- What do you mean by Consumer Protection in India?
- Can every Indian get Consumer Protection. Then how to get the protection and whom to approach?
- As a consumer do you make intelligent purchase?
- And in case of a dispute with the seller, do you know how to get the issue resolved?
Dr. Jayashree Gupta, President, Consumers India, talks in detail about the Government department handling the consumer issues. And also she gives various examples of how proactive steps can be taken by the Consumer Protection Authority so as to secure the consumers from being exploited by sellers, manufacturers and service providers.
Queries regarding Consumer Protection Authority (CPA)
How does the CCPA Function?
Firstly, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) is entitled to take action to safeguard the interest of a large number of consumers.
At the National Level we are supposed to have a Central Consumer Protection Council (CCPA). At the State Level we are supposed to have the State Consumer Protection Council chaired by the State Consumer Minister with a secretary of the concerned department of consumer affairs. And all other Official and Non-Official State Holders. At the District Level, they are supposed to have a District Consumer Protection Council, chaired by the District Collector.
Most States have not set up these bodies. Even if they set up, they never meet.
These committees are supposed to meet twice in a year. And they are supposed to be advisory bodies. They are supposed to advise on the protection and promotion of consumer rights. But most states have not set up these bodies. Even if they set up, they never meet.
Role of Civil Servants in Consumer Protection
Civil servants have a very important role to play in the entire consumer protection process. All of them are Civil Servants – Chief Commissioner, Commissioner and Director General Investigation. Besides the civil servants are empowered to take proactive measures.
When I went to Uttarakhand and Gujarat, and interacted with the Deputy Commissioners, I found that they were not only unaware that these bodies were not set up, they didn’t know that they have any role in Consumer Protection. When I sensitized them, they said “OK, I never knew, I can do all these things”.
50 percent cases in Consumer forums relate to Government Service Providers – regarding electricity, hospitals, train, bus, transport, railways, banks, banking services, postal services. With all those service providers onboard, and review of cases happening twice in a year in their meeting, the problems can be resolved. Civil Servants can see why it is happening and how to get over this problem. Why are people forced to go to the Consumer Forum?
The Civil Servants didn’t know that they have any role in Consumer Protection.
So basically, to set up those councils that is also the role of Civil Servants. Once they know the importance, they will do it.
How many States have Consumer Forums?
They are in all the states. In the new Act, Consumer Forum is designated as Consumer Commission.
Queries regarding Consumer Protection in India
Precautions to avoid frauds in online shopping
Answer to this is consumer awareness in India. Now we have a very progressive Consumer Protection Act 2019. And Government has issued ecommerce rules 2020. So, there are large number of compliance’s, which every ecommerce platform has to follow.
Grievances resolved within 48 hours
For example, they need to have a grievance officer. They need to send an acknowledgement of each complaint within 48 hours. Also resolve each complaint within one month.
In the new Act, Consumer Forum is designated as Consumer Commission.
Provide details to customers
Contact details of the concerned officer – address, email and telephone number needs to be provided. Ecommerce has made it possible; you can make an order to a company which is anywhere else in the world, operating from some other shores in the world. They need to provide details of their local importers, details of refund and return policy and country of origin.
Avoid manipulating customers
Many times consumers base their decision on reviews. It was observed that sometimes companies manipulate reviews. Hence, fake reviews and misleading advertisements are banned. There are duplicate websites, like the spelling of ecommerce website Flipkart, there may be duplicate website Flipcart. So, consumers get duped easily.
Consumer needs to be educated Consumer education is important to safeguard the rights of consumers. You need to have awareness about the product you are purchasing in India. That you make well informed decisions – compare, search, research. Make well-informed decisions. Then you are not likely to be a victim seeing that the company is complying with the laws of the country. The laws are progressive. Fraudsters are everywhere. If consumers are unaware, they take advantage. People have to be aware, the need to be educated.
Is Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) actually protecting consumers proactively in India?
CCPA, set up to safeguard the interest of consumers in a proactive manner like the best institutions in the world, is part of our 2019 Consumer Protection Act. Set up in July 2020, it is the best of my knowledge. they have not yet appointed full time officers. At least not in senior positions.
50 percent cases in Consumer forums relate to Government Service Providers – regarding electricity, hospitals, train, bus, transport, railways, banks, banking services, postal services.
So, the Chief Commissioner is Additional Secretary in the Department of Consumer Affairs. Some of the existing Officers, are doing this for the time being. And therefore, we don’t see much impact. But they have issued some notices to ecommerce platforms. Notices were issued for misleading advertisements to companies like Naaptol and Sensodyne. Advisories were issued from time to time about immunity boosting claims made during Corona times.
In addition to all these they are capable of doing much more. In the due course, when well staffed, with full time officers, they will do justice with their role.
What is Product Liability?
If harm caused to you because of something wrong in the product then you can sue that company, and claim damages. That is product liability.
Is product liability covered under the Consumer Protection Act of 2019? If yes, are these provisions being used for the benefit of consumers?
Product liability is definitely covered under the Act. This is again one progressive clause introduced in the Act. Let me give you one good example of product liability from the USA. The Supreme Court in the United States imposed a penalty of $2.1bn (₹1.5lakh Crore INR) worth damages on Johnson and Johnson. Because many women had complained that J&J’s Baby powder had caused ovarian cancer to them.
CCPA have not yet appointed full time officers. At least not in senior positions.
Powder talcum, a mineral asbestos, is carcinogenic. In India also it might be happening, but nobody goes to court for these reasons. Even if somebody goes, courts do not come out with that kind of judgment.
But in the USA such cases go on and consumers get benefits of the provisions in the law. So that is the extent of benefit that consumers can get under product reliability clauses.
Our earlier act also had some provisions like misleading advertisements – Consumer commission can order corrective advertisements. Consumer forums could also order corrective advertisements. A full-page ad if found misleading, then an ad of the same size, same prominence ad, should be given to correct the misleading ad.
So far, we used to say that buyers beware. Now this clause says sellers beware.
How the consumer will be informed when an advertisement is found misleading.
The provision to alert the consumers about misleading advertisement is there, but it was never used. Using some provisions consumer commission and consumer forum can ask a company to withdraw their product, or to stop manufacturing a product if found unsafe. But they never did that. What they did is, if a consumer went with a product, which has done some harm, they impose a petty penalty.
The provision to alert the consumers about misleading advertisement is there, but it was never used.
I would say that it is a wonderful provision. So far, we used to say that buyers beware. Now this clause says sellers beware. Sellers have to ensure that their product does not cause any kind of damage to the consumers.
Can you file an online complaint with the Consumer Commission?
They have a platform, edaakhil.nic.in. Just google edaakhil and it will take you to the right website. Even ncdrc.nin.in has guidelines about how to file an online case.
Who can avail Edhakil?
It is for the entire country. Though it is still work in progress. Some states have set up, some states are in progress. Edhakil, wonderful provision activated by several states, in which thousands of cases filed already.
Filing through edaakhil and hearing through video conference. These two things have made it simpler. But I would like to say that People should treat Consumer Forum as a last resort. In the first place avoid exploitation by making informed decision. And if at all they have suffered a setback, then there are other channels like National Consumer Helpline (NCH) that resolves 70% to 80% cases. Just you need to telephone them and register your case.
In some sectors ombudsman can be set up. If it is a case of banking or insurance, even in the area of electricity, an ombudsman can help you. These are easy within a month or two. You get relief. So, you treat the consumer forum as a last resort.
To conclude, consumers have to be informed.
I will just give you one example. As a consumer we need to know how to read in between the lines. I will give you one example of Nutrilite, a supplement sold by Amway. One bottle cost Rs 2229. The product promoted through various celebrity faces and recommended for your good health and well being. It has a number of ingredients. We did analysis. And I am just sharing one example. One capsule of Nutrilite has 200 mg of calcium and RDA (recommended dietary allowance) calcium is 600mg.
So, it gives just a fraction of that. If you take a glass of milk, you get 525 mg of calcium. If you take one humble banana, you get 364 mg of calcium, which is much more than what you get in Nutrilite. So should you be spending over Rs 2000, for this medicine? People need to analyze ingredients, see what it offers, how it helps, is it worth spending their hard-earned money and then only make their purchase decisions.