Consumer Protection Act
Consumer Protection Act
People buy a variety of goods and services for their day-to-day activities. A person pays for what he wants to purchase and hopes to be satisfied with its consumption and use. Although, at times, satisfaction cannot be ensured with the products that are bought. This may be caused due to the poor quality of a product, overcharging a product, lower quantity of contents, misleading advertisements and on it goes. Malpractices can be averted with the concept and practice of consumer protection that highlights the rights and responsibilities of consumers including the legal provisions and mechanism for settlement of consumer grievances. In this article, we hope to enlighten consumers about the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 in detail.
Features of the Act
The significant features of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) of 1986 are listed below.
- The Act applies to all the goods, services and unfair trade practices. Nothing is exempted unless explicitly done so by the Central Government.
- The Act covers all the sectors regardless of being private, public or co-operative.
- The Act provides the facility to establish consumer protection councils at the Central, State and District levels. This is ensured to promote and protect the rights of a consumer. Three-Tier quasi-judicial machinery is organised to deal with the grievances or disputes of consumers.
- The Act provides a statutory recognition to the all the reasonable rights of the consumer.
Need for Consumer Protection
The need for consumer protection arises from the need to protect consumers from the loss or injury or other prevailing malpractices. The Consumer Protection Act was implemented for the following reasons.
- To ensure the physical safety of a consumer.
- To protect against economic interests.
- To provide access to information.
- To ensure satisfactory product standards and statutory measures for redressal of grievances.
- To ensure social responsibility of producers and traders to provide quality and quantity of goods at fair prices.
- To increase the awareness about consumer rights and malpractices in business that can affect a consumer.
- To ensure consumer satisfaction.
- For the principle of social justice.
- For the principle of trusteeship
- For the survival and the growth of businesses.
Goods and Services Covered
The Act defines the term “goods” as any type of movable property other than money and includes shares and stocks, growing crops, etc. On the other hand, “Service” is defined as service of any description that is made available to potential consumers and includes sectors such as banking, housing construction, financing, entertainment, insurance, the supply of electrical and other energy, transport, boarding and lodging, amusement and so on. The services offered by professionals such as doctors, architects, engineers, lawyers etc. are included under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986.
The concept of the consumer protection act is formed to safeguard the rights and interests of consumers. It adopts measures to protect consumers from unethical malpractices by businesses and provide a swift redressal of their grievances. The issues that are battled by the Consumer Protection Act are listed below.
- Sale of unadulterated goods such as adding inferior substances to the product being sold.
- Sale of counterfeit goods such as selling a product of lesser value than the real product.
- Sale of sub-standard goods such as the sale of products that do not meet the prescribed quality standards.
- Sale of duplicate goods.
- Use of malfunctioning weights and measures that lead to underweight of products.
- Black marketing and hoarding that eventually leads to scarcity of the product and well as a rise in the price of the same.
- Overcharging a product, i.e., charging a product above its Maximum Retail Price (MRP).
- Supplying of defective goods.
- Advertisements that are misleading, i.e., advertisements that falsely claim a product or a service to be shown as superior quality, grade or standard when not in real.
- Supply of inferior services, i.e., quality of service lesser than the condition agreed.
Rights of a Consumer
The former President of the USA, John F Kennedy had given consumers six rights that they ought to have. These rights gave way for an organised consumer movement in the country and slowly, spread worldwide. The Consumer Protection Act in India also strives to offer its consumers the same rights, and they are listed below.
Right to Safety
It is every consumer right to be protected against the goods and services that may be hazardous to their health or life. For example, serious accidents could be caused by defective vehicles. The same could be said for electrical appliance with sub-standard material. It was not long before when there mass protests and boycott of soft drinks due to the presence of harmful pesticides way beyond permissible limits. There, the right to stay safe is an important right that is offered to a consumer and ensures that the producers of the product shall not manufacture or sell substandard and harmful products.
Right to be Informed
The right to be informed is a crucial component of consumer protection. A consumer must be provided with accurate and adequate information about the quality, quantity, purity, standard and the exact price of the goods and services. These days, manufacturers provide detail information regarding the contents of a product, its quantity, the date of manufacture, the date of expiry, maximum retail price and the precaution to be taken while using the product and so on displayed on the package of the product. Such information helps the consumer in deciding on buying and using the product.
Right to Choose
The right of a consumer to choose assures that consumer has, whenever possible, the access to various goods and services at different competitive prices. The buyers have the advantage of having a wide selection if the market has enough varieties of products that are placed at competitive prices. However, for monopolies such as railways, postal services and electricity supply etc. it is the right of a consumer to be assured of the satisfactory quality of service at a fair price.
Right to be Heard
The rights of a consumer such as safety, information and choice will be pointless without the right to be heard. There are three interpretations to this right, and they are as follows.
- This right means that all consumers have the right to be consulted by the Government and public bodies when certain decisions and policies are made affecting the interests of consumers.
- The consumers have the right to be heard by manufacturers, dealers and advertisers about their ideas and opinions on production, marketing decisions and any other grievances of the consumer.
- Finally, a consumer has the right to be heard in a legal proceeding in the court of law with concern to consumer complaints.
Right to Seek Redressal
Consumers have been given the right for redressal of their issues and grievances related to the performance, grade, quality etc. of the said goods and services. The product must be repaired/ replaced by the manufacturer if required. The Act has duly provided for a fair settlement of genuine grievances of the consumers and has set up a proper mechanism for their redressal at all the levels.
Right to Consumer Education
It is the right of a consumer to receive knowledge and skills to become an informed consumer and make the right choices. Educational institutions, consumer associations and policymakers play an essential role in this, and they impart knowledge on the following topics.
- On the relevant laws that are aimed at preventing unfair trade practices.
- On the ways and means that dishonest traders and producers may choose to deceive consumers.
- On the importance of a bill or a receipt at the time of purchase.
- On the procedure to be followed by a consumer while filing complaints.
Consumer education, when done right, would lead to an increased level of consumer awareness and support them to enforce their powers much more effectively to protect themselves against fraudulent methods of product publicity.
Responsibilities of Consumers
The following are the duties and responsibilities of a consumer when purchasing a product or desire of their desire.
- To be conscious about the quality and ensure standard quality when purchasing a product with certification marks like the ISI, Agmark, FPO etc.
- Beware of advertisements that mislead and not wholly rely on the same. The products need to be carefully checked, and customer reviews must be sought to, if available, before purchasing.
- To be responsible for inspecting a variety of goods before making a selection to ensure the quality, price, durability, after sales service etc. This would help consumers to make the choice that best suits them within the limit of their resources.
- To collect proof of transaction while purchasing a product such as an invoice or a bill that could generally provide warranty or guarantee.
- To be appropriately aware of their rights as a consumer.
- To file complaints about genuine grievances in cases of dissatisfaction that caused loss and when a compensation claim is required.
- Proper use or products and services even during the guarantee period.
Ways and Means of Consumer Protection
The following are the multiple ways and means by which a consumer can be protected and rights of the person can be preserved in India.
- Lok Adalat
- Public Interest Litigation
- Redressal Forums and Consumer Protection Councils
- Awareness Programmes
- Consumer Organisations
- Consumer Welfare Fund
- Legislative Measures
Filing of Complaints
A complaint must be filed with the appropriate organisation for the redressal of consumer grievances. Below are the details required to be known while filing a complaint by a consumer.
Individuals who may file a complaint
The following persons may file a claim under the Consumer Protection Act of 1986:
- The individual must be a consumer.
- Any recognised voluntary consumer association if the consumer is a member of the association or not.
- The Central Government or the State Government.
- One or more consumers along with numerous other consumers having the same interests.
- A legal heir or a representative in the case of death of a consumer.
Types of complaints that may be filed
A consumer has the right to file a complaint concerning either of the following reasons.
- Adopting unfair trade practice or a restrictive trade practice by a trader or service provider.
- Goods that were bought suffer from defects.
- Services that were hired or availed suffer from a deficiency in any aspect.
- Goods or service which were hazardous or likely to be dangerous to health and safety when used.
- When prices are charged more than the MRP/ price displayed on the price list/ agreed between the parties involved.
Places to file a complaint
A consumer complaint may be submitted in person or by an authorised agent or by post. The claim may be written on a plain sheet of paper and supported by appropriate evidence verifying the allegation contained in the complaint. The complaint should also clearly specify what sort of relief the consumer is demanding for the loss or injury caused. The complaint should also contain the nature, description and the address of the complainant as well as the opposition party and information regarding the claim in detail.
The time limit for a consumer to file a complaint is within two years from the date on which the cause of the action has taken started. However, a complaint may be admitted even after two years if sufficient evidence and justification is presented for the delay.
The time limit for a complaint to be solved must be within three months from the date of the notice received by the opposite party. This period is extended when the complaint requires a laboratory testing of goods.