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Posted at: Aug 11, 2019, 7:19 AM; last updated: Aug 11, 2019, 7:19 AM (IST)

Filing complaints made easier, redressal to be faster

The 2019 Bill addresses the problems faced by consumers and also provides a speedy and inexpensive mechanism for redressal of grievances
Filing complaints made easier, redressal to be faster
Fastrack: Under the Bill, parties can opt for mediation to resolve disputes at any stage

Suresh Misra

The Consumer Protection Bill 2019 seeks to empower consumers in the era of globalisation and information technology. In a fast-changing world, where markets, products, services and end-users have undergone a transformation, the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 had lost its relevance. The complex grievance redress mechanism, too, had become a conundrum for consumers.

In order to meet the contemporary challenges faced by consumers, the new Bill was brought in to replace the outdated 1986 Act. The Bill attempts to simplify the consumer justice system, providing for speedy disposal of complaints.

Consumer Protection Authority

It seeks to set up an executive authority or regulator in the form of Central Consumer Protection Authority to promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers. This body will be empowered to investigate, recall, refund and impose penalties. It will regulate matters related to violation of consumer rights, unfair trade practices and misleading advertisements. There is also a class action law suit to ensure that the rights of consumers are not infringed upon.

The need for such an authority was long overdue with the abolition of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Commission.

Penalty for misleading advertisements

A crucial area the body will regulate is misleading advertisements that affect the safety and health of consumers.

Under the Bill, the manufacturer and endorser of such advertisements are liable to pay a penalty of Rs 10 lakh and serve a jail term of two years in the first instance. For repeat offenders, the penalty is Rs 50 lakh and a jail term of five years.

There has been apprehension regarding the provision, but the objective is to ensure consumer safety. The provision will act as a deterrent, ensuring both manufacturers and endorsers understand the implications of misleading consumers.

Mediation cells

Another issue that the Bill seeks to address is the delay in disposal of consumer complaints, something the 1986 Act failed to resolve.

The new Bill, however, provides a way out of prolonged litigation as parties can opt for mediation to resolve disputes at any stage of proceedings. This will widen the scope of early settlement if the parties agree. Mediation cells will be set up and attached to commissions and parties cannot appeal once a dispute has been resolved through mediation.

Product liability

The concept of product liability has also been defined in the Bill and manufacturers and service providers will be held accountable for any harm to consumers from defective products or deficient services. This will ensure better-quality products and services to consumers.

Nomenclature changed

The nomenclature of the Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies has been changed to bring about uniformity. The district forum will now be known as District Commission. The pecuniary jurisdiction of the commissions has also been enhanced. The District Commission will entertain complaints where the value of goods and services does not exceed Rs 1 crore, the State Commission up to Rs 10 crore and the National Commission will entertain complaints exceeding Rs 10 crore.

File complaint from home

Another significant improvement is simplification of the process of filing a complaint. A consumer now has the provision of e-filing complaints. If the commission does not reject or admit a complaint within 21 days, it is deemed to have been admitted. This will enable commissions to start proceedings early.

Second stage of appeal

An important provision is that after the second stage of appeal, further appeals will be entertained only on the question of law. This will reduce prolonged litigation and fasten the pace of finality of a complaint.

E-commerce complaints

E-commerce in India is growing at a fast pace, courtesy the availability of a variety of products and services at discounted prices and the convenience of the process.

However, of late, several complaints have been filed through the National Consumer Helpline regarding non-refund of money, poor quality products and services, unfair terms and contracts, fake products, etc. Thus arose the need to regulate the sector in the interest of consumers.

The new Bill provides that for the purpose of preventing unfair trade practices in e-commerce, direct selling and also to protect interests and rights of consumers, the Centre may take such measures in the manner as may be prescribed. The Department of Consumer Affairs has already brought out draft guidelines on e-commerce known as e-Commerce Guidelines for Consumer Protection 2019.

These are guiding principles for e-commerce to prevent fraud and unfair trade practices and protect the legitimate rights and interests of consumers. These guidelines apply to Business-to-Consumer e-Commerce, including goods and services, which also include digital content products. These principles will enable the e-commerce entities to ensure that the consumer is not taken for a ride.

— The writer is Chair Professor,  Consumer Affairs, Centre for Consumer Studies, IIPA, New Delhi

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