Critical Analysis of the Consumer Protection Laws In India

Author- Tanvi Chopra

Introduction

Humans tend to avail themselves of the services to fulfill their needs and requirements. The day-to-day lives of humans revolve around availing and using the goods and services that are available in the market. When we use these services or goods, we are called ‘consumers.’ Consumers are the people who buy goods from sellers to fulfill their requirements and attain value through it. Consumer protection is a practice to safeguard the interest of the consumers and protect them from any unfair practices of the marketplace.

Sometimes, the sellers tend to give a defective product or commit fraud with the buyers who are then suffering because of a product for which they paid a price. To reduce and provide remedies to the consumers facing such issues, consumer protection laws have been enacted. These laws have been enacted, not just for protecting the consumers but also to prevent the firms from engaging in unfair practices to gain an advantage over their competitors in the market. the underlying principle on which the Consumer Protection laws are based is caveat emptor, meaning “let the buyer beware.”

Analysis of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019

The objective behind the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act has been to protect consumers from all sorts of unfair practices, fraud, etc, to promote healthy competition between different organisations and to endure freedom of trade carried on by all organisations in the Indian marketplace. The Consumer Protection Act of 1986 itself provided a list of activities that were protected under the CPA and also defined some commonly used terms like ‘unfair practices.’
The 2019 Act is a re-enactment of the former act making the implementation of this act wider in interpretation. Section 2(7) of the CPA 2019 defines the term ‘consumer.’ It includes anybody who buys any goods or avails any service for which any price has been paid. The term is broad enough to include online marketing or multi-level marketing within its ambit.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation v Ashok Iron Works Private Limited held that corporate firms are also included in the definition of ‘person’ as per the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act. it held that the word ‘includes’ is an inclusive definition and therefore, the corporates are also protected in the said act.

The Consumer Protection Act includes both goods and services and not just tangible goods. In the case of Indian Medical Association v. V.P. Shantha, the court held that medical services fall under the meaning of services as per section 2 (o) of the Consumer Protection Act. It rejected the contention that a medical practitioner, being a professional and falling under the scope of the Indian Medical Council Act, stands excluded from the CPA.

As it has been repeatedly mentioned and used in the provisions of law, the main objective of the act is to prevent the consumers from unfair practices. The definition clause of the act also provides for the definition of unfair practices and gives a list of certain activities which fall within the definition. Unfair practices include falsely representing the standards of goods or services in terms of quality, quantity, misrepresenting whether the goods have some guarantee or warranty, representing that a seller has some sponsorship with that product when he does not have, etc.

The most pertinent amendment in the act of 2019 is the expansion of the definition of unfair trade practices. The act also now includes disclosure of the personal information shared by any consumer unless the disclosure is made in regard to any law being in force at that time. The most major difference between the acts of 1986 and 2019 is that this act has broadened its scope in almost every consumer protection law. the penalty amounts for non-compliance of order have been increased, a few definitions have been amended including a larger ambit of matters.

The act has also included a new concept of unfair contracts. These contracts harm the consumers and severely affect the basic rights provided to them. The act of 2019 works towards protecting the consumers from such hazardous and misleading contracts formed to favour the manufacturers and selling authorities. The new act also introduces the power of judicial review. This allows the consumer forums to review their judgments rather than filing appeals to the next level forum and thereby overburdening the courts further.

In the 2019 act, the appeals from the State Commission to the National Commission can only be made where they involve substantial questions of law. Further, appeals from the National Commission to the Supreme Court can only be made against complaints that originated in the National Commission. These are some of the most important amendments made in the 2019 act so as to protect consumer rights and prevent unfair trade practices in the marketplace.

In the case of Spring Meadows Hospital v. Harjol Ahluwalia, a minor child had gone to a vegetative state because of a brain haemorrhage because of the negligence of the doctors and the nurses. The issue involved was whether the parents can claim compensation for the mental trauma that they faced along with the child. It was held by the hon’ble court that the definition of consumers is wide enough to include both parents and child as consumers and both can claim compensation.

Legal Procedure to be followed while approaching a Consumer Forum

  • Before the legal procedure is commenced, the first step is to send a legal notice to the person who wants to sue. This notice is given to the defaulter to warn them of the default being committed and to warn them that the matter might reach the consumer dispute redressal forum.
  • After the notice is served, the matter is taken to the consumer court. It is a matter of grave concern to select the right court and of the jurisdiction under which the matter lies. There are two aspects to be considered while deciding the specific court. The first being, the territorial jurisdiction of the court i.e., the place where the matter has taken place or the place where the product has been sold/ service has been availed. The second aspect to be considered is with respect to the price of the product. If the price of the product is below ₹1 crore, the matter is taken to the district consumer redressal forum. If the price of the product is between ₹1 crore and ₹10 crores, the matter is taken to the state consumer redressal forum and if the price of the product exceeds ₹ 10 crores, the matter is taken to the national consumer redressal forum. (The price values are as per the provisions of the 2019 act)
  • After the court has been selected and the jurisdiction of the matter is duly decided, the next obvious step in the procedure is to file the consumer complaint. In the complaint, the complainant mentions about the problem he has been facing, the default or defect in the problem, the details of the transaction, some evidence should also be mentioned which includes the bill of exchange, the eye witness, if any. If the complainant is seeking for compensation, the relief or compensation should also be duly mentioned in the complaint.

It is often preferred that you hire a lawyer and let your lawyer file the complaint as they as professionals in the field and would be more effective in mentioning the details and maintaining the structure of the complaint. The lawyer will also have a better understanding of the jurisdiction of the matter. Jurisdiction is an essential matter in the complaint because if the jurisdiction is wrongly mentioned, the matter is outrightly dismissed from the courts. The complaint should be filed within two years of receipt of purchase, if the complaint is not filed within two years, an extension of time may be granted by the courts if ta sufficient and satisfying reason is provided to the courts.

  • After the complaint has been filed, the court fees have to be paid by the party to the case. The court fees are varying as per the different price tags of the matters to be dealt with.
  • The final step in the procedure is to argue the case. you are allowed to either argue your own case or hire a lawyer who does this on your behalf. It would obviously be preferred to hire a lawyer to argue the case as he is more well versed with the law governing the case and handle it more effectively and efficiently.

Conclusion

Consumer protection is a very wide sphere and also one of the most important areas of law. Every person is buying or using some of the other product on a daily basis and many people constantly face issues with their products, which is covered and remedied under the Consumer Protection Act. Every citizen of the country is a consumer, even the manufacturers and sellers are consumers of some of the other good. If the buyers and sellers both understand the need of providing a non-defective product without engaging in any false practice, the implementation of this act would then be successful in all terms.

In the author’s opinion, the people of the country need to be made more aware of the existence of such laws and how these laws can protect you from any unfair practice or fraud that you have faced in the marketplace. There are a large group of people who do not file a complaint or even bring it to the notice of the seller about the fraud they faced, or the defect they had in their products. All these provisions are included in the act and therefore, the people should be made more aware and more active in the applicability and usage of this field of law.


Author Tanvi Chopra is a second-year law student from Bennett University, Greater Noida. She believes that such socio-legal issues should be handled with utmost care and caution as they are very delicate matters.