Consumer Bill, long overdue

With the Lok Sabha passing the long-overdue Consumer Protection Bill, 2018, legislation to strengthen the rights of consumers has taken a big step forward. Once enacted, the bill will replace the Consumer Protection Bill, 1986. The need for new legislation has been felt for several years now. The 1986 Act, after all, catered to the needs of consumers of a different era when buying and selling was still done through shops and bazaars. The 2018 Bill is more appropriate for today’s market space which is tech-driven and takes into account e-commerce, direct selling, multi-level marketing and telemarketing. Hitherto, the consumer was largely taken for granted. She had to be content with goods and services on offer to her by manufacturers and service providers. Her decisions on buying products depended on the price. As for quality, she bought the product if it had ISI or Agmark certification. But manufacturers could purchase such certifications. She could of course go to the consumer court but that was almost always a futile effort as it was a rather toothless body and the process of litigation cumbersome.

The 2018 Bill provides for a regulator - a Central Consumer Protection Authority to handle violation of consumers’ rights, unfair trade practices, false advertisements etc. This body has the power to recall goods that are unsafe. It sets up Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and forums at the district, state and national levels for adjudicating consumer complaints. This will speed up the delivery of justice. The Bill offers greater scope for a class action suit, where manufacturers or service providers may be held liable to not just one customer but all customers affected by a potentially defective product or service. It addresses the problem of adulteration and makes the manufacture, sale and storage of adulterated goods a punishable offence.

Advertising plays a huge role in drawing customers and building markets in today’s world. It is well known that several advertisements misrepresent a product and promise benefits to customers that are illusory and false. The new law provides for punishment for such misleading and false advertisements. Indeed, it provides for heavy penalties of up to false endorsers. Thus, film stars promoting skin whitening lotions or sports icons who endorse health drinks that promise to make children taller and stronger could expect to receive more than a rap on their knuckles. Critics say that punishing endorsers is unfair. However, this is necessary. Endorsers should act with more responsibility. The 2018 Bill puts the consumer at the heart of the law. But it will be truly empowering only when the public is made aware of the new rights this law gives them.  

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Consumer Bill, long overdue

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