EVOLUTION OF CONSUMER LAWS AROUND THE GLOBE AND IN INDIA

Author: Siddharth Negandhi, 1st Year, LL.B, Jitendra Chauhan College Of Law, Mumbai The article has been written by the author while pursuing the internship programme with us. Introduction: The consumer in simple terms can be defined as the person who buys goods and enjoys any kind of services provided to him in exchange for money. Consumer laws came into force not only to secure the rights of the consumer against the seller but also to provide remedies to the consumer which can be in the form of awarding compensation to the aggrieved party if there is any defect in goods or deficiency in service or unfair trade practices on the part of the seller or the service provider. The sole object of the various consumer protection councils around the world is to promote and protect the rights of the consumers. History around the Globe: The consumer adds up to the starting point of economic activities and has always been in the forefront with respect to the development of the market. Until the 18th century, the consumers themselves had to substantiate the quality of the goods they bought and only in the conduct of gross negligence, the manufacturer or the retailer could have been held liable. The grapple against capitalism and food fraud paved the way for the first phase of consumerism but it wasn’t until the third phase, during the 1950’s, that saw the implication of the European countries. The first ever consumer’s organizations came into existence in Denmark in the year 1947 and in Great Britain in 1955, where the government established the Consumer Council in place to entitle consumers to communicate and express themselves on various issues limited and reserved to traders. The actual normative discovery came with the Single European Act. This modified the Treaty of Rome by reinforcing the role of the Economic and Social Committee, to whom powers were assigned to secure and protect the consumers. Over the years, many important modifications were made which gave rise to a broader consumer policy. In 1962, former US President John F Kennedy declared four fundamental consumer rights: The right to be informed. The right to safety. The right to choose and The right to be heard. His affirmation issued a license for the consumer groups all around the world to reflect the consumers’ want in the market. The regulations were formulated to: Aid countries to attain and maintain suitable protection for consumers. Encourage ethical conduct in the market. Strengthen the development of market conditions which offers the consumers with greater choices at low prices. After considerable international consultation, the UN General Assembly adopted a few Guidelines for Consumer Protection in April 1985, and updated in 1999. All this resulted as a mechanism for the nations to encourage consumer protection. At the global level, this has turned out into the foundation for consumer movement. Today, 240 organizations from over 100 countries took an initiative and came up under a single body named as Consumers International. History in India: In India, the trend was initiated as a ‘Social Force’ to enhance the interests of the consumers and also to secure them. But the Consumer Protection Act in 1986 gave it a legal authority with the affirmation of six consumer rights. Various government departments of consumer related affairs and matters were set up and a three tier system of consumer courts at district, state and national levels were established. As codified under the laws, the consumer has the following rights with respect to the buying of goods and availing services: The right to be protected against the advertising of goods and services which can be dangerous to life and property. The right to be informed regarding the quality and price of goods and services to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices. The right to seek redressal or right to approach the respective consumer courts against restrictive trade practices. The right to consumer education regarding the products and services. The right to be assured and have access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices. The right to be heard at appropriate forums in case of unfair trade practices. Primary features of the Act are as follows: Declaration of six consumer rights. Setting up of a separate department of consumer affairs into Central and State governments. Establishment of a three tier consumer courts for resolving the consumer disputes, namely: District commission at district level. State commission at state level. National commission at national level. This was how the legalized framework came into force all around the globe and in India. Consumer Protection Act, 2019: The Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 8th July, 2019 by the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan. The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 received the assent of the President of India and was published in the Official Gazette on 9th August, 2019. The new Consumer Protection Act has been established and amended since the digital age has led in a new era of digital marketing and commerce making way for advanced and new set of consumer requirements. Due to the growth in digitization providing convenient access, a huge variety of choice, easy online payment mechanisms and better services, there was also a rise in challenges faced by the consumers related to their protection. Hence, taking all these matters and facts into consideration and also to address the challenges faced by the consumers in the digital age, the landmark Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 was passed. The new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 seeks to replace the more than three decades old Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The objective of this new act is to address consumer vulnerabilities to new forms of unfair trade practices and unethical business practices in the ever changing new-age economy. The highlights amendments made under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 are as under: Definition of a ‘Consumer’ expanded: A consumer now also involves a purchaser who purchases goods on-line. [Section 2(7)]. Liability of Endorsers: An endorser of a product or service (for instance a Celebrity inviting to buy a house) finds its mention in Consumer Protection Act, 2019. Endorsers have an onus (in addition to trader/ service provider) to not indulge or participate in false or misleading advertisements. [Section 21]. Goods now explicitly involve ‘food’ as well: As defined under the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006. [Section 2(21)]. Each and every food vendor, including food delivery platforms are also now under the ambit of Consumer Protection Act, 2019. Services explicitly involve ‘Telecom’ as well: As set out in Section 2(42). Fascinating though, the definition of telecom services is not there. Perhaps it is considered as a very common in-use term. Product Liability introduced: Whole of chapter six of the new Act is devoted to this. Manufacturers /sellers of products/services are liable for compensation to a potential consumer for any sort of harm suffered due to defective products or deficiency in services. Exceptions have also been listed therein to provide protection to the manufacturers/sellers. For instance a knife making company, on its packaging, clearly mentioned that children below 14 years of age should not make use of such product or even touch the product as it is hazardous in nature and an expert supervision is essential to make use of such product. Further, the manufacturing company shall not be held liable regarding the failure to inform the consumer if the consumer who is a 12 year old child wounded himself by making use of that product. E-filing of complaints: It provides for a consumer to file his/her complaint electronically. Judicial Review introduced: The District, State and National Commission can call for reviewing their own orders, if there is any error apparent on the face of the record, either of their own motion or on an application made by any of the parties to the complaint within thirty days of such an order. [Section 40, Section 50, Section 60]. This will result in reduction in burdening of appeals on the State and National Commissions. Landmark Judgment: B.L. Sood vs Delhi Transport Corporation(DTC) Whether it’s a telephone office or a public sector bank, no one likes to be greeted with a frown but with a smile. But the reality is what the petitioner Mr. B.L. Sood faced in this case. The partially handicapped 75 year old man had sought justice after a long duration of seven years by proving that there can be legal precedent to take actions against rudeness. On 26th July, 1998 Mr. Sood boarded a bus after waiting for nearly 90 minutes. He witnessed the bus to be overcrowded and the conductor glued to the seat, instead of collecting tickets. Mr. Sood was still waiting for his turn with the fare in his hands when DTC bus conductor asked Mr. Sood to produce his ticket. When Mr. Sood said that he was still waiting to buy a ticket, he was forced to get off the bus and also pay a fine of Rs.20. As per Mr. Sood, the ticket examiners were rude and abusive to him and also manhandled him. However, he paid the said fine and was also determined to take up the case against the Delhi Transport Corporation. Hence, he approached the District Commission whereby the District Commission imposed a penalty of Rs.3000 on DTC for deficiency of service. After continuously missing hearing dates and despite being fined three times by the court, DTC appeared in the court in the year 2000, two years after the case was filed. The DTC appealed to the Delhi State Commission, which held it guilty of deficiency of service but reduced the compensation. Further, not satisfied with the order of the Delhi State Commission, Mr. Sood went on to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission which restored the order of the District Commission and also asked the DTC to pay Rs.5000 more as costs. Conclusion: The above case law of B.L. Sood vs Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) was an eye opener for the consumers in India as each and every individual is a potential consumer and can connect with Mr. Sood. I believe, the consumers are not only empowered with rights and protection but also they need to perform some very important duties for the benefit of their own. There is no denying the fact that the consumers are being misled and cheated in various ways by the sellers, but it is consumers’ duty to register a case against the seller for wrong doings under the regulations of Consumer Protection Act and completely engage themselves in the case so filed. This can be achieved if, consumers themselves be present in the court with an advocate in every hearing and also if the consumers have a sense of anticipation as to counter attack the false statements put by the seller or a trader during litigation. Hence, in today’s world, both virtual and physical consumers of goods and services are required to be updated with the basic regulations of Consumer Protection Act which safeguards their interest and protects their rights. Disclaimer: Views and opinions as expressed in the Research Articles are solely of the author and any member of the Editorial team or the Founder, Co-Founder or other members of the website shall not be liable for the same.

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