CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 2019
INTRODUCTION: Inspired by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, at the time when he formally addressed the issue of consumer rights back in 1962, the World Consumer Rights Day was first observed on 15th March 1983 and since then it has become a very important day in terms of gathering citizens and persisting them to imparting their voice towards their rights. This day is celebrated in order to spread awareness amongst the consumers and outspread the rights laid down for them. It is an initiative for the masses and the protection of their rights. The Parliament of India in the Seventieth Year of the Republic of India has enacted the consumer protection act 2019. On July 20, 2020, this act came into force and this act replaced the earlier Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It consists of 8 chapters and 107 sections in whole. The objective of this act is to provide for protection of the interests of consumers and for the said purpose, to establish authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumers' disputes and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The main objective of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was to protect the rights of the consumers and to provide speedy redressal to them which has now become archaic and does not consider the modern day consumer market challenges especially related to online, teleshopping, product recall, unsafe contracts and misleading advertisements. So, to meet the current needs New Consumer Protection law was passed replacing the 3 decade old legislation i.e. 1986 Act which seeks establishment of Central Consumer Protection Authority, mediation, product liability, and faster redressal by the consumer commissions. THREE TIER SYSTEM: Chapter 2 consists of section 3-9 and deals with the Consumer Protection Councils unlike the previous act which provides for 3 tier authorities namely: · Central Consumer Protection Council · State Consumer Protection Councils & · District Consumer Protection Council. FUNCTIONS OF CONSUMER PROTECTION AUTHORITY: Chapter 3 which consists of sections from 10-27 deals with the establishment of central consumer protection authority. It says that a Central Consumer Protection Authority should be established which is to be known as the Central Authority and its primary functions are 1) To regulate matters relating to violation of rights of consumers, unfair trade practices and false or misleading advertisements which are prejudicial to the interests of public and consumers and 2) To promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers. 3) It also deals with the method of recruitment, qualifications, vacancies, appointment, & procedure. INVESTIGATION & COMPLAINT: Sec. 15(1) says that the Central Authority shall have an Investigation Wing headed by a Director- General for the purpose of conducting inquiry or investigation under this Act as may be directed by the Central Authority. A complaint relating to violation of consumer rights or unfair trade practices or false or misleading advertisements which are prejudicial to the interests of consumers as a class, may be forwarded either in writing or in electronic mode, to any one of the authorities, namely, the District Collector or the Commissioner of regional office or the Central Authority If the authority satisfies that there is a misleading or any other offence then it can impose a penalty which may extend to ten Lakh rupees. POWERS OF COLLECTOR: The Powers of District Collector inquire into or investigate complaints regarding violation of rights of consumers as a class, on matters relating to violations of consumer rights, unfair trade practices and false or misleading advertisements, within his jurisdiction and submit his report to the Central Authority or to the Commissioner of a regional office. FUNCTIONS OF CENTRAL AUTHORITY: The following are some of the functions of the central authority (A) Protect, promote and enforce the rights of consumers as a class, and prevent violation of consumers rights under this Act; (B) Prevent unfair trade practices and ensure that no person engages himself in unfair trade practices, (C) Ensure that no false or misleading advertisement is made of any goods or services which contravenes the provisions of this Act or the rules or regulations made there under; (D) Ensure that no person takes part in the publication of any advertisement which is false or misleading. It has also the powers like inquiring or investigating, filing complaints, reviewing the matters, recommending for adoption of international conventions, undertaking research, encouraging NGO's, issuing guidelines and advising consumer ministers. This chapter further deals with the Power of Central Authority to refer matter for investigation or to other Regulator, to recall goods, etc, to issue directions and penalties against false or misleading advertisements, Search and seizure, Appeals, Grants by Central Government, Accounts and audit, Furnishing of annual reports, etc. CONSUMER DISPUTES REDRESSAL COMMISSION: Chapter 4 consists of section 28-73 which deals with the establishment of National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and state Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, their Qualifications of President and members of Commissions, Salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of service of President and members of the Commission. It further deals with the Vacancy in office of member of District Commission. Officers and other employees of District Commission, Jurisdiction of District Commission, Manner in which complaint shall be made, Proceedings before District Commission, Reference to mediation & Procedure on admission of complaint, Review by District Commission in certain cases, Appeal against the order of District Commission, Enforcement of orders of District Commission, State Commission and National Commission. PENALTY FOR NONCOMPLIANCE OF ORDER: Whoever fails to comply with any order made by the District Commission or the State Commission or the National Commission, as the case may be, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one month, but which may extend to three years, or with fine, which shall not be less than twenty-five thousand rupees, but which may extend to one Lakh rupees, or with both. PECUNIARY JURISDICTION 1) The National Commission has the jurisdiction to entertain the complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration if it exceeds rupees ten Crore. 2) The State Commission has the jurisdiction if the consideration exceeds rupees one Crore but does not exceed rupees ten Crore 3) The District Commission has the jurisdiction if the consideration does not exceed one Crore rupees. CONSUMER MEDIATION CELLS: Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism has gained more interest in the recent past and it has been considered as one of the best strategies for resolving the disputes. As a consequence it can reduce the burden to the consumer forums. Mediation is a negotiation process in which a neutral third party assists the disputing parties in resolving their disputes. And this mechanism is applied if the cell founds that there exists elements of a settlement which may be acceptable to the parties. About mediation: A Mediator uses special negotiation and communication techniques to help the parties to come to a settlement. The parties can appoint a Mediator with their mutual consent or a mediator can be appointed by the Court in a pending litigation. Mediation always leaves the decision-making power with the parties. Chapter 5 consists of section 74-81 which deals with the concept of mediation like establishment of consumer mediation cell at all the levels (three) of the country which should be consists of · A list of empanelled mediators; · A list of cases handled by the cell; · Record of proceeding; Every consumer mediation cell shall submit a quarterly report to the District Commission, State Commission or the National Commission to which it is attached, in the manner specified by regulations. And the commission shall prepare a panel of the mediators to be maintained by the consumer mediation cell attached to it. 75 this chapter also deals with the nomination of mediator, duties of mediator, replacement of mediator, procedure, resettlement and recording of the resettlement of the mediation. PRODUCT LIABILITY The product liability is dealt under chapter 6 which consists of sections from 82-86. This Chapter applies to every claim for compensation under a product liability action by a complainant for any harm caused by a defective product manufactured by a product manufacturer or serviced by a product service provider or sold by a product seller. An action may be brought by a complainant against a product manufacturer or a product service provider or a product seller, as the case may be, for any harm caused to him on account of a defective product. A product manufacturer shall be liable in a product liability action, if: 1. The product contains a manufacturing defect; or 2. The product is defective in design; or 3. There is a deviation from manufacturing specifications; or 4. The product does not conform to the express warranty; or 5. The product fails to contain adequate instructions of correct usage to prevent any harm or any warning regarding improper or incorrect usage. 6. A product manufacturer shall be liable in a product liability action even if he proves that he was not negligent or fraudulent in making the express warranty of a product. 7. A product service provider shall be liable in a product liability action, if the service is fault or an act of negligence. PRODUCT SELLER LIABILITY & EXCEPTIONS: A product seller who is not a product manufacturer shall be liable in a product liability action, he has altered or modified the product, if the product manufacturer is unknown, if failed to exercise reasonable care, there are some exceptions where product liability action cannot be brought against the product seller if at the time of harm, the product was misused, altered, or modified. PENALITIES & PUNISHMENT: Chapter 7 consists of section 88-93 which deals with the offences and penalties like Penalty for noncompliance of direction of Central Authority, Punishment for false or misleading advertisement, manufacturing for sale or storing, selling or distributing or importing products containing adulterant, manufacturing for sale or for storing or selling or distributing or importing spurious goods. OTHER MISCELLANEOUS THINGS: Miscellaneous things are dealt under chapter 8 which consists of section 94-107. It includes Measures to prevent unfair trade practices in e-commerce, direct selling, etc. Compounding of offences, Power to give directions by Central Government, Central & state Government to make rules & regulations which are to be laid before each House of Parliament. CONCLUSION: According to Mahatma Gandhi ‘Customers are the most important visitor on our premises, they are not dependent on us, we are dependent on them. They are not an interruption in our work. They are the purpose of it. They are not outsiders in our business. They are part of it; we are not doing them a favour by serving them. They are doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.’ So let us hope for good outcome from the new act.