Authors: Tejas Chhura, NLSIU
Sumreet Kaur, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University
Editor: Tejas Chhura - NLSIU
The Consumer Protection Act of 1986, is arguably the most important legislation for consumer protection in the Indian context. Prior to its emergence, there was ambiguity regarding the consumer protection laws of India, and as a result, corporations looking to make a quick dime were exploiting consumers left, right and centre. However, all this changed with the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986. All of a sudden, consumers had an easy way to access justice without all the hassle of courts and the enormous price tag that comes with it. However, since then, there have been several advancements made in technology, and with companies getting smarter in evading consumer laws, there was a dire need to revisit the same. This article aims to look at the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 briefly before proceeding to look at some of the significant inclusions made in the Amendments.
The emergence of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986
The Consumer Protection Act was established for the betterment of the consumers and for the security of their rights. Hence, to put an end to previously accepted" caveat emptor" meaning "Let the Sellers beware", a new eminence notion was introduced "caveat venditor" meaning "Let the buyers beware", wherein the seller was responsible for any defective goods sold or for any unfair services rendered. It also helps in the promotion of consumer interests and encourages legislations while keeping in mind the welfare of the people and the improvement of their multitudinous interests. Under Consumer Protection Act, 1986 Consumer Councils were set up at the Centre, State and District Levels with appellate and pecuniary jurisdiction. The main aim and objective for which the Act was established are explained under Section 6, 8 and 8B of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Section 6 explains the right which pertains to protect them as-
Right to the safety of life and property from hazardous goods.
Right to information about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods and services so as to protect consumers against unfair trade practices.
Right to choice as to variety of goods and services.
Right to be heard and representation and to be assured that consumer interests will receive due consideration at the appropriated platform.
Right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers.
Right to Consumer education.
A consumer with a view to obtaining any relief provided by or under COPRA Act can lodge a complaint to the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) which functions in three tiers as discussed earlier. However, in order to keep pace with changing times and in order to tackle the issues that have arisen since, the Parliament decided to revisit this law and make appropriate changes. Hence, several amendments were made to the Consumer Protection Act, some of which have been discussed below.
Unfair Trade Practices
The Consumer Protection Act of 1986, did provide a list of what acts fall under unfair trade practices. However, with changing times, there was a dire need to revisit this section which was done in the Amendment act. In addition to the existing definition of Unfair Trades Practices which the 1986 Act provided, the Amendment added three new types of practices.
The first of these three is to bring the failure to issue a bill or receipt under the ambit of Unfair Trade Practices. This was a much-needed proposition and introduction for both sides of the aisle. For buyers, this provides them with a tangible piece of evidence to show that a product is bought from a particular seller and can also act as a cause of action in the case of a breach. On the other hand, this helps protect sellers as well as this provides them with a means to verify that a product was bought from their store and hence lowers the chances for any sort of mischief or exploitation of consumer laws.
Another act that was brought under the ambit of unfair trade practices was the inclusion of the clause that essentially stated that sellers are obligated to accept a good returned within 30 days. This again is a much-needed inclusion as in the age of technology and the digital world, most people tend to do their shopping online where there is no scope for physically inspecting the products. As a result, many online retailers have exploited the same by issuing a no return policy on their items which effectively puts the consumers in a disadvantageous position. Hence, by mandating that sellers need to accept goods returned within 30 days, levels out the playing field and will fit the modern context perfectly.
The final inclusion to the definition of unfair trade practices was that the Act of disclosure of personal information given in confidence to the company unless required by law would now be termed as unfair trade practices. Again, the writer cannot begin to stress how much this was needed, as many companies got into the habit of leaking personal information such as phone numbers, addresses and so on to third parties in exchange for some monetary benefits. This is a blatant violation of privacy which unfortunately plagues our society even today. Hence, by including this into the definition of unfair trade practices, it gives consumers an additional remedy.
One of the major additions to the Consumer Protection Act has been the introduction of the concept of unfair contracts. Unfair contracts are defined in section 2 (46), which provides an exhaustive list of what contracts fall under this term. Unfair consumer contracts are now covered under the 2019 Act, and a complaint in this regard can now be filed by a consumer. This would help to keep a check on businesses including banks and e-commerce sites that take advantage of their dominance in the market and mandatorily require the helpless consumers to sign such unfair contracts and accept their standard terms before selling them goods or providing services.
Another important inclusion in this Act has been the inclusion of a chapter on product liability. Defined under Section 2(34) of the Act, product liability provides situations under which a manufacturer or a service provider has to compensate a consumer if their good/service caused injury or loss to the consumer due to manufacturing defect or poor service. For instance, if a pressure cooker explodes due to a manufacturing defect and harms the consumer, the manufacturer is liable to compensate the consumer for the injury. Earlier, the consumer would only be compensated with the cooker's cost. The consumer could ask for compensation, but through a civil court, which usually takes years to resolve a case and not consumer forum. Along with which e-commerce will be governed under the radars, which will serve as a benefit for the consumers. If any such product is reported or recognized, the company could be penalized. This move is fitting since cases of fake products sold through e-commerce platforms is rampant .
These are only some of the inclusions that have been added to the Consumer Protection Act. There are several minor changes such as changing the ambit of the law to include housing and the telecom industry, which while do not seem like major additions will have major implications on the way consumer laws are in India. Hence, the authors are strongly of the opinion that the Amendment made to the Consumer Protection Act was a much-needed step and has helped strengthened consumer laws in India.
 An overview of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, Finology Legal (13 Sep, 2019) <https://blog.finology.in/Legal-news/Overview-of-Consumer-Protection-Act-1986>.
 The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 s 2(47).
 The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 s 2(46).
 Gaurang Kanth, “The Consumer Protection Act, 2019: An overview”, (14 January 2020) <https://www.mondaq.com/india/dodd-frank-consumer-protection-act/876600/the-consumer-protection-act-2019-an-overview>.
 The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 s 2(34).
 Shipra Singh, “Here's how consumers will benefit under the new Consumer Protection Act” (19 August, 2019, ET Bureau) <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/spend/heres-how-consumers-will-benefit-under-the-new-consumer-protection-act/articleshow/70711304.cms?from=mdr>