The government is framing a new law to amplify consumer rights. The idea is to empower consumers to sue manufacturers and service providers who dupe them by concealing information in a manner that their purchase decisions are wrongly influenced. Under the proposed law, the firms will also be prosecuted for not issuing receipts of purchases to consumers.
The government is planning to create a simple, inexpensive and quicker justice delivery system, where the consumer can haul up any company, large or small, in a new court called ‘National Consumer Protection Court Authority.’ A brainchild of the consumer affairs, food and public distribution ministry, the new judicial system will work on the lines of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
A draft Cabinet note has already been circulated among various ministries in this regard. According to the note, the penalty will be equal to the value of the product or the service along with an interest. The note proposes to amend the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
Currently, there are certain opportunities under law for the consumers to sue the service providers. For instance, a patient can sue his doctor for withholding information and forcing him to go for an unnecessary surgery. Similarly, a telecom service provider who misleads subscribers through hidden charges while advertising schemes can also be sued. The proposed law would broaden the scope of this tool in the hands of consumers by including other products and services also.
The proposed quasi-judicial authority will aim to deliver speedy justice. Unlike consumer courts, where it takes years for the verdicts to be delivered, it promises justice within 10 days. Its judgment can be appealed only in the Supreme Court. As of now, there is a huge gap between the time a case is filed and the time it comes up for hearing. Also, as per the Bill, any request for adjournment of a case would have to be accompanied with genuine reasons.
The proposed move will also define ‘unfair contract’ to protect the weaker party from incurring losses arising out of unfair trade practices. The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill will replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, which will help in faster disposal of consumer cases.
There are 35 state consumer disputes redressal commissions and 610 district consumer forums in the country. There is one National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at the apex level. About 29,000 cases were filed in these forums up to 2008.