The 2019 Consumer Protection Act brings about fundamental changes to the existing 1986 legislation. But it also envisages a Central Consumer Protection Authority and vests too much power and control in this authority without proposing adequate administrative safeguards.
Mid-August, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (2019 Act) received Presidential assent and came into effect. Notably, the 2019 Act, repeals the previous consumer protection legislation which had been in effect since 1986 (1986 Act). This prior legislation had been amended from time-to-time to bring it in accordance with changes brought about by economic liberalisation, globalisation of markets and digitalisation of products and services. However, its practical implementation was far from fulfilling its desired objective of being a socio-economic legislation which sought “to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers.” While using the same phrase in its preamble, the 2019 Act, has substantially enhanced the scope of protection afforded to consumers, by bringing within its purview advertising claims, endorsements and product liability, all of which play a fundamental role in altering consumer behavior and retail trends in the 21st century.
The definition of “consumer” under the 2019 Act includes those who make purchases online. Endorsement of goods and services, normally done by celebrities, are also covered within the ambit of the 2019 Act. In fact, an additional onus has been placed on endorsers, apart from manufacturers and service providers, to prevent false or misleading advertisements. In contrast to the 1986 Act, the definition of “goods” has been amended to include “food” as defined in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. This would also bring the meteorically rising number of food delivery platforms within the fold of the 2019 Act.
Interestingly, “telecom” has been added to the definition of “services” to bring telecom service providers within the purview of the 2019 Act. But surprisingly, such inclusion has not been worded as “telecommunication service” defined under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, which would have included internet, cellular and data services.
A significant addition to the 2019 Act is the introduction of “product liability” whereby manufacturers and sellers of products or services have been made responsible to compensate for any harm caused to a consumer by defective products, manufactured or sold, or for deficiency in services. Another newly introduced concept is that of “unfair contracts” aimed to protect consumers from unilaterally skewed and unreasonable contracts which lean in favour of manufacturers or service providers.
The definition of “unfair trade practices” has been enlarged to include electronic advertising which is misleading, as well as refusing to take back or withdraw defective goods, or to withdraw or discontinue deficient services, and to refund the consideration within the period stipulated or in the absence of such stipulation, within a period of thirty days. It is now also an offence if any personal information, given in confidence and gathered in the course of a transaction, gets disclosed.
All these changes signify an attempt to create more transparency in the marketplace, through legislative protection, with a view to ensure that consumer interests are above all else.
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