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The Lok Sabha has passed the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 which will replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Bill seeks to enforce consumer rights and to offer a mechanism for complaint redressal related to the deficiencies in goods and services.
Highlights of the Bill
- The Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions will be set up at District, State and National levels as per the bill passed.
- The District Commissions will have the mandate to hear complaints having claim worth one crore rupees. In the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 this limit was 20 lakh rupees.
- The limit of the Commissions’ at the State level enhanced from 1 crore rupees to 15 crore rupees.
- Complaints above 15 crore rupees worth of claim will be settled by the National Commission.
- The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 has provisions for stringent punishments in the matters of food adulterations.
- The Bill has the provisions to protect those consumers who use new digital technologies likes e-commerce and online shopping.
- The Bill seeks to establish a central consumer protection authority (CCPA) which will be tasked with promoting, protecting and enforcing consumer rights.
The main objective of the said bill is to protect of the interests of consumers and to provide effective administration and timely settle consumer disputes. Now, the bill will move to Rajya Sabha for passage.
Should celebrities be held responsible for endorsements?
A parliamentary panel has suggested legal teeth to make celebrities accountable for misleading advertisements. The panel has suggested legal teeth to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) to curb misleading ads, besides proposing severe penalties, jail and cancellation of licence of those involved in food adulteration. (Recent example: Dhoni endorsement of Amrapali group and subsequent social media backlash)
What Group of Ministers has recommended on celebrity endorsement?
A high-level Group of Ministers (GoM) has approved imposing a heavy fine and ban on celebrities who endorse products making unrealistic and dodgy claims. They recommended:
- First time offender celebrities should be fined Rs 10 lakh and banned for one year.
- Second and subsequent offenders should be fined Rs 50 lakh and banned for up to 3 year.
- Dropped Standing committee’s proposal of jail term to celebrities found guilty for misleading endorsement.
What is the issue related to celebrity endorsement?
The issue of accountability of celebrities as brand endorsers was in spotlight after the ban on Nestle India Ltd’s Maggi Noodles over inadequate safety standards and high levels of lead and Monosodium glutamate (MSG). The ban was subsequently lifted. Besides this, some other celebrities, too had faced public ire for endorsing brands that did not meet expectations
The CPA, 1986 was enacted considering the large number of consumers in India who are illiterate and are susceptible to exploitation by unscrupulous businesses. Hence, a major objective of this Act was to make consumers aware of the various quality-control measures (e.g. Hallmark, BIS-mark etc.) being employed for the products and the rights available to them to seek Redressal against unfair practices.
Although, the impacts have been largely positive as is visible in the increased consumer awareness and adherence of businesses to the quality-control standards, there have been certain issues as well. The movement has left many rural regions untouched. Also, the slow progress of addressing the cases has resulted in large-scale pendency.
Provisions for addressing new-age cases such as e-commerce are also non-existent. The recent amendments proposed to the CPA, 1986 are largely progressive in the sense that it seeks to decrease the time required to seek Redressal by including provisions for online filling of complaints and setting a time limit of 21 days for scrutiny of cases before admission, effectively leveraging the District Forums by increasing their pecuniary jurisdiction from Rs.20 to Rs.50 lakh, and increasing the penalties to 10 times the cost of goods provided
The proposed amendments have the following lacuna
- The proposed digitalization cannot be implemented without giving appropriate equipment’s, training and manpower. This has been neglected and without infrastructural support, such positions are likely to exist for namesake only.
- The flexibility of clubbing district forums is challengeable as the existing forums often don’t suffice for the huge number of cases that are brought to it. Often these forums are located in inaccessible places and deny ease of justice.
- Government has empowered the state government for the selection process, without realizing that the main problem in non-filling of seats is lack of remuneration for the job. This process is likely to merely shift buck and not solve the problem by incentivizing the existing three tiered structure created.
- The increasing of age and experience requirements (45 years and 40 years respectively) is likely to cripple the organisation facing manpower crises. Further, it is unlikely that senior judges would like to have this job instead of the regular courts.
- The laggard of cases has been built up due to unnecessary involvement of lawyers and legal restrictions. Instead of solving that, centre has proposed a monitoring mechanism. This may overcomplicate the chaos by setting mandatory requirements of filing documents.
- The state and national commissions have been given a discretionary power to select experts on case to case basis. This may lead to discrimination to those lacking in proper knowledge for utilization of the said facility and if the provision isn’t implemented in a proper manner, then delaying of justice and corruption
However, certain issues such as the appointment of mediators to settle disputes are contentious as this would lead to arm-twisting of the weaker parties and may encourage corruption. Also, the setting up of a Consumer Authority and absence of provisions to streamline the conducting of cases in courts may only lead to greater regulations and complexities. Addressing these issues is necessary to ensure that the new amendments bring about definitive improvements in the CPA.
- To what extent has the Consumer protection act succeeded in achieving its intended objective? Critically analyze the recently proposed amendments to strengthen the act. (200 Words)
- Proposed amendments to the Consumer Protection Act will further erode consumers‘ rights instead of addressing existing lacunae. Critically analyse the amendments to the bill. (200 Words)