The new Consumer Protection Act, to be in effect soon, promises much more security for the buyer, before and after sales
The new Consumer Protection Act 2019, which recently replaced the three-decade old (1986) Act (last amended in 2003),carries a number of good news points for the consumer. When it is finally notified, it will initiate a number of changes. Apart from the setting up of a central administrator, the other key aspects in the new act are strict measures against organisations making false claims about their products as well as issuance of guidelines for e-commerce and electronic service providers.
In short, the ambit of the act has not only been widened, the consumer has been made to feel a little more special. Also, district consumer courts can now deal with cases of valuation up to Rs 1 crore (up from Rs 10 lakh) and state courts up to Rs 10 crore (up from Rs 1 crore). The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission(NCDRC) will deal with cases of over Rs 10 crore.
Of the many changes, according to Ms K Radha, advocate NCDRC (Picture inset), there are three main points that stand out. “The first is the pecuniary angle,” she said. “Then there is the increase of the valuation till which district courts can handle. This will effectively reduce the pressure on higher courts. Quite like in normal courts, the pendency in these courts are massive. A one-year date for a hearing is not unheard of.”
The most important change, according to Ms Radha, is the accountability factor, in which the seller cannot make false claims about its product. “This was needed,” she said.
Within the changes in the pecuniary angle, the best, according to Ms Radha, is the fact that it would now become essential for sellers to issue an invoice. This will mean that the first objective of a case, which is to establish that the transaction did occur, will be fulfilled. “The second is that now, it will be possible for the consumer to be able to return goods within 30 days of purchase if he/she is not satisfied with it (technically, if there is a defect), and not within a small time-frame, as it is now.”This will resonate well with all who make online or offline purchases.
“Today, the consumer can apply online, presenting his/her case,” said Ms Radha. “This has only added to the ease with which legal help can be accessed. A consumer court is quite like a family court. Even easier, since the consumer can represent him or herself and doesn’t really need a lawyer. However, there is a flip side. When the hearing starts and dates fall at regular intervals, it then becomes difficult for a consumer to travel to the court, if he she lives far away. In those cases, a lawyer can help with representing the consumer. Of course, in these courts the consumer can authorise another person (not a lawyer) to represent him/her, but the help of a lawyer is always better.” At this point there is no E-hearing, or online hearing.
Another important change in the act is that while earlier the complaint could be filed only in a court where the seller’s (defendant) office was located, now the consumercan file his/her complaint in a court where he/she resides orworks. This particular angle was one reason why earlier complainants would hesitate to file the complaint if the office of the seller was beyond his/her immediate geographical periphery.
Het another aspect that has changed for good is product liability.This provision is stringent. Product liability, earlier, could be dealt with by civil courts, but consumer courts have now been given the authority to adjudicate. This refers to any manufacturing defect and if such a defect causes injures the consumer. For example, if a pressure cooker bursts and there is injury, the manufacturer is liable to compensate the consumer for the injury. Earlier this liability, in most cases, would be limited to the cost of the pressure cooker.
Ms Radha said that it was also good that all rules of direct selling would be extended to e-Commerce as well. While others rules of e-commerce are still being dealt with by other agencies, the complaint issue, at least, has been handled by this act.
“Overall, this is a much better version of what it was earlier,” Ms Radha said.
–India Legal Bureau
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