STATEMENT OF OBJECT AND REASON
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers and for the purpose of making provision for establishment of consumer protection councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumer disputes, etc. Although, the working of the consumer dispute redressal agencies has served the purpose to a considerable extent under the said Act, the disposal of cases has not been fast due to various constraints.
Consumer markets for goods and services have undergone drastic transformation since the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act in 1986. The modern marketplace contains a plethora of products and services. The emergence of global supply chains, rise in international trade and the rapid development of e-commerce have led to new delivery systems for goods and services and have provided new options and opportunities for consumers. Equally, this has rendered the consumer vulnerable to new forms of unfair trade and unethical business practices. Misleading advertisements, tele-marketing, multi-level marketing, direct selling and e-commerce pose new challenges to consumer protection and will require appropriate and swift executive interventions to prevent consumer detriment.
Therefore, it became inevitable to amend the Act to address the myriad and constantly emerging vulnerabilities of the consumers. In view of this, the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018, was introduced in Lok Sabha on the 5.01.2018 and was passed by that House on 20.12.2018. While the bill was pending consideration in the Rajya Sabha, the 16th Lok Sabha was dissolved, and the bill lapsed. Hence, the Consumer Protection Bill 2019 was introduced in the 17th Lok Sabha.
With the Lok Sabha passing the Consumer Protection Bill 2019 on 30.07.2019 after due consideration and discussion, the Rajya Sabha has also passed the same through a voice vote and the present bill will thus replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
The bill was piloted by the Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Shri Ram Vilas Paswan on 8th July 2019 who opined that the said bill aims at protecting the interests of consumers by establishing authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumers’ dispute.
Keeping pace with changing times and new legislations aimed at protecting the interests en masse, the present bill has successfully broadened the scope of various provisions, including persons who can file a consumer complaint to also include class action. This would better protect the rights and interests of the consumers who are not legally equipped to fight for their rights.
SALIENT FEATURES OF THE BILL
1. Chapter II- The Central Consumer Protection Council
The Central Government shall, by notification, establish with effect from such date as it may specify in that notification, the Central Consumer Protection Council to be known as the Central Council. The Central Council shall be an advisory council whose object shall be to render advice on promotion protection of the consumer’s rights under this Act.
It shall consist of the following members, namely:- (a) the Minister-in-charge of the Department of Consumer Affairs in the Central Government, who shall be the Chairperson; and (b) such number of other official or non-official members representing such interests as may be prescribed.
Similarly, the state government shall also by way of a notification establish a state consumer protection council at the state level and a District Consumer Protection Council for every district in the state.
2. Chapter III- Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA):
2.1 The central government shall, through a notification set up the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to be known as “Central Authority” to promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers as a class. It will regulate matters related to violation of consumer rights, unfair trade practices, and misleading advertisements. The CCPA would make interventions to prevent consumer detriment arising from unfair trade practices. The agency can also initiate class action, including enforcing recall, refund and return of products. It is introduced with an intent to fill the institutional void in the regulatory regime extant. Currently the task of prevention of and acting against unfair trade practise is not vested in any authority. The role envisaged for the CCPA complements that of a sector regulator and thus duplications, overlap or potential conflict is avoided.
2.2 The Central Authority shall be headquartered at the National Capital Region of Delhi and shall have regional and other offices in other parts of India.
2.3 Under section 18, the CCPA will be empowered to:
2.3.1 Protect, promote and enforce the rights of consumers as a class, and prevent violation of consumers rights under this Act;
2.3.2 Prevent unfair trade practices and ensure that no person engages himself in unfair trade practices;
2.3.3 Ensure that no false or misleading advertisement is made of any goods or services which contravenes the provisions of this Act or the rules or regulations made thereunder
2.3.4 Ensure that no person takes part in the publication of any advertisement which is false or misleading.
2.4 The Central Authority may for any of the aforesaid reasons:
2.4.1 inquire or cause an inquiry or investigation to be made into violations of consumer rights or unfair trade practices, either suo motu or on a complaint received or on the directions from the Central Government;
2.4.2 file complaints before the District Commission, the State Commission or the National Commission, as the case may be, under this Act;
2.4.3 intervene in any proceedings before the District Commission or State Commission or National Commission, as the case may be, in respect of any allegation of violation of consumer rights or unfair trade practices;
2.4.4 review the matters relating to, and the factors inhibiting enjoyment of ,consumer rights, including safeguards provided for the protection of consumers under any other law for the time being in force and recommend appropriate remedial measures for their effective implementation;
2.4.5 Recommend adoption of international covenants and best international practices on consumer rights to ensure effective enforcement of consumer rights
2.4.6 undertake and promote research in the field of consumer rights;
2.4.7 spread and promote awareness on consumer rights;
2.4.8 encourage non-Governmental organisations and other institutions working in the field of consumer rights to co-operate and work with consumer protection agencies;
2.4.9 mandate the use of unique and universal goods identifiers in such goods, as may be necessary, to prevent unfair trade practices and to protect consumers’ interest;
2.4.10 issue safety notices to alert consumers against dangerous or hazardous or unsafe goods or services;
2.4.11 advise the Ministries and Departments of the Central and State Governments on consumer welfare measures;
2.4.12 issue necessary guidelines to prevent unfair trade practices and protect consumers’ interest.
2.5 The bill has specifically sought to safeguard the acts and proceeding of the central authority and held them to be valid in the following cases:
2.5.1 any vacancy in, or any defect in the constitution of, the Central Authority; or
2.5.2 any defect in the appointment of a person acting as the Chief Commissioner or as a Commissioner; or
2.5.3 any irregularity in the procedure of the Central Authority not affecting the merits of the case.
2.6 Under section 19. the Central Authority may, based on complaint, information or directions from the central government or on its own motion, where there seems to be a prima facie case of violation of Consumer rights or any unfair trade practise, conduct a preliminary inquire to authenticate the information.
2.7 Under section 20, where on the basis of investigation, the Central Authority is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to show violation of Consumer rights and unfair trade practise by a person, the Central Authority may pass orders as may be necessary, including:
2.7.1 recalling of goods or withdrawal of services which are dangerous, hazardous or unsafe;
2.7.2 reimbursement of the prices of goods or services so recalled to purchasers of such goods or services; and
2.7.3 discontinuation of practices which are unfair and prejudicial to consumers’ interest:
Provided that the Central Authority shall give the person an opportunity of being heard before passing an order under this section.21.
2.8 Under section 21, the Central Authority may, in case of false or misleading advertisements or which is prejudicial to the interest of the consumer or is in contravention of Consumer Rights pass directions to the manufacturer or endorser to discontinue or modify the same along with the imposition of fines( which may extend to 10 lakh rupees. Order in this regard may also extend to a ban on the manufacturer or endorser, which may extend to 1 year. The bill provides for aggravated punishments for subsequent contraventions.
2.9 Under section 22, for conducting the investigation, after the preliminary enquiry, the Central Authority may also conduct search and seizure. (the provisions Cr. PC relating to search and seizure shall apply to search and seizure under this Act.
2.10 Under section 24, the aggrieved party in cases where the authority has passed order to recall goods, or the aggrieved party wherein the authority has passed orders to discontinue or modify advertisements, can appeal to the National Commission within 30 days of receipt of the impugned order.
2.11 Clearly, the objective is to set up an authority with a large mandate and with wide powers, which is evident from the fact that the CCPA will have an investigation wing, headed by a Director-General, which may conduct inquiry or investigation into such violations.
3. Chapter IV- Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
3.1 Under the Consumer protection Act, 1986 as well as the bill of 2019, there are three forums to redress consumer disputes as per pecuniary limits. Under the bill of 2019, the monetary relief/ compensation sought by the aggrieved consumer is based on the value of consideration “paid” for the product or service and not “claimed” by the consumer.
3.2 Under the Consumer Protection Bill, 2019, pecuniary Jurisdiction of the three forums have been enhanced to–
- District Commission –Up to Rs.1 crore
- State Commission- Between Rs.1 crore and Rs 10 crore
- National Commission –Above Rs.10 crore
3.3 Under section 28, the state government may establish a District Consumer disputes Redressal Commission (District Commission) in every district of the state or more than 1 District Commission in a single district. Pecuniary limit of the District Commission is 1 crore.
3.4 Under section 32, any vacancy in the office of the members of the District Commission, the State Government may direct any other District Commission vide notification to exercise the jurisdiction of that particular Commission. The person so designated shall also exercise his/ her respective function of their Commission.
3.5 Under section 35, the following persons can file complaints in relation to any good sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or any service provided or agreed to be provided:
- Any recognised Consumer association, irrespective of whether the aggrieved party is a member of such group or association.
- One or more consumers, when there are multiple consumers with the same interest, with the permission of the District Commission.
- Central Government, Central Authority or State Authority.
Provided the complaint in this section may be filed electronically. It shall not be rejected without affording a hearing to the Complainant and the admissibility of the Complaint shall be decided within 21 days from the date of filing the Complaint.
It is important to note that the aggrieved party can file the complaint even from where he/she resides unlike initially where it had to be filed where the seller or service provider is located- which has significant cost and time implications on the complaint. This is even more beneficial where e-commerce and e-transactions are on the rise and the service providers/ sellers could have their registered office anywhere in the world.
3.6 Under section 37, when after the admission of the Complaint, it appears to the District Commission that there exists elements of settlement which may be acceptable to the parties, it may direct the parties to give in writing within 5 days, their consent to have the dispute settled through Mediation.
3.7 Under section 38, a complaint after admission ( including cases where Mediation has failed) must be disposed of within 3 months of the date of receipt of the Notice by the opposite party where the Complaint does not require analysis or testing of commodities and within five months if it requires analysis and testing of commodities.
3.8 Powers of Civil Court under CPC, 1908-
For the purpose of section 38, District Commission shall have the same power as are vested in the civil court under the CPC, 1908, while trying suits in the following matters:
- The summoning and enforcing the attendance of any defendant or witness and examining the witness on oath;
- Requiring the discovery and production of any document or other material object as evidence;
- Receiving of evidence on affidavits;
- The requisitioning of the report of the concerned analysis or test from the appropriate laboratory or from any other relevant source;
- Issuing of commissions for the examination of any witness, or document;
- Any other matter which may be prescribed by the Central Government.
3.9 Under section 42 (3) and section 54(1), the composition of the State and the National Commission shall consist of:
- The President
- Not less than four and more than such number of members as may be prescribed.
As compared to the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the present bill does not lay emphasis on qualifications for the members of the State and National Commission. Section 55 (1) provides that the Central government may, by notification make rules to provide for qualification, appointments, term of office amongst other things.
The President and every other member appointed immediately before the commencement of section 177 of the Finance Act, 2017 shall continue to be governed by the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and the rules made thereunder as if this Act had not come into force.
3.10 Transitional Provision
The President and every other member appointed immediately before the commencement of section 177 of the Finance Act, 2017 shall continue to be governed by the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and the rules made thereunder as if this Act had not come into force.
3.11 Jurisdiction of the State Commission under section 47-
3.11.1 to entertain—
126.96.36.199 complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration, exceeds rupees one crore, but does not exceed rupees ten crore. Provided that where the Central Government deems it necessary so to do, it may prescribe such other value, as it deems fit;
188.8.131.52 complaints against unfair contracts, where the value of goods or services paid as consideration does not exceed ten crore rupees;
184.108.40.206 appeals against the orders of any District Commission within the State; and
3.11.2 to call for the records and pass appropriate orders in any consumer dispute which is pending before or has been decided by any District Commission within the State, where it appears to the State Commission that such District Commission has exercised a jurisdiction not vested in it by law, or has failed to exercise a jurisdiction so vested or has acted in exercise of its jurisdiction illegally or with material irregularity.
3.12 Jurisdiction of the National Commission under section 58
3.12.1 to entertain—
220.127.116.11 complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration exceeds rupees ten crore. Provided that where the Central Government deems it necessary so to do, it may prescribe such other value, as it deems fit.
18.104.22.168 complaints against unfair contracts, where the value of goods or services paid as consideration exceeds ten crore rupees;
22.214.171.124 appeals against the orders of any State Commission;(iv) appeals against the orders of the Central Authority; and(b) to call for the records and pass appropriate orders in any consumer dispute which is pending before or has been decided by any State Commission where it appears to the National Commission that such State Commission has exercised a jurisdiction not vested in it by law, or has failed to exercise a jurisdiction so vested, or has acted in the exercise of its jurisdiction illegally or with material irregularity.
It is pertinent to note that the pecuniary limits of all three forums have been enhanced through the present bill. However, what is interesting in terms of the pecuniary jurisdiction, is the specific language employed in the Bill. Pertinently, such a clause in the 1986 Act was stated as ” where the value of goods or services and compensation , if any, claimed….”, whereas in the bill , the language in the provision is as follows:” where the value of the goods and services paid as consideration…”. Therefore the compensation claimed by the Complainant does not seem a factor in assessment of jurisdiction, but the phrase ” paid as consideration” seems to imply that the pecuniary jurisdiction is determined by what has been actually paid already by the Complainant and not the total value of the goods/ service. Such a reading of this provision may particularly impact flat purchasers, where even though the value of the property may be above 1 crore, but because they have paid a lesser consideration ( as per construction milestones), they would be denied the right to approach the State or National Commission.
One more important addition in the reliefs that can be granted by the State and the National Commission is that they can look into and consider unfair and one-sided contracts. This is in line with multiple SC judgments where it has been held that courts will not enforce and will, when called upon to do so strike down an unfair and unreasonable contract. This is especially useful in light of standard, unilateral , terms and conditions imposed upon the customers in various fields like housing, e-commerce, banking etc.
It is pertinent to note that under the present bill, the composition of the district, state and National Commission does not consist of serving or retired members from the judiciary.
The appointment of members of the District and State Commission is made in consultation with the Central Government. This may prolong the appointment of members and delay the delivery of justice. It is important to give each Commission such amount of powers which will ensure their autonomy and smooth functioning.
Under sections 40, 50 and 60, the District Commission, the State Commission and the National Commission respectively shall have the powers to review any of its orders if there is an error on the face of the record, either of its own motion or on an application made by any of the parties within 30 days of the date of the order.
Under section 52, an appeal filed before the state or the National Commission shall be heard as expeditiously as possible and disposed of within a period of 90 days from the date of its admission.
3.15 Expert Opinion
Under section 66, where the National Commission or the State Commission, as the case may be, on an application by a complainant or otherwise, is of the opinion that it involves the larger interest of consumers, it may direct any individual or organisation or expert to assist the National Commission or the State Commission, as the case may be.
3.16 Administrative Control-
Apart from the general power of control that the State and National commission have been granted under the 1986 Act, the present bill proposes the establishment of a monitoring cell to be constituted by the President of the National Commission to oversee the functioning of the State Commission from the administrative point of view.
3.17 Enforcement of orders
Every order made by a District Commission, State Commission or the National Commission shall be enforced by it in the same manner as if it were a decree made by a Court in a suit before it and the provisions of Order XXI of the First Schedule to the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 shall, as far as may be, applicable, subject to the modification that every reference therein to the decree shall be construed as reference to the order made under this Act.
3.18 Penalty for non-compliance of order
3.18.1 Whoever fails to comply with any order made by either of the 3 forums, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one month, but which may extend to three years, or with fine, which shall not be less than twenty-five thousand rupees, but which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both.
3.18.2 Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the three forums shall have the power of a Judicial Magistrate of First Class for the trial of offences under sub-section (1) above, and on conferment of such powers, the said three forums, shall be deemed to be a Judicial Magistrate of First Class for the purposes of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
3.18.3 Save as otherwise provided, the offences under sub-section (1) shall be tried summarily by the District Commission or the State Commission or the National Commission, as the case may be.
In the 1986 Act, non-compliance of interim orders would ensue attachment of property. If the default continued beyond 3 months, then the property would be sold, and proceeds given to the consumer as damages as determined by the adjudicating forum and the balance to the party entitled thereto.
The present bill has sought to increase the culpability of the offences that may be committed against the consumers and have made the penal provisions more severe and deterrent. It has attempted to bring the Consumer Protection Act under the ambit of criminal jurisprudence.
4. Chapter-V- Mediation under section 74
4.1 The present bill has introduced the remedy of Mediation within the fold of Consumer Protection Act. The act per se does not lay down a specific time line for the completion of Mediation but has mentioned that the Mediator has to conduct mediation within such time and in such a manner as may be specified by the regulations (which is made by state and National Commissions)
4.2 The state government shall by notification establish a consumer mediation cell to be attached to every district and state Commission of the state.
4.3 The Central Government shall establish, by notification, a consumer mediation cell to be attached to the National Commission and each of the regional Benches.
4.4 A consumer mediation cell shall consist of such persons as may be prescribed.
4.5 Every consumer mediation cell shall maintain—
- a list of empanelled mediators;
- a list of cases handled by the cell;
- record of proceeding; and
- any other information as may be specified by regulations.
4.6 Empanelment of Mediators
For the purpose of Mediation, the 3 forums shall prepare a panel of Mediators to be maintained by the Consumer Mediation Cell attached to the respective forum. The said list of Mediators shall be valid for a period of 5 years.
4.7 Settlement through Mediation under section 80–
Pursuant to mediation, if an agreement is reached between the parties, the same ought to be reduced in writing and signed by the parties and their respective representatives. This could be w.r.t. all the issues or some issues.
4.8 When no agreement is reached, the Mediator has to prepare the report to that effect and submit the same with the concerned Commission.
4.9 Recording settlement and passing orders-
The three forums shall within 7 days of receipt of the settlement report from the mediator pass order recording the settlement and dispose of the case. In the event only certain issues have been settled, so the concerned Commission record the issues so settled and proceed to hear the other issues involved in the case. And where issues are not settles, the Commissions shall continue to hear all the issues involved in the consumer dispute.
5. Chapter VI -Product Liability
5.1 A manufacturer or product service provider or product seller will now be responsible to compensate for injury or damage caused by defective product or deficiency in services.
5.2 The basis for product liability action for a product manufacturer under section 84 are:
- Manufacturing defect
- Design defect
- Deviation from manufacturing specifications
- Product not conforming to express warranty
- Product failing to contain adequate instruction of correct use to prevent any harm or any warning regarding improper or incorrect usage.
5.3 The basis for product liability action for a product service provider under section 85 are:
- Services provided are faulty, imperfect, deficient or inadequate in quality, nature or manner of performance, required to be provided by or under the prevalent law or contract as the case may be.
- Action of omission or commission or negligence or conscious withholding of information which caused harm.
- Service didn’t confirm to express warranty or terms and conditions of the contract.
5.4 A product seller who is not a product manufacturer shall be liable in a product liability action under section 86, if—
- he has exercised substantial control over the designing, testing, manufacturing, packaging or labelling of a product that caused harm; or
- he has altered or modified the product and such alteration or modification was the substantial factor in causing the harm; or
- he has made an express warranty of a product independent of any express warranty made by a manufacturer and such product failed to conform to the express warranty made by the product seller which caused the harm; or
- the product has been sold by him and the identity of product manufacturer of such product is not known, or if known, the service of notice or process or warrant cannot be effected on him or he is not subject to the law which is in force in India or the order, if any, passed or to be passed cannot be enforced against him; or
- he failed to exercise reasonable care in assembling, inspecting or maintaining such product or he did not pass on the warnings or instructions of the product manufacturer regarding the dangers involved or proper usage of the product while selling such product and such failure was the proximate cause of the harm.
The said definition has very effectively brought online market within the ambit of Consumer Protection Act. Online retail platforms can be made liable for the products available for sale on their websites. It is also interesting to note that, post coming into effect of the 2019 bill, celebrities endorsing misleading ads would also be liable for fine. The said provision of product liability also ensures that the product manufacturers or service providers do not supply defective products and provide deficient services.
5.5 Exceptions to product liability action:
5.5.1 Under section 87, product liability action cannot be brought against the seller, if at the time of harm, the product was misused, altered and modified.
5.5.2 In any product liability action based on the failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions, the product manufacturer shall not be liable, if—
- the product was purchased by an employer for use at the workplace and the product manufacturer had provided warnings or instructions to the employer.
- Product was sold as a component or material to be used in another [product and instructions or warnings were given by the manufacturer to the purchaser, but the harm was caused to the Complainant by use of the end product in which such component or material was used.
- The product was legally meant to be used or dispensed only by or under the supervision of an expert or a class of experts and the product manufacturer had employed reasonable means to give the warnings or instructions for usage of such product to the expert or class of experts.
- The complainant while using such a product was under the influence of alcohol or any prescription drug, no prescribed by a medical practitioner
5.5.3 A product manufacturer shall not be liable to instruct or warn about a danger which is obvious or commonly known to the user or consumer of the product or which such user or consumer ought to have known, considering the characteristics of such product.
This particular provision (c) provides a lot of levy to the product manufacturer wherein it is very easy for the product manufacturer to find loopholes to escape liability. A simple example would be of cigarette manufacturing companies, where they would escape liability under the cover of this provision.
6. Chapter VII- Offences and Penalties
6.1 Under section 88 – Contravention of the directions of the Central Authority against recall of goods or directions qua false and misleading advertisements shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 6 months or with fine which may extend to 20 lakh rupees or both.
6.2 Under section 89 – Manufacturers or service providers who cause a false and misleading advertisement to be made, prejudicial to the interests of the consumers shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 2 years, and fine which may extend to 10 lakh rupees. Every subsequent offence be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years and fine which may extend to 50 lakh rupees.
6.3 Under section 96- Compounding of offences
6.3.1 Any offence punishable under sections 88 and 89, may, either before or after the institution of the prosecution, be compounded, on payment of such amount as may be prescribed:
Provided that no compounding of such offence shall be made without the leave of the court before which a complaint has been filed under section 92. Provided further that such sum shall not, in any case, exceed the maximum amount of the fine, which may be imposed under this Act for the offence so compounded.
6.3.2 Nothing in sub-section (a) shall apply to person who commits the same or similar offence, within a period of three years from the date on which the first offence, committed by him, was compounded.
6.3.3 Where an offence has been compounded under sub-section (1), no proceeding or further proceeding, as the case may be, shall be taken against the offender in respect of the offence so compounded.
6.3.4 The acceptance of the sum of money for compounding an offence in accordance with sub-section (a) by the Central Authority or an officer of the Central Authority empowered in this behalf shall be deemed to amount to an acquittal within the meaning of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
This criminal liability imposed on the manufacturer or service provider losses its teeth in light of the provision of compounding the offence. The defaulting party would, despite committing the offence be ready to compound it and rid himself of the penal charges.
This clause is of particular significance in today’s age and time wherein India being a consumerist economy, where there exists stiff competition from various manufacturers and service providers, a penal provision acts as a deterrent to all the stakeholders. However, I believe that the clause needs to be made more watertight with clearly defined boundaries to avoid any kind of mischief from the accused.
6.4 Under section 90- Punishment for manufacturing for sale or storing, selling or distributing or importing products containing adulterant.
6.4.1 Whoever, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, manufactures for sale or stores or sells or distributes or imports any product containing an adulterant shall be punished, if such act—
126.96.36.199 result in any injury to the consumer, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months and with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees;
188.8.131.52 causing injury not amounting to grievous hurt to the consumer, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to three lakh rupees;
184.108.40.206 causing injury resulting in grievous hurt to the consumer, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees; and
220.127.116.11 results in the death of a consumer, with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life and with fine which shall not be less than ten lakh rupees.
6.4.2 The offences under clauses (iii) and (iv) of sub-section (a) shall be cognizable and non-bailable.
6.4.3 Notwithstanding the punishment under sub-section (a), the court may, in case of first conviction, suspend any licence issued to the person referred to in that sub-section, under any law for the time being in force, for a period up to two years, and in case of second or subsequent conviction, cancel the licence.
6.4.4. Thus, the bill by making the offence a criminal act leading to imprisonment has tried to ensure the safety of the consumers and act as a deterrent to the manufacturer or service provider. It is pertinent to note that the wording employed to describe the probable culprit does not explicitly include the government and/ or its agencies. This becomes more significant when the government provides mid-day meals to children in government schools which may be adulterated.
6.5 Under section 91- Punishment for manufacturing for sale or storing, selling or distributing or importing spurious products.
6.5.1 Whoever, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, manufactures for sale or stores or sells or distributes or imports any spurious goods shall be punished, if such act:
18.104.22.168 causing injury not amounting to grievous hurt to the consumer, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to three lakh rupees;
22.214.171.124 causing injury resulting in grievous hurt to the consumer, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees;
126.96.36.199 results in the death of a consumer, with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years but may extend to imprisonment for life and with fine which shall not be less than ten lakh rupees.
6.5.2 The offences under clauses (ii) and (iii) of sub-section (a) shall be cognizable and non-bailable.
6.5.3 Notwithstanding the punishment under sub-section (a), the court may, in case of first conviction, suspend any licence issued to the person referred to in that sub-section, under any law for the time being in force, for a period up to two years, and in case of second or subsequent conviction, cancel the licence.
6.5.4 The present bill lays particular emphasis on penalty w.r.t. adulterated and spurious articles. It has also subjected the culprits to strict penalty for any offence committed and made it a criminal offence. However, the said section fails to capture the acts of selling and supplying expired and spurious medicines and drugs causing, medical deaths.
6.6 Under section 92- the present bill provides that the Competent Authority can take cognisance of offences relating to directions passed by Central Authority for recall of goods or directions qua false and misleading advertisements and directions to manufacturers or service providers who cause a false and misleading advertisement to be made, prejudicial to the interests of the consumers, only when the same is made by the Central Authority.
This unfettered power given to the Central Authority and not the aggrieved party might create hurdles or even backlogs in the proper and speedy adjudication of the disputes. It also centralises a lot of power with the Central Authority which is introduced for the first time through this present bill.
6.7. Under section 93- Vexatious Search
The present bill has made the act of malicious search and seizure for the purpose of investigation by the members of the Central Authority an offence and punishable with imprisonment which may extend to 1 year and a fine which may extend to Rs. 10,000/- or both.
4.1 Under section 94, for the purpose of preventing unfair trade practise in e-commerce, direct selling and also to protect the interests and rights of the Consumers, the Central Government may take such measures as may be prescribed.
4.2 The remaining sections deal with the powers of the Central and State authority to make regulations.
5.1 From all that has been stated and analysed hereinabove, it is evident that the present bill has made a consolidated attempt at expanding the scope of protection of Consumers and attempted to make the product manufacturer and service provider liable for offences committed under the act. It has successfully kept pace with the evolving times so as to include new facets of commerce and technology.
5.2 However, one area that should have been covered but unfortunately does not find a specific reference is the medical field and medical negligence. Imposters acting as doctors, wrong diagnosis, organ trafficking, incorrect blood transfusion has posed a serious threat in today’s times. Hence laws clamping down such negligent activities is the need of the hour and should be introduced in the immediate future.
Author’s note: The present note is an attempt at a comprehensive study of the Consumer Protection Bill, 2019. I have endeavoured to cover the additions which have been sought to be introduced through the said bill. Major and important provisions forming part of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 have also been reproduced. I have analysed the various new provisions and supplemented them with my personal views and opinions.
In anticipation that the note proves a beneficial tool in every reader’s query.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.