Since Kautilya’speriod, good trade practices were prevalent, certain markets were specified in which the goods were sold and the merchants from outside had to take permission for practicing trade in those markets. Stringent punishments were given to the sellers for exercising unfair trade practices.
In modern world, the unfair and restrictive trade practices have not only regained its roots but also are developing with the nation. Approximately 6, 94,546 consumer complaints have been registered in the State Commissions since their inception and currently around 96,069 are still pending. Section 6 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, provides us with the basic rights that a consumer has as against the seller. These rights include the Right to seek redressal, protection against hazardous goods, Right to consumer information, Right against unfair trade practices, Right to be heard and the Right to consumer education. The Constitution of India also provides the consumers with certain rights, namely, the Right to know, the Right of life and personal liberty and the Directive Principles of State Policy.
All these rights are available to the consumers irrespective to their caste, color, creed, sex, religion or occupation. But due to high illiteracy rates and levels of corruption, it becomes a herculean task for the consumers as well as the consumer forums to effectively implement these rights. Moreover, the consumers are also endowed with certain duties or responsibilities, which they have to perform so as to be immune against such unfair and restrictive trade practices. But, however explicit the provisions of the Act might be, the sellers and service providers tend to figure out loopholes that give them an undue advantage, furthermore, the fear of raising a voice and the willful ignorance on the part of the consumers acts as an additive benefit to them.
This paper aims to review the basic rights and responsibilities that a consumer possesses and the difficulties that they along with the consumer organizations need to overcome for the proper enforcement of these rights.
According to Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, a consumer is a person who buys or agrees to buy goods for a consideration or hires or avails of a service for a consideration which has been paid or partly paid or promised or partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment or any user of the goods or beneficiary of services other than the first-mentioned person. A right in an abstract sense, is, justice, ethical correctness, or harmony with the rules of law or the principles of morals. In a concrete legal sense, a power, privilege, demand, or claim possessed by a particular person by virtue of law is defined as a right. Every consumer is endowed with various rights and responsibilities, which they can use against the sellers or service providers. These rights have been outlined in section 6 of The Act of 1986, which states that “the object of the Central Council shall be to promote and protect the rights of the consumers such as,-
The right to be protected against the marketing of goods [and services] which are hazardous to life and property.
The right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of good [or services as the case may be,] so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices;
The right to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of good [and services] at competitive prices;
The right to be heard and to be assured that consumer’s interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums;
The right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices[or restrictive trade practices] or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; and
The right to consumer educationIn India,
The levels of illiteracyand the high level of corruption act as a catalyst to these discriminatory practices and the malpractices.The ignorance possessed by the consumers along with the aforementioned reasons becomes a leading cause of the rising levels of the infringement of the consumer rights. They face various kinds of discriminations including that of color, gender, caste, class and occupation.
Consumer protection has its deep roots in the rich soil of Indian civilization, which dates back to 3200 BC. In ancient India, human values were cherished and ethical practices were considered of great practice. In ancient India, all sections of society followed ‘Dharma Sastras’ which were derived from ‘Vedas’, the primary sources of law in India. During the period of Kautilya, good trade practices were prevalent. Stringent punishments were prescribed to those sellers who carried out unfair or restrictive trade practices. Certain markets were prescribed where the goods were sold and the merchants from outside had to acquire permission to sell their goods inside these markets. The superintendent of trade was appointed to check the unfair trade practice and the restrictive trade practice. In the Medieval period, consumer protection continued to be the prime concern of the rulers and maximum prices were fixed for the essential commodities such as wheat, rice, maize etc., and the sellers were not allowed to sale beyond the set prices.A method of weights and measures was introduced during this period and the merchants were severely punished for using defective weights and measures.
During the rule of the British, the government introduced fiduciary laws through which three acts were propounded in India, namely, Indian Penal Code, 1860, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and The Sale of Goods Act, 1930. Post independence, severallaws were enforced by the government like Drugs Control Act, 1950, Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, Essential Commodities Act, 1955, all this statues were however enacted to solve issues related to consumer but they were dealing with some specific issues and not all the consumer issues and they possessed various contradictions and a need for a law which would address various consumer issues, arose, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enforced in India
The Consumer Protection Act: Rights
An Act to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers and for that purpose to make provision for the establishment of consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumer’s disputes and for matters connected therewith.
The consumer protection act was enacted for the protection of the interest of the consumers and to ensure consumer welfare. The main objectives that the act desired to achieve were as follows:
To promote and protect the rights of consumer such as safety, choice, information, consumer education, redressal and representation;
To establish consumer protection council at the central, state and district level for enhancing the consumer protection mechanism;
To create a special quasi-judicial mechanism at nation, state and district level to provide speedy and simple redressal to consumer disputes; and
To empower these quasi-judicial bodies: a) to give relief of specific nature and to award whenever appropriate, b) provided penalties for non-compliance of its order.
For the protection of consumer interest the act also provides consumers with 6 fundamental rights. These rights have been mentioned in section 6 of the act. These rights not only give protection to the consumers against the sellers but also against the government and also against the quasi-judicial bodies established under the act. These rights are available to all the consumers irrespective of their caste, race, religion and gender. These rights are as follows:
Right to Safety
Every consumer has a right to be protected against the marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property. These right safeguards consumers against the injuries caused by the products and also implies that the product should not cause any harm to the consumer. It is the duty of the seller or the producer to ensure that whatever goods he is offering to the consumer should be free from defects and manufacturing defaults so that they do not cause any harm to the consumer. This also imposes a duty on the seller to make quality goods perilous to the life and property of the consumer. It is applicable to specific areas like healthcare, pharmaceuticals and food processing; this right is spread across the domain having a serious effect on the health of the consumers or their well being viz. Automobiles, Housing, Domestic Appliances, and Travel etc.
According to The International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU), the ‘Right to means the right to be protected against products, production process and services which are hazardous to health and life. Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides that ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty expect according to the procedure established by law’.
According to the Right to Safety each product which can be potentially dangerous to the life and property of the consumer should be marketed only after adequate and complete verification as well as validation. In case there is a violation of this right the consumer can exercise this right against the seller or manufacturer of such goods and services as this right imposes a duty to care on the part of the manufacturer as it is the legal duty of the manufacturer to ensure that the goods manufactured and marketed by him does not cause any harm or injury to the consumer.
Right to Information
Right to Information means that a consumer has a right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods [or services as the case may be] so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices. It gives a right to the consumer to be well informed about the goods and services and make better decisions while choosing the products and services. This right imposes a duty on the manufacturer and seller that he does not engage in unfair and also does not engage in false or misleading advertisements as they provide wrong information to the consumers and violates their right to be informed. The manufacture of the product is legally bound to ensure that the products manufactured by him are labeled in a standard manner and contains all the relevant information which includes price of the product, manufacturing date, expiry date, name and address of the manufacturer, instructions regarding the use of the product and the statutory warning relating to the product if available.
According to ICOU, ‘the right to be informed means the right to be given the facts needed to make an informed choice or decision. The right to be informed now goes beyond avoiding deception and the protection against misleading advertising, labeling or other practices. Consumers should be provided with adequate information enabling them to act wisely and responsibly. It is the duty of the manufacturer and seller to disclose all the relevant information related to the product and the consumer may also ask for any other information, which he thinks, is relevant regarding the purchase or use of such product.
State has made various endeavors so that the consumers can get access to all the significant and relevant information regarding the purchase of any product or service despite of the various efforts made by the state the consumer sometimes still do not get access to any such information relating to the product this may be due to various reasons like illiteracy, negligence on the part of the consumer and various other factors. To ensure that there is no violation of any of the rights of the consumer the state has established various consumer redressal agencies such as district forums, State Commission and National Commission through which a consumer can seek justice in case any of his rights are violated.
Right to Choose
According to the Consumer Protection Act 1986, every consumer has a right to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of goods [and services] at competitive prices. The seller should not sell goods what he has, but the consumer should get what he wants.The seller sometimes opt restrictive trade practices in order to gain huge profits which in turn violates the rights of the consumers and forces them to take action against such practices of the seller. Apart from the restrictive trade practices of the seller there are certain other practices in the market place that infringes consumer’s right to choose this happens mostly in the monopoly and oligopoly market where the seller charges very high prices from the consumers as the consumer does not have many choices and is hence they buy the products at a higher price.
This gives the consumer a right to choose his product or service from the various options available in the market and hence the manufactures or the sellers should ensure that they adopt fair and policies and should go for a healthy competition. They should also ensure that various options or choices are given to the consumer at a reasonable and competitive price. This will create a harmony and balance between the consumer and the manufacturer and also in the market, as there will be healthy competition, which is one of the essential conditions for the growth of any economy.
Right to choose is not just limited to the access to variety of goods and services but it also gives a right to consumer to be assured that whatever product he has chosen and in case of a monopoly market whatever product has been offered to him are of a satisfactory quality as he is paying a fair price for them and thus it is his right that he get the good quality product free from any defects and defaults.It also includes right to basic goods and services. This is because unrestricted right of the minority to choose can mean a denial for the majority of its fair share. This right can be better exercised in a competitive market where a variety of goods are available at competitive prices.
The state has taken various measures to protect a consumer’s right to choose there are various other legislation apart from the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, like the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, Competition Act, 2002, and other similar statutes. The state also ensures that no seller gets involved in restrictive trade practices like charging higher prices, unhealthy competition etc.
Right to be Heard
Every consumer has the right to be heard and to be assured that the consumer’s interest will receive due consideration at appropriate forums. Right to be heard empowers the consumers to put forward their complaints, concerns and grievances fearlessly and also to raise their voices against the manufacturer, seller, or even a company if the consumer as suffered some loss as the result of any malicious or negligent act of the party in question. This right also assures the consumers that their complaints will not only be heard but they will also be handled expeditiously. However, till date the Indian Government has not formed even one outlet for hearing the consumers or their issues to be sorted out.
Prior to the enactment of the Consumer Protection act the aggrieved consumers used to seek remedies under other acts such as Civil Procedure Code, 1908, Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, The Indian Contract Act, 1872, The Monopolistic and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969 etc. All these legislation had procedures which were very lengthy, exhaustive and complicated and hence it was not possible to give a timely and speedy remedy to the consumer and also they were not exclusively dealing with consumer issues and hence the areas for which they were enacted were given a priority and hence the process to get heard and receive due consideration became more intricate. And hence there was need that a separate legislation is their which deals specifically to the problems of the consumers so that their complaints are heard and an expeditious response can be given
After the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, various authorities were formed and the consumers were given the appropriate consumer forum and file their complaints and it is the duty of the appropriate forum that it will not only give due consideration to the complaints of the consumers but will also provide them speedy trial. The consumers have an option to either go themselves to the appropriate forum to register their complaints or to form consumer organization or to take help from any exiting consumer organization.
Right to Seek Redressal
Every consumer has a right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices [or restrictive trade practices] or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers. It is the right of the aggrieved consumer that he can seek redressal for the loss suffered by him for this purpose where authorities have been created under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. These authorities are not only formed for resolving the consumer grievances but also forthe early disposal of cases in the dispute redressal agencies which are at three levelsDistrict forum, State Commission and NationalCommission and if still the consumer is not satisfied he file an appeal before the Supreme Court.
Although various authorities have been formed under the act and they have been given a prescribed time limit them still there are various problems attached to their working and a lot cases are pending before them. About 20 lakhs Consumer cases are heard in the district consumer forum, and around one crore can be heard in the state consumer court while more than one crore cases are heard at national consumer court. It has been found that if one becomes guardian of consumer protection or consumer rights in the country these courts today are found to be ineffective because of bureaucratic sabotages, clogged cases, callousness of government and decadent infrastructure. Only some of the district forums have appointed officials for time being and majority of them are non-functional because of funding and infrastructure constraints. There are around 20-30 million open cases in India which remain unsolved and would take form just civil litigations and are carried forward to the bottom of the priority list. It is estimated that India is 10 years away in effectively ensuring the right to redressal to every consumer of India.
The consumer forums have been given certain powers to decide the cases and award compensation as per the facts and circumstances of each and every case and all the decisions by these forums will be taken while giving due consideration to the principles of natural justice and all the decisions will be final unless they are further appealed.
Right to Consumer Education
It is the right of every citizen to get education and right to consumer education means right of every consumer to acquire skills and knowledge to be an informed consumer. Right to consumer education means educating the consumer about various rights and privileges that is conferred upon him. This knowledge and skill help the consumer take decisions relating to the purchase of any product or to render any service
Right to consumer education helps to create awareness about the consumer rights as a large part of people suffer from illiteracy and hence are not aware of their rights as a consumer and a result of which are easily fooled by the manufactures or sellers. This right also creates social awareness and responsibility among the people specially the uneducated people living in rural areas and slums.
Once consumers are educated about their rights there can be solidarity among the consumers and also there will be active consumer involvement and consumer education is not only important to make consumers aware of their rights but is also very important to create awareness about the economic and social responsibility of the consumers as there are various responsibilities attached to the various rights available to the consumers.
The Constitution of India and the Rights of the Consumers
The Constitution is called the foundation stone of the modern consumer jurisprudence. The Constitution makers laid down certain rights of the citizens of the country, against the government. India is the largest democracy of the world and thus, the government is of the people, by the people and for the people. It does not possess the power to take away the rights of the people in any case. The Constitution envisages the democratic goals which give rise to a desire of social justice in the people. It wakes a conscious in the people for demanding provisions for the protection of their interests. The Constitution brings a mild transparency in the system by restricting the acts of the government which might me against the interests of the people. The economic policy envisaged by the Constitution of India was to secure social and economic justice for all citizens and to take steps for adequate distribution and control of the material resources so as to serve the common good. The Constitution of India imposed an obligation on the government to adopt measures to improve public health and to ensure that essential goods are available at a reasonable price. Article 46 of The Constitution of India provides that the state shall endeavor to protect the economic interest of the weaker section of its population and also protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation which means all kind of harassments and frauds in the market place. This also means that people should be entitled to unadulterated stuff injurious to public health and safety.
Every right has a responsibility attached with it similarly consumers also have certain responsibilities attached with the rights given to them. Every consumer has certain responsibilities that a consumer should fulfill all his duties. Consumer responsibilities are not expressly mentioned in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, but there are certain implied responsibilities. Some of these duties are:
Duty to be aware
It is the duty of every consumer to be aware about the quantity, quality, potency, price of the product he wishes to purchase and services that he wants to use he should ask the seller about all the relevant information about the product or service. A consumer should not be negligent about the product or service he is about to use as any negligence can cause injury or harm to him. A consumer should thus be more alert and question more about the details of the product.
Consumers must join hands and form organizations and raise their voice as and fight against the unfair and restrictive trade practices of the sellers as this would promote consumer interest and to fight against the mal practices of the various sellers and manufactures. In our country due to various factors like illiteracy, lack of knowledge, etc. consumers are on a weaker position and in most of the cases they do not file complaint against such manufacturers or sellers just because they cannot fight against them individually thus it becomes important that the consumer unite and form consumer organizations and groups so that it can file complaint and seek redressal on behalf of and individual consumer. It is thus the duty of every consumer to organize themselves in groups and fight for their interest and as a result promote consumer interest.
To insist for a cash memo or bill
It is one of the most important responsibilities of the consumer to ask for a cash memo or bill as the proof of the purchase of the product. A bill or a cash memo is the proof using which a consumer can file a complaint in case of any defect in the good or deficiency in services. Along with the bill or cash memo a consumer should also ask for a warranty card on which the date of purchase and all the other details are mentioned. This also serves as a proof against the seller in case of any default on the part of the seller. The consumer should also ensure that the bill, memo or the warranty card is signed and sealed by the seller. The bill should have the name and address of the seller. A consumer should not be negligent and must always ask for a bill even if the seller denies giving a bill.
To provide adequate information to the seller
It is the duty of every consumer that he provides all the relevant information to the seller so the seller can suggest him products that match to his wants, taste and preference so that the right kind of goods and services are offered to the consumer. In order to get the right, good quality and desired products it is the prime duty of the consumer to give all the information to the seller.
To file complaint against genuine grievances
Every consumer is duty bound to file a complaint against the genuine grievances and for all the loss, damage, and harm, injury that he has suffered because of the malicious or negligent acts of the seller. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted with the main aim of protecting and preserving the rights of the consumer and to provide them remedies in case of any default on the part of the seller and the act also gives power to the consumer to file a complaint against the seller in t appropriate forum and this it becomes the responsibility of each and every consumer that he files complaint against every genuine grievance as the act is enacted to provide relief to the consumers and if they do not exercise their rights the very object of the act would be defeated.
To be cautious about the false and misleading advertisements
Although it is the duty of the seller to not give false and misleading advertisements but a consumer too is duty bound to be cautious about the false and misleading advertisements. In order to increase his sale or because of competition seller give misleading advertisements exaggerate about the quality and other features of the product but a consumer should not get carried away by such advertisements and in case he finds any discrepancy in the actual and the advertised product he should immediately bring it to the notice of the seller or the advertiser and in case they refuse to take the corrective steps the consumer should move to the appropriate authority an complaint about such acts of the seller or the advertiser.
To exercise his legal rights
Various rights have been given to the consumer under section 6 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and it is the responsibility of each and every consumer to duly exercise these rights as all these rights are given to a consumer for his own protection so that he does not suffer any harm and he fails to exercise his rights they are of no use.
Various rights, responsibilities and reliefs have been given to the consumers under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and a lot of initiatives are taken by the government for the betterment of the consumers still there are many lacunas in the act and it is not able to exactly serve the purpose for which it was created. One of the major aims of enacting this act was to protect the interest of the consumer and provide them speedy remedy but it has not been fully achieved due to various reasons like illiteracy, corruption, etc. there are thousands of pending cases in the consumer courts all over the country. After 30 years of enacting the act still the consumers are not aware of their rights and duties and no effective step has been taken by the government to make sure that the consumer get educated about various rights and responsibilities they have as consumers. The main aim of this act is to protect the interest of the consumers and it is possible only when some effective steps are taken educating the consumers and all the lacunas in the exiting act are removed.
The consumers should be educated and made aware of the rights and responsibilities that are available to them. Various efforts like campaigns, advertisements should be initiated by the government so that more and more consumers are made aware of their rights and responsibilities. Not only the consumers but the sellers should also be made aware of their duties and punishment in case of non fulfillment of that duty should be specified and more harsh punishments then now should be impose in order to curb the unfair and restrictive trade practices of the sellers.
Government should form various consumer organization that help the consumer seek justice in case of any grievance as individual consumers due to various reasons does not file complaints against the sellers and if they get a platform to raise their voice they would take positive towards this and it will also promote consumer interest.
Both the sellers and the consumers should be made aware of their duties towards the society and the environment as being a member of the society they should be very responsible towards it and take all the necessary measures that are for the benefit of the society and they should also be very responsible towards the environment. The consumer should know the consequences of their consumption and should make all the efforts to preserve and protect the natural resources.
Statistics on “The Total Number Of Cases Filed/Disposed Since Inception Under Consumer Protection Law”, Available at: http://ncdrc.nic.in/statistics.html( last visited on 22 January 2017)`.