Have you ever felt cheated after purchasing something? Was the electricity bill abnormally high? Experienced problems with real estate after you bought a property? If this sounds familiar, and you have been a victim of any of these complaints, you're in for a pleasant surprise! It is time to celebrate; the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 has finally replaced the outdated thirty-year-old Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
The new Act has implemented specific new measures and has made the existing rules stricter to safeguard the rights of consumers. Before I go on about the many ways how this new Act could make life easier, lets back up a bit. To understand, it is essential first to know the basics.
Consumer Protection Act, 1986
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (COPRA) was first passed in 1986 by the Parliament of India. True to its name, the primary purpose of the Act was to provide protection to the interests of consumers in India and to safeguard them against all kinds of exploitation including defective goods, inadequate services and unfair trade practices. It includes provision for smooth, speedy and an affordable system for redressal of consumer's grievances. Here are a few essential features of the Act:
1. It applies to all of India, apart from Jammu and Kashmir.
2. It comprises of all the goods and services bought or used by a consumer in all sectors, be it private, public or corporate (unless the Central Government specially exempts them).
3. It gives procedural instructions for the establishment of consumer protection councils at all three levels; central, state and district, to deal with all consumer grievances.
4. It recognizes the thee rights of consumers, and three more rights were added in the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 1993.
Well, what are these six rights of consumers? Here goes:
1. Right to be heard and to be assured that consumers' interests will receive due consideration at the appropriate forum;
2. Right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; and
3. Right to consumer education.
Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 1993, added the following:
4. The right to be assured wherever possible, access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices;
5. The right to be informed about the quality, potency, purity, standard and price of goods (or services as the case may be) so as to protect the consumers against unfair trade practices; and
6. The right to be protected against the marketing of goods (and services) which are hazardous to life and property.
Back to the present now!
Consumer Protection Act, 2019
Apart from adding new measures and safeguards for consumers, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 has introduced a central regulator and severe consequences for misleading advertisements. For the digital age of the 21st century, the Act has added guiding principles for e-commerce and electronic service providers. It has made it better for consumers in several ways.
The foremost valuable addition to the new Act is the broader definition of who a 'consumer' is. It now includes anybody who purchases any good, may it be online or offline, through electronic means, teleshopping or directly by the seller. The earlier 1986 Act did not consist of e-commerce transactions. Thus, this addition will allow customers who shop online, which is very common nowadays, to approach consumer courts.
Increase in Pecuniary Jurisdiction
The new Act has enhanced pecuniary jurisdiction to 1,00,00,000₹ (1 crore Rupees). In simple English, this means that district consumer courts can take up cases where the value of good or services paid does not exceed 1,00,00,000₹, whereas, the state can go up to 10,00,00,000₹ (10 crore Rupees). At the same time, the National court can go up to 100,00,00,000₹ (100 crore Rupees). This has made life easier for consumers as they can now address the district court (which most people find more comfortable) for such a high value as well.
Unfair Trade Practices
The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 has introduced a broad definition of unfair trade practices. It has clauses to protect the personal information of the consumer, until and unless the information is need is in accordance with provisions of another law.
Central Consumer Protection Authority
The establishment of a regulatory authority has been proposed under the new Act. This authority called the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) would include an investigation unit to inquire into consumer rights violations. The CCPA can take Suo-moto action, order repayment of goods/services, scratch licenses, recall products and file class-action suits, provided that the complaint affects 2 or more people.
Filing Complaints Online
The consumer can now file complaints online with the jurisdictional consumer forum, at the comforts of their own homes or offices. The previous AAct required the consumer to file the charge at the place of purchase or the seller's office. It is also possible for hearing parties through online video chats. This not only makes it convenient for the consumer but also provides procedural ease.
The penalty for fake or misleading advertisement is now up to 10,000,00₹ (10 Lakh Rupees) and up to 2 years of jail time. If it is a second- time offence, it could be extended to 50,000,00₹ (50 Lakh Rupees) and imprisonment up to 5 years. For every subsequent offence, 3 years of jail time could be added.
Alternate Dispute Resolution
The new Act allows alternate dispute resolution, which makes the entire process of solving the dispute easier and faster. It doesn't only the consumers, but also reduces stress on consumer courts.
Product Liability and Penal Consequences
Product liability has been introduced in the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. This means that the product manufacturer, service provider and seller will all be responsible for compensation.
In conclusion, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 has made life easier, for consumers as well as the fully booked consumer courts. With the Act all ready to become a law, there is no more need for consumers to be 'aware of fraud' or be skeptical or scared while purchasing any good or service. The phrase 'the customer is always right' can finally be put to use now! The new Act will also make businesses more mindful and responsible for their actions. Say goodbye to the unethical business', faulty deals, wrong products and unfair trade practices!
You can find the entire Consumer Protection Act, 2019, here (http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/210422.pdf).