July 30, 2019
Pratima Mondal speaks on The Consumer Protection Bill, 2019
Sir, I rise to speak on The Consumer Protection Bill, 2019. With a heavy heart I say that another girl child has been raped in India. It is a black day for India.
Now, coming to this particular subject, the Bill seeks to establish a strong mechanism to shield the consumer in the globalised world. It is indeed time to replace the rudimentary Act of 1986. This is so because the world has replaced a great transformation in the last three decades – the emergence of global supply chain, rise in international trade and rapid development of technology as a medium of transaction, to name a few. Though they provide innumerable benefits, it made the consumer encounter new forms of malpractices through telemarketing, multi-level marketing, e-commerce, etc. The Bill attempts to intervene and protect the consumer rights, make better environment and give directives. Bringing e-commerce in the ambit of the Bill is a big step forward.
One of the basic pillars of the Bill is to protect consumers from misleading advertisements. Chapter 1 Clause 28 enumerates its scope. It includes false description, false guarantee, unfair trade practices and concealing important information. Here they are missing our one important thing that is, depiction. We come across numerous advertisements which speak derogatory language in an unacceptable matter and specially about depicting women. So, they should think about it.
Sir, skin complexion would not give you a job. Your potential capability also wouldn’t be lifted by using a certain perfume. Here the ad not only makes false promises but also rocks the mind of the society. This has been a serious issue and came up only after the second wave of feminism. It is absolutely important to look into the matter and bring the depiction of women in media up to an acceptable standard.
The Bill has a provision for setting up a Consumer Protection Council which will be an advisory body set up at national, state and district levels. Section 3(2)(b) states such number of official or non-official members representing such interests as prescribed. I have a couple of questions to which I would like to seek the answer from the Honourable Minister. One, whom will the Council render its advice? And number two, why not fix the number of members that will constitute the body?
At the end of the day, each and every important matter is being left on the Central Government. The Government is legalising and increasing its power with every Bill it introduces. Again, Section 6(2)(c) speaks about the Central Government’s nomination of members in the State Council. Now what is the need for this? Why encroach on the matter of the State? Does it throw doubt on the capabilities of State Governments or has the intention to overpower or control even in an advisory role? These repetitive actions display a controlling nature. It limits the nomination number to 10 but does not specify the actual strength of the council in terms of number of members.
A Central Consumer Protection Authority will also be set up to aim at protecting six rights of consumers, namely, the right to be protected against marketing, be informed of quality, quantity and potency of a product, to be assured of variety of products, to be heard, consumer awareness and redressal of grievances. Previously only the last point was given importance. But the bone of contention is again the same. The Central Government takes upon its own shoulders the task of setting qualification standards, number of members, etc. Why are we not empowering the Act itself? This is something I would like to know from the Honorable Minister.
It also provides for setting up a quasi-judicial body, the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, at district, state and national levels but does not make the presence of a judicial member mandatory. A quasi-judicial body cannot discharge its function in the absence of a judicial member. Giving unlimited power to the executive will turn out to be a big mistake. Thus I request the Government to make a provision to ensure the participation of a judicial member and also enumerate the qualification of the member in the Bill itself.
I also I object on the fact that all the members, whether in the States or at the Centre, would be appointed by the Central Government. This is absolute infringement on the rights of States, disrupting the federal structure altogether. Consumer protection falls under the Concurrent List and is thus enforced by both the Centre and the State. But the provisions related to information technology are exclusive to the Central laws and surprisingly those are two decades old. Thus simultaneous changes in the IT Act are also required. It is also necessary to add a sunset clause in the Bill which will ensure regular modernisation of laws because it is necessary to maintain pace with the ever-growing and long stride of technology.
Sir, I would like to know from the Honorable Minister as to how does the Government intend to control advertisements on the internet? Also how will it control foreign companies that do not fall under our jurisdiction if they put up misleading advertisements? The Act of 1986 provide for settling disputes within a stipulated period but even then, around 4 lakh 60 thousand cases are pending. So how will the Government make sure the problems are solved? We should impose a penalty on the adjudicator for non-compliance within the given time period.
The Bill contains a provision which imposes penalty on the manufacturers or services providers for false or misleading acts of up to Rs 50 lakhs and imprisonment for up to a term of five years. The Bill imposes penalty on the endorsers as well but does not provide imprisonment as a form of penalty.
It is known to all that celebrities like a deep impression on the minds of the views and therefore they have a responsibility on their shoulders. Just for their professional and economical benefit they should not promote just about every other product. It is known to us that these celebrities are some of the richest citizens of our country and therefore mere payment of a fine is not a big deal for them. This should be handled in a most stringent manner. Again the Bill itself creates a loophole and provides an escape route by stating that the endorsers will not be liable to any punishment if he or she exercises due diligence, without properly explaining what due diligence actually stands for.
The Minister also needs to specify the channel through which consumers can clarify their queries. I would draw the attention of the Minister to the case of C2C business model through which consumers sell their used products to other consumers through sites like OLX, Quikr, etc. My question here is, how will the provision in this Bill ensure the right of consumers in this business model? Will they be dealt with in a similar manner? it will be immensely helpful if the Minister could explain it.
Chapter 6(87) provides that a prior warning from the manufacturer’s end to protect them from violation cases. Now in the said business model there is no scope for making available concrete evidence as to whether warning was given or not. At the time of dispute both parties will be claiming their role. What will be the solution for that?
Finally Section 94 aims to protect the interests and rights of consumers, and the Central Government will take measures in the manner prescribed. The Bill itself provides proper manner through sets of bodies to ensure the same.Then what will be the other measures that will be taken up specially by the Central Government. Seeking details also on the Act in a prescribed manner, why is the Bill itself not providing those?
And now to end I would like to put forward a true example where a woman tried to sue a butter company that had printed the word ‘lite’ on its product packaging. She claimed to have gained huge weight from eating the butter even though it was labelled ‘lite’. In court, the lawyer representing the butter company simply held up the container of butter and said to the judge that my client didn’t lie; the container is indeed ‘light’ in weight. The woman lost the case. From this it is evident that consumer protection is crucial and a sensitive matter which should be dealt with with proper caution. I hope this Bill will make constant changes to make itself more promising.
Thank you, Sir for giving me the opportunity.