'Right to repair' will end forced purchase of goods : The Tribune India

Join Whatsapp Channel

Consumer Rights

'Right to repair' will end forced purchase of goods

Life of many electric and electronic goods, described as consumer durables on account of their longevity, is coming down, thanks to planned obsolescence by manufacturers. Standards for such goods need to have minimum lifetime requirements to stop unfair practices

'Right to repair' will end forced purchase of goods


Pushpa Girimaji

When Ram Prasad, a senior citizen, got an elevator installed in his house to facilitate his movement from the basement to the second floor, he had not taken into account the forbidding cost of servicing the lift. After the lift, costing Rs 10 lakh, was installed, he was told that in order to maintain it in proper working condition, he was required to buy an annual maintenance contract for Rs 60,000.

Considering that in the initial years, the servicing would only be confined to greasing, oiling and some basic checks, Prasad says the cost of annual maintenance being quoted by the manufacturer was too high. He could easily hire trained engineers offering to service the lift for an annual contract of Rs 24,000, but the manufacturer said he would not sell the spare parts to anyone, not even to the buyer of the elevator. Prasad says the manufacturer is, thus, forcing his customers to buy annual servicing contracts at exorbitant rates.

Such practice is highly exploitative and a violation of the consumers’ right to choice and fairplay! But, this is just one of the several ways in which manufacturers are compelling consumers to spend more. The absence of spare parts, for example, is another excuse used by the manufacturers to coerce consumers into buying new models, rather than repair the old ones.

When Priya Ranjan renovated her house 11 years back, she purchased expensive bathroom fittings. However, one day, the heavy shower mixer valve came off, narrowly missing falling on her foot. She was told that the pin which kept the valve in place had fallen off and since the company no longer manufactured that model, she had to buy a new unit. So, instead of a pin that would have probably cost Rs 10 to put back the valve, she was asked to buy the entire unit. Prior to that, the shower head, which was barely used, had fallen down and she was told that it could not be re-fitted and so she had to replace the unit!

Such forced purchases for the lack of spare parts or obsolescence are common in respect of electronic goods such as computers, mobile phones, music systems and television sets, besides a range of household electric goods as well as electronic gadgets. In fact, the life of many such gadgets, described as consumer durables on account of their longevity, is coming down, thanks to planned obsolescence by the manufacturers.

A refrigerator, for example, is expected to last two decades, but if you have a problem with the machine after six to seven years of purchase, you are told that the spare part is no longer available as that particular model is outdated. So the manufacturer offers a ‘Buyback’ scheme wherein he will take back the old unit and give you a new one at a discount. The deal is highly advantageous to the manufacturer, totally unfair to the consumer! Why should a consumer spend Rs 30,000 on a new model when she can get the old one repaired for Rs 4,000? Surely, a manufacturer who has sold a product has the responsibility to ensure the availability of spare parts during its lifetime.

Fortunately for consumers the world over, there is recognition of the right to repair, rather than be forced to buy new products. There is also acknowledgement of the need to free product servicing from unfair, anti-competitive restrictions on third-party repair and there is a growing crusade for legislation to strengthen these rights.

This movement has got further fortified by the realisation that such forced purchases and planned obsolescence are creating mountain loads of electronic debris, devastating the environment. According to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor, 2020, 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2019 and only 17.4 per cent was collected and recycled. Estimating an e-waste burden of about 74 million metric tonnes by 2030, the report pointed out that e-waste was the ‘world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream, fuelled mainly by higher consumption rates of electric and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few options for repair’. E-waste, containing toxic additives and hazardous substances such as mercury that damage the human brain, is a health and environment hazard, the report emphasised.

Many countries around the world are enacting legislation to bring down e-waste and ensure the consumer’s ‘right to repair’. In the United States, several states have made moves in this direction. New York, for example, has enacted the ‘Digital Fair Repair Act’, making repair of electronic goods such as smartphones, laptops less expensive and easily accessible to consumers. The law makes it obligatory on part of manufacturers to share information that facilitates repair by those other than the manufacturer. Similarly, the European Commission in March this year adopted a new proposal on common rules promoting the repair of goods.

India, too, has made a beginning in this direction, with the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs taking the initiative. However, much more needs to be done to protect the interests of consumers. First and foremost, the standards for electric and electronic goods need to have minimum lifetime requirements that put a stop to planned obsolescence. The standards should also mandate the availability of spare parts during the stipulated life of the products. And they should be made available to purchasers, or any third party, through a ‘right to repair’ legislation. There should also be quality standards for repair services and standards for used goods to promote the sale of quality certified second-hand goods.

All these moves will not only ensure affordable, accessible and quality servicing and repairs, but also help cut down e-waste.

— The writer is a consumer affairs expert


Top News

Delhi High Court stays bail granted to Arvind Kejriwal in money-laundering case linked to 'excise scam'

Delhi High Court deals blow to Arvind Kejriwal, stays bail granted to him in money-laundering case

A vacation bench of Justice Sudhir Kumar Jain says the ED's ...

AAP to move Supreme Court against stay on bail for CM Kejriwal in excise policy case

AAP to move Supreme Court against stay on bail for CM Kejriwal in excise policy case

The trial court had granted bail to Kejriwal on June 20 in t...

SAD leaders discuss way forward for party, want new leader in place of Sukhbir Badal

Shiromani Akali Dal leaders discuss way forward for party, want new leader in place of Sukhbir Badal

The meeting lasts for over 5 hours and a resolution is final...

Om Birla likely to be repeated as Lok Sabha Speaker, Rajnath Singh dials Opposition

Om Birla files nomination as NDA candidate for Lok Sabha Speaker's post

Rajnath Singh tasked to engage opposition says he spoke to C...

A 1st in history: Opposition to contest Lok Sabha Speaker post, K Suresh files nomination

A 1st in history: Opposition to contest Lok Sabha Speaker post, K Suresh files nomination

Venugopal and DMK's TR Baalu meet Rajnath Singh and Amit Sha...


Cities

View All