In our daily routine lives, we consume a number of goods and services for the functioning of our lives. The goods or products, many of the time, if you have noticed, are underweight, poor quality, and overcharged. Even services are sometimes poorly done and unfinished, for which we pay in the market. Many times, questions like: “What to do when something breaks easily? What to do if a service is poorly done, unfinished, or takes too long? What to do if a shopkeeper doesn’t give you bills for the goods or services rendered? How to check if a seller has sold you the correct amount and a safe product arises in our mind as a consumer.
In this modern era, exploitation of consumers will not come to an end unless we ourselves come forward to protect our interests, and this could easily be done by learning the legal remedies available to us.
Who is a Consumer?
In layman’s terms, a consumer is any person or group of people who buys, hires, or avails any goods and services for a consideration, whether paid, partially paid, or under any deferred payment system, for their own personal use. Any user of such goods and services who is not the person who purchases them for consideration and uses them with the approval of such person(s) is also considered a consumer. But a consumer does not include a person who obtains such goods for resale or for any commercial purposes, i.e., he must be the end user of goods or services.
What Does Consumer Protection Mean?
It means protecting and safeguarding consumers from unfair and restrictive trade practices adopted by sellers of goods and services in the market.
For example, unfair practices occur when a car seller claims that a particular car on sale provides 15km/hr millage but in fact provides only 10km/hr millage or refuses to accept the goods and services and does not refund the consideration. And when you go to take a gas connection to a dealer and he puts a condition of giving the connection only when you buy a stove from him or discloses the personal information of consumers, these are restrictive trade practices.
Thus, consumer protection refers to steps adopted for the protection of consumers from corrupt and unscrupulous malpractices by sellers, manufacturers, service providers, etc., and to provide remedies in case their rights are violated as consumers.
Acts and Amendments to Protect Consumer Rights
For the first time on December 5th, 1986, the Consumer Protection Act was passed. Since then, this act has been amended a number of times. It was amended in 1991, again in 1993, and again overhauled in 2002. Later, all acts and amendments were changed and, with the president’s approval on August 9th, 2019, COPRA (Consumer Protection Act) 2019 was passed and will be implemented throughout India beginning July 20th, 2020.
Need for Consumer Protection Act 2019
The intention behind the enactment of this act by the parliament was to include provisions for e-commerce. Due to the development of technology, the buying and selling of goods and services online have considerably increased during the last few years. Thus, the act provides better protection of the rights and interests of consumers by establishing consumer protection councils to settle disputes and provide adequate compensation in case consumer rights are infringed.
This act also set up quasi-judicial machinery for speedy and correct redressal of consumer disputes. Moreover, this act also promotes consumer education to educate consumers about their responsibilities, rights, and ways to redress their grievances.
How helpful is the Consumer Protection Act (COPRA) 2019 to Consumers?
It covers e-commerce transactions and tele-shopping, and consumer complaints can be filed at a place where the complainant resides or works. E-Filling of complaints is included, and hearing of cases can be done online by video conferencing.
Now, the District Forum can handle goods and services (up to 1 crore), the State Commission (from 1 crore to 10 crore), and the National Commission (above 10 crore). Also, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) has been established. This authority can investigate the matters, recall the product or services, and file cases at different forums. Even though Mediation Centres have been established for dispute resolution with all forums and courts, individuals can also refer to mediation for settlement.
Moreover, consumers can get compensation for any harm resulting from the use of any product or service from the seller. Consumer Protection councils have also been established, acting as advisory bodies at central, state and district level.
Further, if you are not satisfied with the consumer forum’s judgement or compensation provided in your district, you can file a case within 30 days at the district court proceeding with the national consumer forum and further Supreme Court.
Common Problems faced and Remedies available to Consumers under the COPRA Act 2019
During the period of the novel coronavirus, fraudsters were offering COVID-19 services in exchange for personal details to benefit themselves, and beneficiaries faced potential harm. So, the government continuously encourages just relying on government websites and being cautious of scammers selling fake and unauthorized kits and vaccines on social media or any other platform.
Even before COVID, some common problems were faced by consumers in the market, like problems related to faulty and unsafe products; refund, replacement, repair damage after normal use; shop breakages; poor quality or incomplete work; delivery issues; overcharging; misleading prices or advertising; underweight or under-measure; filing of cases; and many more.
COPRA, 2019 is a significant piece of legislation as it provides legal remedies to major issues/problems faced by consumers in the market. Basically, the act widens the scope of protection regarding the rights and interests of consumers by providing remedies like:
- Territorial Jurisdiction-COPRA Act 2019 allows consumers to file complaints from where they live, allowing them to seek redress for grievances about violations of their rights.
- Complaint cases can be filed online now as well, and a hearing can be sought via video-conferencing with the commission. Thus, this provides a convenient means for consumers to voice their grievances.
- False and deceptive advertising:This term is defined in the COPRA Act 2019 and it lays down strict penalties for such omissions and acts.
- Product Liability: This term is defined under the COPRA Act 2019, which states that it is the duty of the manufacturer of the product, seller, or service provider to compensate for any defective product or service provided.
- Mediation and alternative dispute resolution: For speedy and effective settlement, the act enables the consumer to opt for mediation and alternative dispute resolution.
Who can & where to file a Consumer Complaint?
According to the COPRA Act 2019, the case can be filed by whoever is the Ultimate Beneficiary, or by the legal representative of the deceased in the case of medical negligence.
The law gives two types of facilities in filling cases: either a complaint can be filed at the head office of the company against whom the complaint has to be filled or where the cause of action arises.
For example, we have heard that on purchasing a smart phone, a brick has been given in the box. So, if you got the delivery in Jaipur, you can file the case in Jaipur itself, i.e., the place where the cause of action arises.
Important Case Laws
In the case of Sehgal School of Competition vs. Dalbir Singh, the respondent had taken admission at the appellant’s institute for coaching for a period of 2 years. Further, due to dissatisfaction with the teaching curriculum and teaching faculty, he decided to withdraw from the institute, but the institute denied returning the fees he paid. Further, he made a case and the court ordered or upheld that non-refundability of fees by an establishment or any institution would be considered unfair trade practice and held that it would be unjust to gather or collect the lump sum payment, fees, or amount for the overall period of the course.
In the case of Kunal Saha vs AMRI Hospital, the Supreme Court awarded Rs. 5.96 crore as compensation for medical negligence to Kunal Saha, a US-based NRI doctor who fought for 15 years to fasten the charge of gross medical negligence on four doctors and Kolkata’s AMRI hospital for the death of his wife Anuradha. The court held three doctors-Dr. Balram Prasad, Dr. Sukumar Mukherjee, and Dr. Baidyanath Halder-guilty who had contracted a rare skin disease and directed Mukherjee to pay Rs. 10 lakh each to Saha, and Halder to pay Rs. 5 lakh, and Rs. 5.71 crore will be paid by AMRI hospital.
It is never okay, no matter what type of fraud or defect or rights have been infringed upon by the shopkeepers, wholesalers, or service providers. One must raise his voice and ask for a proper bill or receipt for the product purchased. The government always introduces new schemes and policies to protect the rights of consumers and provide them with speedy justice and compensation. But to bring these initiatives into actual practice, the consumers must also be aware of their rights and should obey the guidelines of the government before purchasing any product, giving personal details over social media, making fraud calls etc. to be on the safer side.
This article is authored by Nidhi Kumari, student at Banasthali Vidyapeeth.
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