You might face many issues after buying a product. If there is a dispute with the seller about returning or replacing a product, you might have queries. Information about consumer rights in India is essential to resolve the case. How to register a complaint, how to resolve the complaint, whom to contact and what to take into notice before buying a product.
We had an interview with Dr Jayashree Gupta, who shed light on various aspects of consumer right in India. She is the President, Consumers India. A non-profit organization set up by former officers of Department of Consumer Affairs and other senior officers of Government of India. Set up with a view to use their knowledge and experience for the benefit of consumers. She answered many of the queries regarding Consumer Rights in India today.
Do we have effective laws to protect the interests of consumers?
Yes, we have very progressive law, Consumer Protection Act (CPA), 2019. Passed by Parliament after a long battle by consumer activists like us in 2019. And it was be implemented in July 2020. This law compares with the best in the world.
It has provision for setting up a central consumer protection authority, this authority is like the Federal Trade Commission of the USA. And the product safety commission of the USA. They can proactively take measures to save consumers from misleading ads, from unfair trade practices. There are provisions for product liability, there are provisions for huge penalties, which they can impose. All these provisions are already in place,
What should consumers do to avoid exploitation by sellers/service providers
The most important point in my opinion is that there are certain consumer rights in India that have been provided to consumers under the Consumer Protection Act. They should be aware of their Consumer rights in India; they should be aware of redressal mechanisms. Not only in the act, but also outside the act.
For instance, when they go to buy a product, they should read the label properly. They should see the expiry date, they should see the ingredients, they should do some google search, compare the price of other similar products. They should see the MRP, bargain on the MRP.
Hallmark for gold
Then they should see the quality marks. For example, gold hall markings were introduced last year. So, if they are buying gold, they should always buy hallmarked gold.
BIS mark for toys
Even toys have made the BIS mark, ISI Mark mandatory. Our study has shown that many toys sold in the market are unsafe for children. They are unsafe because there are paints and colors. Because of sharp edges. Because they don’t follow the guidelines required to be followed for safety. There will be small pieces which children can swallow. So, BIS certification has been made mandatory.
Not only for toys, safety mark for packaged water is mandatory. For so many electronics products, it is mandatory like pressure cooker, for helmet. And for many products, the BIS certificate, that is the ISI mark, is mandatory. One should see those quality marks.
Never make an impulsive purchase by being inspired by misleading advertisements. All the time we have advertisements out there which mislead us. We should do our proper research, and then only buy.
If we are alert as a consumer about the consumer rights in India, and we know our Acts, then I think, in 80 to 90% cases, there will be no exploitation. You are buying through an e-commerce platform, see that it is a genuine platform. Because there are so many fake platforms also.
What about quality marking for food?
Every packaged food should have FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) Logo, and certification number. And organic food should have a jaivik bharat logo. Government has been proactive in introducing these safety marks. But consumer needs to know about how to exercise their rights in India.
Ecommerce Platform rules
Now in addition to these Acts, ecommerce rules also introduced by the Government. So, they have to redress your grievances within a period of a month. They have to appoint a grievance officer; each ecommerce platform has to have a grievance officer.
If you complain, you should get a response within 48 hours. And they need to display their return policy, refund policy, and no fake reviews permitted. Also misleading advertisements are not permitted. So, to avoid being cheated, do proper research.
How can Consumer forums simplify the process for speedy justice?
I know that was a big problem, particularly with the earlier Act. We had the consumer protection Act 1986, and under that Act the Government had provided a 3 Tier redressal mechanism.
The 3 tier redressal mechanism
Then a district forum at the district level, which every district should set up. At the State Level, State Commission and at the National Level, National Commission. If the consumers were aggrieved with the National Commission, they could go to the Supreme Court in appeal.
What was happening was, the States were not setting up forums, they were not filling up vacancies, there were delays in adjudication, predominance of lawyers, complicated procedures. So, these were the problems which were being faced.
The States were not setting up forums, they were not filling up vacancies, there were delays in adjudication, predominance of lawyers, complicated procedures. So, these were the problems which were being faced.Dr Jayashree Gupta
The Study of Redressal Mechanisms of two states
I personally undertook a study of two states from Nov 2020 to March 20210, and from Nov 2020 to March 2021, in Uttarakhand and Gujarat. I found that as a study in contrast.
In Uttarakhand, every district should be having a consumer forum. They had thirteen districts, at the time of my visit in November. Nine out of Thirteen were non-functional because of critical vacancies. At the State Level, State Commission, the President was there. But they needed at least one more member to adjudicate. To hear cases. But there was no other member. So, the President was sitting in the Idle, and the State Commission was also Non-Functional.
Under the Act, the State Government has powers to give additional charge to someone, to get over the problem of temporary vacancies. Filling up a post is taking some time. So, give additional charge to someone, so they can use those powers. So, imagine the plight of consumers in Uttarakhand. The consumer protection machinery in the State was totally defunct.
You don’t require a lawyer for online filing. You can also request for online hearing.
On the other hand, I visited Gujarat in March 2021. Gujarat was doing very well. All the consumer commissions were functional. There were vacancies, but not so many. And wherever there were vacancies, they gave additional charge and they were functional.
To my surprise in the State Commission, 55% cases got disposed, within three months. In District Commissions, 32% Cases got disposed, within three months. That was far better than the National average of 10%.
There are state variations, it all depends on the commitment of the State Government. Their willingness to act upon the various provisions of the Act.
The new Act has also made it easier for the consumers. Because as per the new Act there are provisions for online filing. You don’t require a lawyer for online filing. You can also request for online hearing.
The edakhi has become operational.
Which type of consumer Petitions resolve fast?
It all depends on the efficiency of the people manning that particular forum. Will of the State Government to fill up the vacancies. Keeping them functional. And the motivational level of the President or the Chairman of the Commission and the members of the Commission to provide timely justice.
In the new act there is also provision for mediation. There are many provisions, which they have introduced to expedite disposal. Let us see the impact of the new act. After some time. The edakhi has become operational.
How much responsibility the celebrities must own for misleading the consumers in advertisements?
There are very good provisions in the new act about endorsers of advertisements. They should not endorse without due diligence, that is one of the requirements for celebrities. On finding the advertisement misleading, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) has powers to impose penalties on them.
Penalties are like for the first offense, 10 lakh fine. They can prohibit celebrities from endorsing for one year for the first offense. And for subsequent offense, the penalty can be up to Rs 50 Lakh and prohibition from endorsement for three years.
The authority has come into place only in July 2020, recently completed one year and does not have full time staff, full time officers, Additional Secretary of Consumer Affairs is also the Chief Commissioner of this Authority. So, people are working with additional charges. We have not seen much evidence of their presence. They have issued some notices now and then.
Recently, you might have seen, it was in the News, that they have issued notices to Naaptol, and they have issued notices to GSK for their Sensodyne Ad. Doctors are not supposed to advertise. So they used doctors from England, UK for the ad. Let us hope this trend continues and they proactively start imposing penalties.
Is there any mechanism to inform the consumers about the misleading advertisement and that the endorser has been penalized?
When penalties imposed, all media will cover it. Particularly imposing penalty on a celebrity sends out a very big message. I will just share with you an example of the Federal Trade Commission in the USA. There used to be an ad by Reebok Shoe. They used to argue with a beautiful girl, one famous actress. They used to say better legs and better butts with each step, if you wear that particular shoe.
Federal Trade Commission not only banned that advertisement, they imposed a fine of 25 million US Dollars on Reebok shoes.
The Federal Trade Commission asked them to substantiate their claim, which they could not. So, they not only banned that advertisement, they imposed a fine of 25 million US Dollars on Reebok shoes. Once they impose that kind of penalty, then it becomes a deterrent not only for Reebok Shoes, but also for so many other companies which are trying to mislead. It also becomes good media News also. People get aware also.
Our CCPA is empowered to take similar action. But we only wish and hope that it takes not immediately but in near future. Our country we have ASCI (Advertisement Standard Council of India). They also said that the advertisement is misleading. They ask Reebok to withdraw this ad. But they had no powers. ASCI is voluntary, so some people accept their request, some people don’t accept their request. So, it doesn’t go very far.
Dabur Ad was withdrawn. But very soon we see Akshay Kumar again advertising, with slight change in words. That is still misleading.
Recently we experienced the Dabur Ad, which Akshay Kumar was endorsing. So, one of my interns, we give them this exercise also – reporting misleading ads. She reported that the advertisement claims you take two spoons of Dabur Chyawanprash and you keep Covid away. She reported it to ASCI.
ASCI had a consumer complaint council, then considered it and asked for an explanation from Dabur. Whatever explanation Dabur gave, they did not accept it. And they said it was misleading and withdrew it immediately. The Ad was withdrawn also. But very soon we see Akshay Kumar again advertising, with slight change in words. That is still misleading. So, we have written to the CCPA Chief Commission that please look into this and use your powers.
For the Consumer Protection in India there are provisions for product liability, there are provisions for huge penalties, which they can impose. All these provisions are already in place. Consumers should be aware and proactive to make the make use of of their rights.