By Bhamy V Shenoy
We in India celebrate two consumer days every year – World Consumer Day on March 15 and National Consumer Day (NCD) on December 24. During the observation of NCD this year, we the consumers should take time to learn about the new consumer protection act (NCPA) passed by the parliament on 6 August 2019.
The old Consumer Protection Act of 1986 was a great gift to us by the Parliament despite its faulty implementation by the consumer fora. Most of the retired judges presiding over them converted them into veritable civil courts and failed to give judgments within the stipulated 90 days. They gave adjournments the way they were accustomed to in their previous career.
Some interesting features of NCPA may help the consumers in getting speedy judgement provided members of redressal fora and commissions are given proper training. Some of the salient features of NCPA are discussed below.
NCPA does not stipulate that the president or some of the members of commissions should have legal background or have served as judges. All appointments will be made by the central government. This feature of the new Act has come under some criticism for not having members with legal background. On the other hand, not limiting the post of presiding officer to only those with judicial background, may result in speedier judgement. Most consumer cases are simple and do not need application of complicated laws.
NCPA has widened the definition of ‘consumer.’ Even those who buy goods online or through telemarketing are consumers. Pecuniary limits have been enhanced. District Consumer Fora can handle up to Rs 1 crore, State Commissions up to Rs 10 crores and cased involving more than that have to be submitted to National Commission. Consumer courts have the option of referring cases to settlement through mediation for speedier and simpler way of resolving disputes.
Now we have the flexibility to file complaint where we live or work and not necessarily where purchase was made or at the place of sellers registered office. This is a huge benefit. Consumers can now file complaint electronically and parties can be examined through videoconferencing. What a relief! Earlier unfriendly staff at consumer fora used to frustrate the process of filing and with this development all this will end. India has really leapfrogged to new era of internet. Let us hope that all this will work smoothly.
There will be new Central Consumer Protection Authority ( CCPA) with wide powers of authority. CCPA can conduct enquiries and investigate into violations of consumer laws. It can recall products, order reimbursement of the price of goods/services, file class action suits when more than one individual is affected. This is really the dawn of a new era in consumer movement in India.
NCPA has introduced the product liability on the part of manufacturers and service providers to compensate compensate who have suffered. Unfair trade practices can be taken up either by individual consumer or by CCPA. There will be penalties for misleading advertisements. Even those celebrities who are behind misleading ads can be prosecuted in the future.
One of the major criticisms of NCPA was that it does not specifically include services provided by medical practitioners. However, some experts feel that since the Supreme Court has already given judgments that medical services are also included under COPRA, there was no need to include it specifically. To overcome the potential debate over this issue by some MPs and for smooth passage of the bill, the clause of including the medical services was dropped in the last minute.
While Consumer Protection Act 2019 has many attractive features, and can be a great help in ushering a new era in India’s consumer movement, it will happen only when we the people get involved. If we remain indifferent the way we have been when earlier Act was being implemented then NCPA will also be ineffective or dysfunctional.
Several years ago, Mysore Grahakara Parishat had organised a protest to highlight the delay in settling disputes. Though thousands of consumers had been helped by MGP and were familiar with the problems, there were less than 50. We need vibrant consumer NGOs in every city and also at national level to promote the implementation of the Act.