Consumer rights are the rights given to a “consumer” to protect him/her from being cheated by salesman/manufacturer. Consumer protection laws are designed to ensure fair trade competition and the free flow of truthful information in the marketplace.
Consumer is defined as someone who acquires goods or services for direct use or ownership rather than for resale or use in production and manufacturing.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 laws are designed to prevent businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors and may provide additional protection for the weak and those unable to take care of themselves. Consumer Protection laws are a form of government regulation which aim to protect the rights of consumers.
For example, a government may require businesses to disclose detailed information about products particularly in areas where safety or public health is an issue, such as food. Consumer protection is linked to the idea of “consumer rights” (that consumers have various rights as consumers), and to the formation of consumer organizations which help consumers make better choices in the marketplace.
In general, the consumer rights in India are listed below:
- The right to be protected from all kind of hazardous goods and services
- The right to be fully informed about the performance and quality of all goods and services
- The right to free choice of goods and services
- The right to be heard in all decision-making processes related to consumer interests
- The right to seek redressal, whenever consumer rights have been infringed
- The right to complete consumer education
To provide simple, speedy and inexpensive redressal of consumer disputes, the CPA envisages 3-tier quasi-judicial machinery at the National, State and District levels.
National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, known as National Commission, deals with complaints involving costs and compensation higher than Rs. One Crore.
State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, known as State Commission, deals with complaints involving costs and compensation higher than Rs. Twenty Lakh and less than Rs. One Crore.
District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum known as District Forum, deals with complaints involving costs and compensation less than Rs. Twenty Lakh.
To file the complaint:
- Complaint is to be filed within two years of buying the product or using the service.
- Complaint needs to be in writing. Letters should be sent by registered post, hand-delivered, by email or fax. Don’t forget to take an acknowledgment.
- The complaint should mention the name and address of the person who is complaining and against whom the complaint is being filed. Copies of relevant documents must be enclosed.
- The consumer must mention details of the problem and the demand on the company for redressal. This could be replacement of the product, removal of the defect, refund of money, or compensation for expenses incurred and for physical/mental torture. Please ensure that the claims are reasonable.
- You should preserve all bills, receipts and proof of correspondence related to the case. Avoid using voice mail or telephone because such interactions are normally difficult to prove.
- The complaint can be in any Indian language, but it is better to use English.
- There is no compulsion to hire a lawyer. Main cost consists of correspondence and travelling to the consumer forum for the hearing
- Maintain a complete record of the emails and documents sent by you.
Appeal is a legal instrumentality whereby a person not satisfied with the findings of a court has an option to go to a higher court to present his case and seek justice. In the context of consumer forums:
- An appeal can be made with the state commission against the order of the district forum within 30 days of the order which is extendable for further 15 days. (Section 15)
- An appeal can be made with the National Commission against the order of the state commission within 30 days of the order or within such time as the National Commission allows. (Section 19)
- An appeal can be made with the Supreme Court against the order of the National Commission within 30 days of the order or within such time as the Supreme Court allows. (Section 23)
The consumer courts (district court, state commission and National Commission) are given vast powers to enforce their orders. If a defaulter does not appear in court despite notices and reminders, the court may decide the matter in his absence. The forum can sentence the defaulter to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment and impose a fine of Rs. 10,000. Forums can issue warrants to produce defaulters in court. They can use the police and revenue departments to enforce orders.
The rights of consumers needs to be protected since they avail services given by the service providers based on trust and faith and thus it’s a necessity to keep a check on the service providers for the sake of service recipient.
Competition law and Consumerism
In the pursuit of globalization, India has responded to opening up its economy, removing controls and resorting to liberalization. The natural corollary of this is that the Indian market should be geared to face competition from within the country and outside. The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969 has become obsolete in certain respects in the light of international economic developments relating more particularly to competition laws and there is a need to shift our focus from curbing monopolies to promoting fair competition. A broad definition of competition is a situation in the market in which firms or sellers independently strive for the buyers’ patronage in order to achieve a particular business objective. The law aims to promote healthy competition. It bans anti-competitive agreements between firms such as agreements to fix prices or to carve up markets, and it makes it illegal for businesses to abuse a dominant market position.
HDFC Bank Limited v Balwinder Singh
The complaint was of the bank, or its loan recovery agent, employing musclemen to take forcible repossession of the hypothecated vehicle and thus causing physical harassment and mental trauma to the complainant. The District Forum allowed the complaint and directed the bank to pay compensation of Rs. 4 lakh for repossessing the vehicle in this manner and reselling it to a third party. The State Commission confirmed the order in appeal.
A. Bhandula & Another v Indraprastha Apollo Hospital & Others
Complainant no. 1 (a patient of nasopharyngeal cancer) made various allegations of medical negligence against the opposite party hospital and consultant doctor. The National Commission partly allowed the complaint holding first that the hospital was negligent in not duly preserving the biopsy tissue sample (in formalin) after the opposite party consultant doctor carried out the biopsy of the nasal tumor of the complainant. It rejected the hospital’s plea of mere ‘human error.’ In this the Commission relied on the Supreme Court decision in Savita Garg v. Director, National Heart Institute [IV (2004) CPJ 40 (SC)]