Lok Sabha on Tuesday (July 30) passed a bill which seeks to strengthen rights of consumers and provides a mechanism for redressal of complaints regarding defects in goods and deficiency in services.
The Consumer Protection Bill, 2018 provides for the protection of interests of consumers and setting up of authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumer disputes. Speaking on the bill, Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan stressed that the overall purpose of the legislation is to ease the process of addressing grievances of consumers.
The bill, which will replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, was passed in the lower house after all the amendments moved by the opposition were negated. The bill will now go to Rajya Sabha for passage, where it was not passed in December last year and had lapsed.
The bill, among other things, proposes setting up of Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and forums at the district, state, and national levels for adjudicating consumer complaints. It also seeks to set up a Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to promote, protect, and enforce consumer rights as a class.
The CCPA would make interventions to prevent consumer detriment arising from unfair trade practices. The agency can also initiate class action, including enforcing recall, refund, and return of products.
“Currently, the task of prevention of or acting against unfair trade practices is not vested in any authority. This has been provided for in a manner that the role envisaged for CCPA complements that of sector regulators and duplication, overlap or potential conflict is avoided,” as per Statement of Objects and Reasons of the bill, which was introduced by Paswan on July 8.
Paswan said that the CCPA would take immediate action on any complaint filed by the consumer and if required, could also file a class-action suit. He said that this bill proposes stringent action in case of misleading advertisements against the advertiser but not against the media through which advertisement is being publicised.
The bill also has provisions for product liability action on account of harm caused to consumers due to defective products or by a deficiency in services. During the debate on the bill, BJP MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy suggested that cases of call drops and power cuts should also be considered under the ambit of this proposed law.
Opposing the bill, Congress member MK Vishnu Prasad claimed it would curb the freedom of consumers and trample on their rights. “The real problems of consumers must be heard,” he said, adding that the government must bring a comprehensive bill in this regard.
Prasad alleged that the government has been passing bills without sending them to standing committees.
DMK member K Veeraswamy said that the bill provides for “feudal rule, not federal rule” and it will take away consumer rights. He alleged the government has been treating the opposition “as enemy parties and not as opposition”. “You want all powers with the central government and not with the states,” he said.
Pratima Mondal of Trinamool Congress claimed that the intention of the bill is to encroach upon powers of the state. “Consumer protection is a sensitive matter and it should be dealt with caution,” she said.
Supporting the bill, Chandreswar Prasad of the JD(U) described the bill as “very significant”, saying it will protect the rights of consumers. This is a non-controversial bill which will ensure the welfare of the consumers, he said. Prasad said that a consumer can lodge a complaint even from home without taking help of lawyers.
Supporting the bill, BJD member Ramesh Chandra Majhi said that the bill will ensure the protection of consumers rights.
Majhi, however, sought clarifications on a few issues including the composition of district consumer forums and how the long list of pending consumer cases across the country will be disposed of.
BSP member Girish Chandra demanded that provisions should be made in the bill to make district consumer forum heads accountable. Chandra also spoke about the prevalence of adulterated goods in the market and protection of rights of electricity consumers.
Congress member Saptagiri Ulaka demanded that the bill be sent to the standing committee for proper scrutiny. Ulaka said that the powers given to the central government in the bill should be distributed to states for protection of consumer rights. She also claimed that the provision of mediation in the bill will lead to corruption.
BJP member Rajendra Agarwal said that the bill is a comprehensive one and would be a milestone in protecting rights of consumers.
In case of misleading advertisements, along with manufacturers and service providers, celebrities who endorse such advertisements should be brought under this bill, TRS member Ranjith Reddy said. There should also be provisions regarding damaged goods as well as those pertaining to Maximum Retail Price (MRP), he added.
Jayadev Galla of the TDP said that the bill is silent on surrogate advertising, noting that it is done for products like pan masala and liquor. He said that there should be some accountability for celebrities for endorsing products against which consumers make complaints but, he added, they cannot be treated at the same level as brands and companies.
BJP’s Girish Bapat said that the bill will do justice to consumers who, he added, should be made more vigilant to pursue their rights.
NCP’s Supriya Sule supported the bill but asked the government to clarify as to whom the people will turn to in cases of food adulterations or poor education and health services due to the multiplicity of authorities. Referring to a popular instant food product, she said that different states had different test reports on it after it was banned across the country for being allegedly unsafe. The same product was allowed later, she said, wondering if it was a case of harassment.
Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference accused the Centre of working to usurp powers of states through a host of recent bills and said that the draft law is also a step in that direction. BJP’s Aparajita Sarangi praised the bill as a case of “smart governance” of a “smart government” and said that it will be a game-changer if implemented well.
ET Mohammed Basheer of Indian Union Muslim League welcomed the bill while AM Ariff of the CPI(M) said that it should be sent to a standing committee for scrutiny. Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM alleged that the government had “surrendered” before the medical lobby, asking why health care has been kept out of its purview.