Advocate & IP Attorney
Advocate - Associate
The consumer Protection Act is a law to protect the interests of the consumers, by providing safety to consumers regarding defective products, deficiency in services and unfair trade practises. The overriding aim of this Act is to protect the consumer and the Rights of the consumer by establishing authorities for effective administration and timely settlement of Consumer disputes.
With the advent of the Industrial revolution and the constant upliftment of the trade and commerce in the international sector, plethora of goods and services have come to the market to cater the needs and demands of the consumers. The decline in the application of the principle of consumer sovereignty was the by-product of the well-organized sector of manufacturers and traders who have a better knowledge of the market place, thus, jeopardizing the relationships with the consumers. A free-market economy, where the customer is considered to be the king, used to run on the principle of caveat emptor (let the buyer be aware) which then saw a shift to caveat venditor (let the seller be aware). This shift was aimed at the protection of the public from the sub-standard and adulterated production and advertisement of articles and services, where a consumer is put before a product or service available to him from various sources with very little time to select. Hence the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 is important in the history of India, where such an Act was enacted to protect the interests of consumers from exploiting, profit-centred and unfair trade practices.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 came into force on 24th December 1986 which extended to the whole of India, except the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This Act protects the interests of the consumer and provides safety to consumers regarding defective products , dissatisfactory services and unfair trade practices. The basic aim of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 is to save the rights of the consumers by establishing authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumers’ disputes.
As per the Act, a three-tier grievance redressal machinery; District, State and National level respectively was established, with a time-bound redressal. The provisions of the Act were compensatory, preventive and punitive.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1956 protects the following rights for the consumers:
It is important to accept and appreciate the fact that we are living in the Digital Age which has ushered in a new era of commerce and digital branding, as well as a new set of customer expectations. Digitization has provided easy access, a large variety of choices, convenient payment mechanisms, improved services and shopping as per convenience. However, there are also associated challenges related to consumer protection. To help address the new set of challenges faced by consumers in the digital age, the Indian Parliament passed the landmark Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 which aims to provide timely and effective administration and settlement of consumer disputes.
The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 was enacted by the Indian parliament which came into force on 9th August 2019, repealing and replacing The Consumer Protection Act of 1986. The new Act proposes a huge number of measures and fixes the current standards to the existing consumer rights. Lets have a look at the changes that are incorporated in the revised Act which is segregated into various heads for easy understanding.
The redressal agencies under the 1986 Act were given 21 days to either accept or reject a complaint, in the 2019 Act, the complaint will be deemed to be admitted if it is not rejected within the 21 days from the date on which the complaint was filed.
Any deliberation on the Consumer Protection Act is incomplete without the mention of certain important judgements. Though there are umpteen numbers of judgements, here are some handful of judgements to throw light on the latest developments in the field of Consumer protection.
Class Action Suit under the Consumer Protection Act- National Commission;
In the case of Ambrish Kumar Shukla & 21 Ors. Vs . Ferrous Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. Class action suit was recognised by the National Commission where even though the consumers were claiming different reliefs but all shared the same interests of either wanting the possession of their flats or getting damages from the builder, and hence their suit can be clubbed as one suit against the builder. And it’s the court's duty to inform all the consumers interested in the joining of the suit. The commission expressed that simple distinction in the reason for activity among the diverse relief seekers won't be a bar from a class action suit if the idea of the interests claimed by all of them is equivalent. The Commission said that the goal of the enactment must be taken into consideration at the interpretation of the Act, must be done to subserve the goal of the enactment.
Limitation Provision in Consumer Protection Act cannot be strictly construed to disadvantage of Consumer- Supreme Court: In the case of National Insurance Company Ltd. v. Hindustan Safety Glass Works Ltd. & Anr, the Supreme Court held that the provisions of the limitation cannot be construed strictly, especially for the disadvantage of the consumer, where the reason of delay is the supplier, as in this case was the insurance company. If the delay is due to the influence of any outside force than the complainant, then, in that case, some concessions can be awarded. Hence, the Supreme Court allowed the case to be admitted in the National Commission even after the expiry of the limitation period.
Trust cannot Lodge a Complaint under the Consumer Protection Act- Supreme Court In the case of Pratibha Pratisthan & Ors. v. Manager, Canara Bank & Ors held that a trust doesn’t fall under the definitions of “consumer” or “complainant” or even a “person”, therefore, the trust cannot file a case under the Consumer Protection Act.
The question that whether a corporation falls under the definition of “person” U/s 2(1)(m) of the Consumer Protection Act, was answered by the court in affirmation in the case of Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation v Ashok Iron Works Private Limited, [(2009) 3 SCC 240], where the court held that the definition provided under the Act is an inclusive definition, rather than an exhaustive one, and hence the intent of the legislature shall be looked into while interpreting the same. A juristic person won’t be left behind by the legislature on purpose, and hence, considered that corporations to fall under the category of “person” and also liable under the Act.
In the Indian Medical Association v V.P. Shantha and others case, the court held that even professional services will be considered under the ambit of services under the Consumer Protection Act, such as that of consultation, treatment and diagnosis practised by the medical practitioners, as they have a duty of care towards their patients. In another case of Spring Meadows Hospital & Anr v Harjol Ahluwalia, the court held that as the parents taking their child to the doctor are rendering the services of the doctor for their child, therefore the parents will also fall under the ambit of consumers and both the child and the parents are entitled to compensation.
In the case of Sapient Corporation Employees Provident Fund Trust Vs. HDFC & Ors., the court imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on the complainant on the ground of filing a frivolous complaint, stating that, the Consumer Protection Act is a social legislation and doesn’t charge any court fees, therefore, held that there needs to be a guard against frivolous and malicious complaints.
The object of both the enactments remains the same which was to protect the rights and interests of the consumer. The steps taken by the 2019 enactment is only to modernize the 1986 Act and to protect the consumers in the dynamic market. The current enactment has just widened its scope in the fields of consumer, goods and services to be at par with the recent developments in the field of technology with e-commerce and a greater market place.
Now, it is the duty of the consumers, to be aware of their rights which can be achieved by mass education and acknowledgement of the laws in place to curb the malpractices of the sellers and manufacturers. The Act has also been a step forward in the structure of its implementation through the grievance redressal machinery which put forward ample provisions to safeguard exploitation both by and against the modern-day consumer. In the ever-changing socio-economic environment, the Act stands at par, with the real test being the implementation of its provisions where the consumer has a better standing against the exploitation as it encourages and ensures strong safeguard.
Though there are concerns over the implementation of the Act, this sure is a move in the right direction by the Government of India which is working towards giving the hope and safeguarding every Consumer who is spending his hard earned money while utilising any service or buying a product and rightly satisfies the basic condition for which this Act was enacted. The implementation of the provisions of the Act will certainly guarantee happy Consumers which in turn will strengthen the faith and trust of citizen towards the judiciary.