Finally, the old consumer protection act of 1986 got replaced with the new Consumer Protection Act of 2019 to Protect Online Customers.
The new law retains all the components of the landmark 1986 law that gave Indian consumers, their six basic rights and a consumer justice system. However, it further expands the scope of the consumer courts to deal with complaints pertaining to e-commerce, MLM/direct selling entities and unfair contracts. It also provides for product liability action against manufacturers, sellers and service providers for any defects or deficiencies or even failure to provide adequate warning about the use of the product or service.
The new law is in tune with the modern-day concepts of consumer protection, the new market dynamics and the rapid advances in digital technology that has so transformed our world. In fact, the comprehensive E-commerce Rules notified under the new law to protect consumers from unfair trade practices in the digital world encompasses all models of e-commerce and all kinds of unfair trade practices.
But what makes this law so different and comprehensive is the fact that under the new law, the government takes full responsibility for the protection, promotion and enforcement of consumer rights, through the creation of the regulatory body- the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA). Even though the 1986 law encapsulated the rights of consumers, it failed to provide a regulator to enforce all 0the rights, particularly the right to be protected from unsafe goods and services and unfair trade practices, believing that the consumer court or the adjudicatory body, would somehow play the role of the regulator too. This was a major lacuna in the law.
This has finally changed. The CCPA has the power to investigate into unsafe goods, order their recall and direct refund of the cost of such goods to the consumers; it can put stop to all unfair trade practices, including unfair terms in consumer contracts and false and misleading advertisements. It can also hold celebrity endorsers liable for false and misleading promotions. It can also take to task, those selling and manufacturing adulterated and spurious goods. And the punishment prescribed under the law for some of these offences is stringent. However, it may take some time for the Authority to become fully functional.
But the consumer courts have already moved over to the new law. While the old cases will continue to be adjudicated under the old law, the new ones will have to be filed under the CP Act of 2019, which means that consumers have to keep in mind the changed pecuniary jurisdiction of these Commissions.
The consumer court at the district level or the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints up to the value of Rs 1 crore. Those above Rs 1 crore and up to Rs 10 crore will be handled by the State Commission and complaints above Rs 10 crore will go the National Commission
However, the biggest advantage to the consumer under the new law is that
- (a) you can file the complaint online, sitting in the comfort of your home and
- b) the choice of the court no more depends on where the opposite party resides or has an office. You can choose a consumer court close to your home or place of work.
However, there is no substantial change in the procedure before these courts –so the lawyers will be there and so also the adjournments unless the government finds ways and means of strictly enforcing the 90-day limit for completing the adjudication, as prescribed under the old and now the new law. However, if you do not want a long flight, you can opt for mediation for quick settlement of your dispute.
Thus while the consumer protection act of 1986 laid the foundation for consumer protection in the country, the 2019 Act builds on it, brick by brick. On its strict enforcement rests consumer empowerment.