Consumer Protection

Consumer Protection Act – The Cornerstone of Consumer Movement
The need for empowerment of consumers as a class cannot be overemphasised and is already well recognised all over the world. The level of awareness of the consumer can be taken as an indicator of the progress of a country. Hence recognising the need for equipping a consumer, to be vigilant and empowered with respect to his rights as a consumer, the concept of celebrating National Consumer Day emerged and there could have been no other better day than celebrating it on 24th December every year to commemorate the enactment of Consumer Protection Act in the year 1986 which has proved a cornerstone in the history of consumer movement in the country.
Basic features of Consumer Protection Act
Government enacted the Consumer Protection Act (COPRA) in 1986 to provide a simple, speedy, and inexpensive redressal mechanism to address the grievances of the consumers which has been not only preventive in nature but also compensatory in nature. The Section 6 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 has defined six basic rights of the consumers :-
i. Right to safety
ii. Right to information
iii. Right to choice
iv. Right to representation
v. Right to redressal
vi. Right to consumer education.
What constitutes a Consumer?
Section 2(d) of the Act defines consumer as a person who buys, hires or avails of any goods or services for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid or promised. According to Section 2(d)ii of the Act the term consumer also includes the user of such goods or beneficiary of such services. Thus as per this definition even a child purchasing chocolate is a consumer.
The term consumer, however, does not include a person who obtains such goods and the services for resale or for any other commercial purpose. Common problems faced by Consumers.
With liberalisation and globalisation and greater thrust towards privatisation accompanied with heightened awareness on account of increased availability of information and media exposure today’s consumer has changed radically. There is a growing concern for environment protection and healthy consumption. At the same time the consumer wants greater value for the money spent by him. However, inspite of best efforts during the course of consumption a consumer may encounter many problems.
Some of the significant problems are listed below :-
· Adulteration
· Spurious goods
· Use of deceptive/incorrect rates
· Supply related problems
· Variation in the contents of the packet
· Defective goods
· Poor after sales services
· Deficiency of service
· Not-honouring the terms and conditions of sales and service
· Non-fulfilment of guarantee/warrantee
· Misleading advertisements
· Hidden prices components
. Price discrimination
Grievance Redressal mechanism under CPA
An aware consumer can approach Consumer Protection Act at three different levels. For complaints that involve payment of compensation upto Rs. 20 lakh, the consumer can approach District Consumer Court. For complaints above Rs. 20 lakh but less than 1 crore, consumers can approach State Consumer Commission. For complaints above one crore, the aggrieved person will need to approach the National Commission for redressal of his grievance.
Documents required for complaints
In order to substantiate complaints the consumers should have following documents :-
Cash memo/receipt
Warranty card duly signed and stamped by the vendor/company
Catalogue/brochure of the concerned product/service
Insurance policy, if applicable
Job card if applicable
Who can file a complaint?
A complaint can be filed by A consumer to whom goods are sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or such services provided or agreed to be provided.
A Voluntary Consumer Organisation (VCO) The Central Government
The State Government, Union Territory Administration
One or more consumers where they are of same interest
In case of death of consumer, his/her legal heir or representatives
Grounds to File a Complaint
Any allegation in writing made by the complainant against the trader or service provider should enlist :-
Adoption of any unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practice.
The goods bought or agreed to be bought suffer from one or more defects.
Services hired/availed, or agreed to be hired/availed, suffer from any deficiency.
The trader has charged for the goods or services a price in excess of the stipulated price i.e. MRP or displayed on goods or on the package.
The goods or services being offered to the public are hazardous to life and safety.
Limitation period
A complaint can be filed within two years from the date on which the cause of action has arisen. However, a complaint may be entertained after the period if the complainant had sufficient cause for not filing the complaint within such period by recording its reason for condoning such delay.
Format of Complaint
A complaint filed in the District Forum should contain the following information :-
· The name, description and the address of the complainant
· The name, description and address of the opposite party or parties
· The facts relating to the complaint and when and where it arises.
· Documents, if any, in support of the allegations contained in the complaint.
· The relief, which the complainant is seeking.
Maximum Retail Price
The concept of maximum retail price (MRP) has not really been very well understood by the consumer. Issues relating to MRP could be broadly summed up as below :-
MRP has in most cases been used as a price at which the retailer sells the goods. In a sense the MRP has become Minimum Retail Price. However, few retailers cut marginally in the MRP.
MRP are fixed by the manufacturer and not by the Government. However, a large number of consumers have been made to believe that MRP is fixed by the Government. In some cases MRP is followed by local taxes etc. which is totally illegal.
Role of regulators in helping the consumers
The battle for consumer protection has to be fought by many agencies. The Consumer Protection Act has been rightly defined as the “Magna Carta of Consumers”. However, since the authority of products and services available in the market is huge the Central Government has realised the importance of regulating the functioning of important industries in public interest. Industry regulators have been set up in various sectors so as to enable the consumers suitable redressal on their grievance pertaining to these industries :-
S.No. Industry   Regulator
1.   Banks     Reserve Bank of India
2.   Insurance     Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority
3.   Telecom     Telecom Regulator Authority of India and TDSAT
4.   Capital Markets     Securities and exchange Board of India (SEBI)
5.   Electricity     Central and State Electricity Regulatory Commissions
Independent regulatory agencies are empowered to regulate the specific industry relevant to their area of function. Regulators are meant to be independent in not just by the political establishment but from the market players as well. Ability of an institution to deliver consistent regulatory environment over time and their level playing field for all stake holders is a crucial determinant of regulatory efficiency.
Need is also being felt for setting up regulatory mechanism for other service sector agencies such as broadcast and cable, airport and others.
CPA – What has been achieved?
Thanks to the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, our country has a vibrant consumer movement today due to the efforts of Government, consumer organisations and the establishment of consumer courts. India is the only country in the world which has exclusive courts for consumer redressal. This has been internationally praised including the developed countries. The Consumer Protection Act has succeeded in brining about fair play in the supply of goods and services to a large extended. However, the rapid changes in the consumption pattern of the modern day consumer is bringing new challenges in the consumer movement in the country.
The changing face of Indian Consumer
The rise of the young and urban consumer has been a feature of India’s economic transformation for the past decade and median age of consumer is mid-twenties. This young group of consumers is not nervous in shelling out on credit for pricy global brands. In rural areas, the massive market of 700 million people is attracting the global companies to make a beeline for India.
Young Population Highest proportion of population below 35 years (70%) in India…
Changing consumer demographic
* Increasingly affluent, with bulging middle class
* The youngest population in the world
* Increasing literacy levels
* Higher adaptability to technology
* Urbanization is a continuing trend
* Increasing "consumption" mindset in India
How effective have been the Consumer Courts!
While a lot has been written about delays in disposal of consumer cases, the actual statistics speak otherwise. As on 28.02.07, the overall disposal was 90.33% in respect of District Fora, 72.31% in respect of State Commissions and 80.6% in respect of the National Commission. On pursuing the overall disposal rate, it is clear that the high disposal rate of cases in consumer courts is a trend setter for all quasi judicial organisations.
S.No. Name of Agency Cases filed since inception Cases disposed of since inception Cases Pending % of total Disposal
1 National Commission 45798 36914 8884 80.60%
2 State Commissions 392978 284154 108824  
Author:Rajinder Chaudhry (Courtesy- EN)