Soon, you can haul up manufacturers and service providers, who fail to give you a receipt for payments made towards the purchase of goods and services.
The proposed changes to the Consumer Protection Act, introduced in the form of a comprehensive amendment Bill in the last session of Parliament, say that failure to issue a cash receipt constitutes an unfair trade practice.
Since the Consumer Protection Act gives consumers the right to be protected against unfair trade practices and the right to redress and compensation against such practices, the proposed amendment casts a responsibility on the part of the trade and industry to issue the cash memo to the consumer, even without their asking for it. The amendment also strikes at the very root of the ubiquitous, unilateral condition printed on the cash receipts of retailers, that ‘goods once sold cannot be taken back or exchanged’. It gives the consumer the right to return the goods and get a refund. The amendment Bill also provides for relief against unfair contracts thrust on consumers and gives consumers the right to compensation for any loss or damage caused on account of such unfair contracts.
Another important provision in the Bill pertains to the consumer’s right to information — it provides for compensation to consumers, who suffer loss or injury on account of ‘consciously withholding of relevant information to the consumer’, as the Bill puts it. This provision will cover a number of marketing practices, particularly in the banking and the insurance sectors, where products and services are sold through subterfuge and half-truths by marketing agencies or sales persons. The amendment will protect consumers from such practices.
The Bill also incorporates provisions to cut down on delays in the adjudication of complaints, ensure better compliance of the orders of the consumer courts and also better monitoring of the functioning of these courts. In that direction, the Bill seeks to impose a minimum penalty of Rs 500 per day for every day’s delay on part of a retailer or a manufacturer or a service provider in paying the compensation awarded by the court. This should certainly force the trade and industry to pay the compensation amount awarded by the consumer courts quickly.
There is also a provision to enable the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission to seek the assistance of experts, or even an organisation, in cases where the interests of a large number of consumers are involved. This should really help in class action suits where consumers do not have the funds or the expertise to gather the required data or information to win a case.
There is also an attempt to ensure that the consumer courts do not declare temporary closure on account of delays in the appointment of the adjudicating members of the consumer courts. While these are the positive aspects, there are a few disappointments, too. For example, given the delays in the adjudication of complaints brought before the consumer courts, the Bill could have provided for complaints coming within Rs 1 lakh to be decided without advocates and prohibited adjournments and appeals in these cases. That would have helped in quicker disposal of small-value complaints.
Similarly, even though the Bill attempts to protect consumers from unfair terms in consumer contracts, the definition of ‘unfair contracts’ in the Bill is not comprehensive enough.
Since we do not have a separate law or a regulation to protect consumers from unfair terms in consumer contracts (as recommended by the Law Commission), the definition of the term unfair contract has to be as comprehensive as possible. Or else, the very purpose of this particular provision will be defeated.
Coming as it does in the silver jubilee year of the Consumer Protection Act, the amendments are highly relevant and one hopes that the Members of Parliament will improve upon this further during the passage of the Bill.
But eventually, whether there will be a significant improvement in the functioning of these courts, will depend on the enforcement of the law by the government and those who adjudicate over the complaints.