While the new Consumer Protection Act of 2019 brought in several changes towards a safer and fairer market for consumers, there remain issues for concern, said former Supreme Court judge and current President of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), Justice RK Agrawal on Saturday.
Justice Agrawal made the observation at a panel discussion hosted last Saturday by the Faculty of Law, Manav Rachna University in collaboration with Suveeksha on the theme Hits and Misses of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The event was organised to celebrate World Consumer Rights Day, which falls on March 15 every year.
Justice Agrawal observed that today’s consumers are vulnerable to new forms of challenges, including online fraud, ATM data leaks, predatory prices, exploitative etc. Coupled with this, they are also exposed to misleading advertisements. These are some of the challenges that did not exist when the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted, he observed.
“The potential of the internet to create a virtual borderless market made the domestic territorial based consumer protection laws incompatible with the non-territorial or cross border nature of e-transactions, raising issues relating to enforceability of judgments and laws,” he added.
In view of these concerns, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 was introduced, which extended regulation to a host of new areas in consumer interactions, including to the electronic/ digital space. While speaking on the various new measures put in place by the new Act, Justice Agrawal also noted that the 2019 Act has increased the culpability of the offences that may be committed against consumers.
“Certainly, the new Act is more in tune with modern-day concepts of Consumer Protection, new market dynamics and developments in the digital age. It deals with unfair contracts and e-commerce issues; it provides for e-filing of complaints and product liability suits. It also provides for mediation in addition to the earlier system of consumer justice and empowers the Central Consumer Protection Authority or the Regulator to recall unsafe goods or services, order reimbursement of their price, put a stop to unfair trade practices including false and misleading advertisements, order investigations into violations of consumer rights and in general, promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers as a class,” he added.
Nevertheless, some shortcomings remain, Justice Agrawal said. In this regard, he flagged the following issues:
- The Act 2019 in its current form does not explicitly specify healthcare in the list of “services”;
- There can be a possibility of clash with regard to scope of “Central Consumer Protection Authority” and the prevailing “Consumer Fora’ in cases of a certain class of consumers;
- Section 99 of the new Act directs the “Central Consumer Protection Authority” to act in terms of the directions issued by the Central government which may restrict its autonomy;
- On the introduction of the concept of product liability, there may be frivolous claims solely on the basis of discrepancy in designs, even when it results in no actual damage to the consumer or is done in order to improve functionality;
- There is no provision in the new Act imposing penalty for unsafe products and services, which lead to large-scale deaths and injuries in the country.
- Under the new Act, the pecuniary jurisdiction has to be determined on the basis of consideration actually paid. Such a reading of this provision may particularly impact flat purchasers, where even though the value of the property may be above ₹1 crore, because they have paid a lesser consideration, they would be denied the right to approach the State or National Commission.
- The Consumer Protection (Mediation) Rules, 2020 provides that the matters relating to proceedings in respect of medical negligence resulting in grievous injury or death cannot be referred to mediation.
Senior Advocate Joy Basu also spoke on the topic, focusing on the historic provisions of the new law. He talked about the remedies under the new Act including recall of goods, withdrawal of services that are unsafe or hazardous, reimbursement of prices paid for goods or services recalled and discontinuation of unfair trade practices. He further informed the audience about the coordinate jurisdiction of different forums available to the consumers under the prevailing law.
The discussion was moderated by Shashank Garg, Partner, Advani and Co.