumers would feel highly satisfied and there would be no real cause for making a complaint or showing their dissatisfaction in any way. Therefore, the proper and effective implementation of the laws, dealing with the protection of the Consumers’ rights would promote the cause and concern of the good governance.
It would, finally, be better to highlight one or two areas with a view to focus the developments in regard to the protection of Consumers’ rights as well as the concern of the good governance. As stated earlier, one of the concerns of the good governance movement is to promote and ensure accountability of producers and providers in public domain.
Consumer Protection movement to be effective and meaningful needs the proactive support of the government, business, organisations of Civil Society, Educational Institutions – Schools, Colleges, Universities and Research Institutions. Over and above the support of pro bono publico and of every individual is a sine qua non for the Consumer movement to be purposeful. The policies, schemes and programmes of the Government of India through the
Department of Consumer Affairs are no doubt useful but their effectiveness finally depends on the involvement of the institutions and the people at large. A number of schemes have already been in operation such as, Grahak Jagaran, Consumer Clubs in Schools, Promoting involvement of Research Institutions, Universities, Colleges, etc. in Consumer Protection and Welfare etc. Similar schemes and programmes are needed at the State Government level also to provide further impetus to the Consumer movement in the Country. Organisations of the Civil Societies are having special responsibility in this regard and so is the case of the educational institutions.
While expanding the scope of Consumer Law, National Commission opened new doors in Bhupesh Khurana and others v. Vishwa Budha Parishad and others that imparting education falls within the ambit of service as defined under CPA. It was held that fees are paid for services to be rendered by way of imparting education by educational institutions. This is a great move in the direction of Consumer Protection as many five stars schools & colleges are mushrooming day by day. These claim of false affiliation with well known Universities in India as well as abroad and charge huge sums in the name of fees and other charges, which is unaffordable for the common man. Many of these institutions appoint unqualified staff and faculty to teach a particular stream and sometimes even such faculty is not available. Examinations are not held in time or results are not declared for months or even years, or certificates are not issued to them. Most of such Institutions are being run by fly- by night operators with only commercial motives. In the last decade, imparting education has become just another business rather than service to the society. To be cheated and lose hard earned money is one thing, but more important fact is that the future of many students is at stake.
In many such cases, which have come before the National Commission, the apex consumer court has clearly held that providing education is a service and has compensated the aggrieved consumer.
In a number of cases, the non supply of Roll Number, unexplained delay in deciding the application for admission, misrepresentation in advertisement and prospectus about the recognition of the college, non refund of the initial payment as college fee etc. have been held as deficiency in service.
Role of Educational Institutions in Consumer Protection Movement may not legitimately be denied on any conceivable ground. Educational Institutions, therefore, are expected to play a positive role in promoting Consumer Protection Movement. There may be different ways to achieve the objective of Consumer education about their rights and interest. It is said that aware Consumer is an asset to the society. Various methodologies, Educational Institutions are expected to follow such as, Seminars, Workshops, Lectures, Discussions, Colloquiums, Essay Competitions, Quizzes etc. in the area of Consumer Protection and Welfare to give boost to the Consumer Protection Movement in the Country.
8.0 CONCLUSION Mahatma Gandhi, the father of nation, attached great importance to what he described as the “poor consumer”, who according to him should be the principal beneficiary of the consumer movement. He said: “A Consumer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us we are on him. He is not an interruption to our work; he is the purpose of it. We are not doing a favour to a consumer by giving him an opportunity. He is doing us a favour by giving an opportunity to serve him.” Inspite of these views, consumerism is still in its infancy in our country. Consumer awareness is low due to the apathy and lack of education among the masses. What consumerism lacks here is education and information resources, testing facilities, competent leadership, price control mechanism, and adequate quasi judicial machinery.
Although implementation of the Consumer Protection Act can be viewed as a success, there are still serious shortfalls in achieving consumer welfare because of the deficiencies in quality infrastructure in the country.
The need of the hour is for total commitment to the consumer cause and social responsiveness to consumer needs. This should, however, proceed in a harmonious manner so that our society becomes a better place for all of us to live in.
* A Treatise on Consumer Protection Laws by S. K. Verma and M. Afzal Wani. * Laws of Consumer protection by G. B. Reddy. * Commentaries on The Consumer Protection Act with The Central Consumer Protection Rules by S. P. Sen Gupta. * S. M Dugar, MRTP Law, Competition Law and Consumer Law, Lexis Nexis.
Acts: * The Consumer Protection Act, 1986. * The Competition Act, 2002.
Articles: * Consumer Protection and Competition Policy. * Consumer Awareness Guidance by Govt. of Tamil Nadu. * Consumer Protection in India by S. S. Singh and Sapna Chadha. * Market Competition and Selection by Lawrence Blume and David Easley.
Websites: * www.manupatrafast.com * www.westlawindia.com * www.indiakanoon.com * www.ncdrc.nic.in/ * www.consumerism.in * www.legalhelpindia.com/consumer-protection-act.html * www.consumercomplaints.in/ * http://www.globalcompetitionreview.com
[ 1 ]. The Renaissance was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life in the early modern period. Beginning in Italy, and spreading to the rest of Europe by the 16th century, its influence was felt in literature, philosophy, art, music, politics,science, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry. Renaissance scholars employed the humanist method in study, industrialisation and art.
[ 2 ]. Consumer protection Act, 1979
[ 3 ]. Consumer protection Act, 1979
[ 4 ]. Consumer protection Act, 1980
[ 5 ]. Law of protection of Consumer Right and Interest(1993)
[ 6 ]. Consumer Protection Act 1999
[ 7 ]. Law, development and socio-economic Changes in Asia, series no.3, 53-73(2003)
[ 8 ]. Report of the Secretary-general, “International activities for consumer protection”, in IOCU, proceedings of the International Seminar on law and the consumer, Hong Kong, January 6-10, 1980.
[ 9 ]. AIR 1988 SC 952.
[ 10 ]. AIR 1987 SC 990.
[ 11 ]. The Constitution of India, Seventh Schedule (Article 246), List III-Concurrent List, entry 3.
[ 12 ]. Id., Entry 18.
[ 13 ]. Id., Entry 19.
[ 14 ]. Id., Entry 20.
[ 15 ]. Id., Entry 21.
[ 16 ]. Id., Entry 26
[ 17 ]. Id., Entry 33.
[ 18 ]. Id., Entry 33A.
[ 19 ]. Id., Entry 34.
[ 20 ]. Id., Entry 38
[ 21 ]. Id., Entry 39.
[ 22 ]. Id.,sec.2(1)(d).
[ 23 ]. 1993(2) CPJ 231 (NC).
[ 24 ]. 1996(3) CPR 11 (NC).
[ 25 ]. AIR 1998 SC 1801.
[ 26 ]. 1996 (2) CPR 162 (NC).
[ 27 ]. As stated in Manners of making Complaints in Consumer Disputes Redressal Machinery
[ 28 ]. 1993 (1) CPJ 60 (NC)
[ 29 ]. Commission of sales tax, MP v. Electricity Board, 1993 (1) CPJ 60 (NC)
[ 30 ]. Stadium Finance Ltd v. Robbins (1962) 2 QB 664
[ 31 ]. Hooper v. Gumm (1967) 2 Ch App 282.
[ 32 ]. (1899) 2 QB 111
[ 33 ]. Central Power Lights Co. v. State, Tex.Civ.App.,165 S.W. 2d 920, 925.
[ 34 ]. Lucknow Development Authority v. M.K. Gupta 1994 (1) CRP 569 (SC)
[ 35 ]. Indian Medical Association v. V.P. Santa 1995 (III) CPR 412 (SC) : AIR 1996 SC 550.
[ 36 ]. Id., sec. 11(1)
[ 37 ]. Id., sec. 17(1) (a)(i)
[ 38 ]. Id., sec 21 (a) (i)
[ 39 ]. Id., sec. 12(1)
[ 40 ]. Supra note 1,sec. 12(2).
[ 41 ]. Id., sec. 12(3).
[ 42 ]. Id., proviso to sec 12 (3).
[ 43 ]. Robert N. Mayer 1989: The Consumer Movement : Guardians of Market place ; Twayne publishers , Boston.
[ 44 ]. The new Shorter Oxford Dictionary, 1993, p.490. The word “Consumerism” is also used in pejorative sense meaning ‘preoccupation with consumer goods and their acquisition.’ However, its use in the present work is in a positive sense.
[ 45 ]. REPORT OF THE WORKING GROUP ON CONSUMER PROTECTION, Twelfth Plan (2012-17) Volume – II, subgroup report government of India, Department of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and public distribution.
[ 46 ]. (2000) CTJ 801
Bibliography: GOODS Section 2 (1) (i) of the Act does not define this term, but says it means the goods defined in the Sale of Goods Act, 1930
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