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May 31, 2018

Essay - Consumer Protection Laws in India

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Consumer Protection Laws in India 

  • What is consumer protection law ? 
  • History of consumer protection in Indian civilisation.
  • The Britishers introduced legal system by replacing old traditional system. 
  • Indian Constitution protects consumer rights. 
  • Disadvantages faced by the consumers.
  • Different laws are passed to protect the rights of the consumers. 
  • The aims of the Consumer Protection Act. 
  • The major areas covered by the Act.
  • This act maintains the balance between forces of globalisation and interest of the consumers.
Globalisation has led to growing interdependence and increased connection among economies of the world. The positive outcomes of this trend is that there is universal emphasis on consumer rights protection and promotion. Consumers are now increasingly becoming aware of their right and
protection mechanisms available to them. Consumer protection laws are being designed and updated to ensure fair trade competition and free flow of genuine information in the market-place. Now, as India is also aspiring to become a world power, focus on consumer protection laws is being renewed.

Consumer protection has its roots in the rich soil of glorious Indian civilisation. Human values and ethical practices were kept at highest pedestal in the ancient India. Dharma-Sutras and Vedas were primary sources of law of ancient India. Manu Smriti prescribed a code of conduct for traders and specified punishment for various crimes committed against the consumers. Kautilya's Arthasastra was another text that dealt with consumer protection. This text describes the role of the state in trade regulation and also deals with its duty to prevent crimes against consumers. In the modern period, the British introduced the legal system that replaced the age old traditional system of India. The system, however, adopted to the Indian conditions and combined best of the Indian and the British system.

Some of the law that dealt with consumer protection during the British era includes the Indian Contract Act (1872), the Indian Penal Code (1860), the Usurious Loans Act (1918), the Sale of Goods Act (1930), the Agriculture Procedure (Grading and Marketing Act) (1937) and Drugs and Cosmetics Act (1940).

These laws provided specific legal protection for consumers. With the adoption of the Constitution, a new dimension was provided to legislation dealing with 'citizens' in general and 'consumers' in particular. The Constitution provided the philosophical ground on which structural edifice of the consumer protection laws in Indian stands today. Experts have equated the word 'consumer' with the word 'citizen' in the Constitution.

Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of laws. Therefore, manufactures, producers, traders, sellers as well as consumers enjoy equal treatment before the law. The consumer is also entitled to constitutional protection under Article-38, which states that the state shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of national life.

Article 46 mandates that state shall promote with special care, the educational and economic interest of the weaker sections of the people and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. "Protection from all form of exploitation" in the context of consumers means that the consumers should be saved from all kinds of harassment and fraud at the market place.

To give concrete legal status to the constitutional mandate, various legislation laws has been enacted in India since independence for protecting the rights of consumers. Consumer protection legislation enacted after independence includes Essential Commodities Act (1955), Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (1954) and Standard of Weights and Measures Act (1976). However, inspite of all these legislations, the consumers still find themselves at disadvantage, they are still victims of unscrupulous and exploitative practices. Besides, adulteration of food, exploitation of consumers assumes numerous other forms such as spurious drugs, unreliable hire purchase plans, unregulated and inflated pricing, poor quality, deficient services, deceptive advertisements, hazardous products and black marketing among other things.

A major development towards this came on 9th April, 1985 when the General Assembly for Consumer Protection of UN adopted a set of guidelines for consumer protection. Members countries were required to adopt these guidelines through national laws. These guidelines included
  • Protection and promotion of consumer's economic interest. 
  • Standards for safety and quality of consumer goods and services. 
  • Measures enabling consumers to obtain redress. 
  • Consumer's education and information programme.
Though these guidelines were not legally binding, they certainly provided an internationally recognised set of basic objectives for countries to strengthen their consumer protection policies and legislations.

In India, the Consumer Protection Act (1986) was enacted to this end and was specifically designed to protect consumer's interest. This act is a social welfare legislation with two main objectives. Firstly, this act gives consumers the right to be protected against the marketing of hazardous goods and services. This means that consumers have right to know about the quality, quantity, purity, standard and prices of goods and services. Secondly, the act aims to provide speedy redressal to consumers related to disputes arising out of unfair trade practices.

The Consumer Protection Act aspire to clear all bottlenecks in promoting competition among business units. It endeavours to provide better protection of the interests of the consumers, to make provision for establishment of consumer councils and other related authorities for settlement of consumer disputes. The provisions aims to provide effective safeguards to consumers against exploitations and harassment. This act is more holistic in coverage and goes beyond just being punitive or preventive in nature. Unlike other laws, the consumer protection act is also compensatory in nature. The advantage of this act lies in it being flexible with wider jurisdiction and inexpensive justice mechanism.

The Consumer Protection Act is applicable to all goods and services unless specifically exempted by the Central Government. It covers all sectors including public, private and cooperatives. It provides adjudicatory authorities, which are simple, speedy and less expensive. It also provides for consumer protection councils at national, state and district levels.

These are first point of contact to get grievances heard. If a consumer is not satisfied with the order of the district forum, he can file an appeal against the order with the state commission within 30 days of the order, which is extendable for further 15 days. An appeal against the order of state commission lies in the national commission. Final appeal can be made with the Supreme Court.

With around 20 years of the existence and going through a number of amendments, the Consumer Protection Act has stood the test of time. But still there is a lot of scope for further improvement. The act deals only with the problems of an individual consumer.

It does not specifically deal with the issues related to maintaining or increasing supplies of any essential commodity or for securing their equitable distribution. However, inspite of its shortcoming, the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, which provide easy access to justice, has brought a legal revolution in India as a result of the cost-effective mechanism and popular support. In this age of consumers, the regime of Indian consumer protection law will undoubtedly rule Indian markets and should maintains the balance between forces of globalisation and interest of the consumers. 

Difficult Words with Meanings :
  • Pedestal a supporting structure or piece, base
  • Edifice a complex system of beliefs
  • Unscrupulous not honest or fair, doing things that are wrong, dishonest or illegal
  • Spurious of a deceitful nature or quality
  • Deceptive misleading
  • Redressal a setting right of what is wrong;
  • Holistic incorporating the idea that the whole is more than merely the sum of its part, in theory or practice
  • Punitive serving for, concerned with, or inflicting punishment
  • Adjudicatory to make an official decision about who is right in a dispute.
shared by Nisheeta Mirchandani

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