Consumers, Know Your Rights
In a consumer-driven economy like India’s, consumer rights and protection are crucial as they ensure businesses’ responsible conduct and help maintain a fair and mature market. In light of the same, we spoke to Naren BS, Corporate Counsel, KredX, about how these laws tend to protect vulnerable customers and here’s what he has to say.
Consumer rights is an area of policy and law meant to protect consumers from defective goods, deficient services, unfair trade practices, etc. It empowers consumers to approach judicial authorities and complain against manufacturers, sellers of goods, service providers and similar business entities. Based on the complaints and the adjudication by judicial authorities, it also enables consumers to seek various remedies like compensation, replacement of defective goods, removal of defects, refund of product price or service price, etc.
Until July 2020, consumer rights were governed by the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. This law was reformed and replaced with a new law called the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The new law has been in effect since July 2020.
Types of Consumer Rights
As per law, the following kinds of rights consumers need to be aware of about:
- Right to be protected against marketing of goods, products or services which are hazardous to life and property
- Right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods, products or services, to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices
- Right to be assured access to a variety of goods or services at competitive prices
- Right to be heard and assured that consumer’s interests will receive consideration at the appropriate forum
- Right to seek remedies against unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers
- Right to consumer awareness
Things That Are Covered Under Consumer Rights
Consumer rights are available against all goods, products and services. However, the rights are available only to end consumers, i.e., they are unavailable to anyone buying or using goods, products and services for commercial purposes. In other words, consumer rights are not available to a person who is buying or using goods, products and services with an intent to resell or utilise them in a business to produce some other goods, products or services.
Furthermore, goods include all kinds of movable property. Products refer to all articles, goods, substances, raw materials, in any form, capable of delivery, produced to be traded or commercially transacted. Services, on the other hand, refer to all kinds of services across industries. Some of the services described in law by way of examples are banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of energy, telecom, boarding and lodging, housing construction, entertainment and amusement. Therefore, consumer rights mainly relate to goods, products and services mentioned above.
More To What You Can Get Covered
All other services (though not explicitly mentioned) are also covered under the law. For example, though not explicitly mentioned in the law, medical services are subject to the consumer protection law. Accordingly, hospitals and medical professionals can also face consumer complaints for deficient or negligent services.
How Does One Claim Consumer Rights?
Consumer rights can typically be claimed if the consumer has faced any loss, damage or injury on the purchase and use of the goods or services. Significantly, the law permits a consumer to make a complaint in the following cases:
- Unfair contract or unfair trade practices, restrictive trade practices adopted by a trader or service provider
- Defect in goods
- Deficiency in services
- Excessive price charged for the goods or services
If the price charged is more than the price displayed on the goods, fixed by the government, the price displayed on the price list, and the price agreed with the consumer, then the consumer can complain that his right has been infringed upon.
- Goods or services hazardous to life and safety are offered to the public for sale
To claim a consumer right, a consumer has to submit a complaint to the District Commission if the value of the goods or services does not exceed Rs. 1 crore. If the value of the goods or services exceeds Rs. 1 crores but does not exceed Rs. 10 crores, the complaint can be submitted to a State Commission. However, if the value exceeds Rs. 10 crores, the complaint can be submitted to the National Commission. The complaint can be submitted by the consumer or by an advocate acting on behalf of the consumer.
Following submission of the complaint, the relevant commission will allow the opposing party to respond and defend itself. Thereafter, based on the submissions by both the consumer and the opposing party, the relevant commission will decide the matter.
If the relevant commission decides a complaint in favour of a consumer, then he/she can have the following consumer reliefs:
- Removal of defects in goods or deficiencies in services
- Replacement of goods with new goods of similar description, and free from defect
- Return or refund to the consumer the product or service price along with interest
- Payment of compensation to the consumer for loss or injury suffered because of negligence
- Discontinuation of unfair trade practices or restrictive trade practices
- Abstain from offering hazardous or unsafe goods for sale and also withdraw such goods from the market
- Cease manufacture of hazardous or unsafe goods
- Putting out corrective advertisements to neutralise the effect of misleading advertisement
- Pay to the consumer adequate costs concerning the complaint
- Cease and desist from putting out any misleading advertisement
Of course, all the above remedies will not be available in every complaint, and the relevant commission will determine the appropriate remedy on a case-to-case basis. However, the consumer can seek the applicable remedies in the complaint submitted to the commission.
Misleading Advertisements? Not To Worry!
Yes, consumers do have rights against misleading advertisements. A ‘misleading advertisement’ is one that (i) falsely describes a product or service, (ii) gives a false guarantee or is likely to mislead consumers as to the nature, substance, quantity or quality of the product or service; (iii) conveys a representation would be an unfair trade practice; (iv) deliberately conceals essential information.
Suppose a misleading advertisement conveys, about a product or service, a representation that amounts to unfair trade practice. In that case, the consumer can complain about such misleading advertisements to the relevant commission and seek appropriate remedies from the commission.
Consumer rights and consumer protection are vast areas of law that give consumers rights against all manufacturers, suppliers, sellers, distributors, service providers, professionals vis-à-vis defective goods, deficient services, unfair trade practices, restrictive trade practices, unfair contracts, etc. These laws are important in a consumer-driven economy like India for businesses to ensure responsible conduct. The Indian consumer market will gain and maintain a reputation as a fair, reasonable and mature market, and most importantly, consumers who are often vulnerable to commercial exploitation will have the necessary rights to take on businesses.