The Consumer Protection Bill 2015, approved by the Union cabinet recently, is a much-needed legislation that takes into account emerging trends in the market place. Innovative goods and new methods to market products have irrevocably changed the face of business. The consumer is confronted with a mind-boggling array of choices both in the traditional shopping bazaar and online in the e-commerce mega market. Consumers who got taken for a ride, say in the e-commerce space, they were finding it cumbersome and complicated to make e-tailers accountable for their actions as consumer protection laws were outdated and were found wanting when faced with a conflict situation.
The bill, replacing the 29-year-old law, will bring in stringency in penalising companies which either provide faulty products or substandard service. It will make it possible to initiate class action suits where necessary. This will surely bring in some sanity and order into the complex chaos that characterise consumer-driven products, or what is called Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). Aware and alert consumers will be happy as the bill equips them better to file cases against the wrong-doer firms. It is a caution to the companies too not to take the consumers for granted. The bill should have come a few years ago. Of course, it is not too late now and, in fact, is felt even more keenly now. The new bill, when it is eventually enacted, will give stronger teeth to pursue cases of outright cheating and faulty product deliveries over the Internet. The increasing number of cases of consumers being taken for a ride by phishers and duplicitous emails will be better handled as a single agency, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) will come about once the bill is legislated.
Forums for consumer protection have historically been robust in India. Under the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, in the last nearly three decades, close to 90 per cent of the approximately 95,000 cases were disposed of. Similarly, 92 per cent of cases in district forums and 86 per cent in state forums have been settled. This makes it clear that the overall mechanism for sorting out the myriad issues facing consumers is working well. The latest bill is welcome as it attempts to keep up with the times and prevents the redressal mechanism from lagging behind. But, as in most cases, the redressal is not watertight and the states must address issues that suggest lacuna in the system. More important than disposing of cases, the speed with which it is done is crucial. Once the 2015 bill is enacted, the government must look into this as well.