Rights of a Consumer

Introduction

Today’s consumers are considered to be kings of the market. Consumer satisfaction is the priority of any producer to set grounds on the mark. Before designing a product, the question considered is ‘what is the need of the customer?’ Then as per the need, the product is designed to provide more features.But who is a consumer? Under Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, a consumer is defined as someone who buys a good for consideration or hires or avails service for consideration, or as a buyer of goods for self-employment. Talking about the Consumer Protection Act, it was enacted in 1986  to provide protection to consumers when producers were exploiting them to their worst, but now this act is replaced by Consumer Protection Act 2019 with updated provisions. The act provides for  the establishment of Consumer Councils and other Authorities to settle consumer disputes and to address their grievances. In India, this act is considered as ‘RAM BAN ‘ or as a panacea for consumer protection with regards to unfair trade practices, defected goods, redressal of consumer, defect in services or any other consumer-related quandary.

“The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”

David Ogilvy

Need for Consumer Protection Act

With the changing economic and business environment after independence, the consumers suffered bitterly with no choice but to accept what was offered by the producers. Producers exploited the consumer and treated them like slaves of the market and themselves as kings, it was merely said that the consumer is the king of the market. As a result, there arose the need to protect consumers and to establish the consumer as the real king of the market. The Act, thus, educates the consumer about the rights and responsibilities given to him so that he can exercise his power.

In Skypak Couriers ltd. v. Tata Chemicals Ltd[1], it was held that with the development of international trade and commerce there have been advanced market trends, which introduced the consumer to various products and poor quality of these products, thus exploiting the consumer. To this effect, the Consumer Protection Act is enacted for protecting and providing speedy redressal to consumer disputes.

In Kishor lal v. Chairman, Employees State Insurance Corp[2], it was stated that the definition of consumer in the Consumer Protection Act is wide enough to encompass not only goods but also the services bought for consideration. The aim is to protect the consumers in business parlance. It is stated in the Act that any person who obtains goods for commercial purposes is excluded from the definition of consumer whereas the person who uses service for commercial purposes is included. This was also stated in Karnataka Power Transmission Corp. v.  Ashok Ironworks Private Ltd.[3]

Rights of the consumer

Consumer Rights can be defined as the right to have related knowledge and information about the goods and services to protect them from unfair trade practices. The maxim, “Caveat Emptor” has become an overgrown phrase now and is replaced by the phrase, “Caveat Venditor.” Keeping in mind the give-and-take policy, rights rendered to consumers come along with few responsibilities which will be thus comprehended in this article.

The rights given to the consumer are:

  • Right to Safety
  • Right to be Informed
  • Right to Choose
  • Right to be Heard
  • Right to Seek redressal
  • Right to Consumer Education

Right to Safety  

Right to Safety, in the Act, speaks about the safety of the consumer from products hazardous to life and property. This right has domain over the health of the consumers and the products of well being such as automobiles, housing, etc. It should also be noted that safety is not only the producer’s duty to provide but also a consumer’s responsibility to not buy anything blindly or compromise on the quality. This right implies that a product that has the potential to cause any type of harm should be adequately examined before ensuring safe usage. For this, consumers should buy goods with standard compliance marks such as  ISI, AGMARK, etc.                                                                                  

Right to be Informed   

Under the Right to be Informed, the consumer must be informed about the quality, purity, standard, and price of the product being consumed. It is the responsibility of the consumer to be well aware of the product to make a wise choice. In India, the consumers get information mainly through two ways, one is advertisements and other, word of mouth. Unfortunately, both of them are unreliable sources. It is necessary for the consumer to be well informed and for that, websites such as Consumerdaddy are available.                                                                   

Right to Choose 

The Right to Choose guarantees the consumer a wide variety of goods and services in the market at different competitive prices. This right can be better exercised in a competitive market where a variety of goods are available at competitive prices. With this comes a responsibility which would prevail in the market when a wide variety is offered. The wise choice would be a quality product at a reasonable price. In Indian markets, it is observed that sellers form groups and they tend to sell the substitute products at similar prices to face the consumers’ bargain. This can be easily observed in small vegetable markets called ‘mandis’ where vendors come to a common agreed price and beat the ultimate Indian power of bargaining! This can be said to be a violation of a consumer’s Right to Choose.                                                                                                    

Right to be Heard  

This right comes in the picture when a consumer’s right is exploited and he suffers damages or loss. The Right to be Heard assures the consumer that he can address various forums. In India, there is a three-tier commission, i.e at District level, State level, and  National level. This right helps to empower the consumers to fearlessly complain against big business firms if their right has been curbed. The Right to be Heard is a major right given under the CPA, 1986 planting the ultimate goal of the act.                                                                                                  

Right to Seek Redressal 

The goal of the Consumer Protection Act is to protect and provide redressal to the suffering consumer and this leads to the Right to seek Redressal against the unfair trade practices and exploitation of the consumers. The right comes with the responsibility to file redressal for their genuine grievances. Sometimes, it is observed that the amount is small but the damage caused is adversely impacting the society at large and at such points, help from consumer organizations are to be taken.                                                                                        

Right to Consumer Education                                       

It is required by the consumers to educate themselves on their rights throughout their lives. This right enables the consumers to be informed in various ways so that their purchases are made better. It has been observed that mostly rural consumers are not well educated of their rights and they end up being exploited. In India, consumer education is not prevalent and thus it is important to spread awareness about consumer education to prevent mishaps.

In Dr.J.J.Merchant and Ors. v. Shrinath Chaturvedi[4], it was stated that one of the main objectives of the Act is to provide speedy and simple redressal to consumers, and for that quasi-judicial bodies have been established under this Act at district, state, and national level. These bodies have powers invested in them to provide relief to the consumers following the principle of natural justice.

In Lucknow Development Authority v. M.K.Gupta[5], it was acknowledged that the importance of the act lies in promoting the welfare of a large section of society that is consumers and enabling them to directly participate in the commercial market. It attempts to remove threats of the producer in the market and the helplessness of the consumer against the powerful business. This act aims to protect the economic interests of the consumer as a purchaser of goods in commercial domain and user of service in a wider domain.

In Chairman, Thiruvalluvar Transport Corp. v. Consumer Protection Council[6], the question was whether the National Commission has jurisdiction to entertain an application in respect of an accident involving a deceased victim by the use of a motor vehicle. It was further stated in the case that the Consumer Protection Act is a general law extending protection to consumers when compared with the specific law. The fatal injury had nothing to do with the service provided to the deceased but was a direct result of the accident. Furthermore, the provisions in the specific law would prevail over the general law. In this case, the specific law, i.e, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 prevailed over the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Therefore, it was held that the National Commission did not have jurisdiction over the case.

Consumer Protection Act, 2019

It is rightly said that changes should be made with the changing environment. Therefore, the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 updated the provisions of the Act of 1986. Key changes in territorial jurisdiction, pecuniary jurisdiction, alternate dispute resolutions, and e-complaints were made. The changes in pecuniary jurisdiction are as follows:

  • District Commission from 20 lakhs to 1 crore
  • State Commission from up to 1 crore to 10 crores
  • National Commission from 1crore and above to 10 crores and above

 According to 1986 provisions, the pecuniary jurisdiction was defined as per the value of goods and services along with compensation whereas in the 2019 Act, the jurisdiction is to be decided based on the value of goods only. It also instituted the provision of mediation for speedy redressal. With everything being digital these days, consumer dispute complaints can also be lodged online under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

Conclusion

A Consumer is a superior person in the market because of the provisions and rights given to him under the Consumer Protection Act. The rights of the consumer assure there is no exploitation of the consumer using unfair trade practices by big market tycoons. The

rights guarantees to provide powers to the helpless consumer ultimately making him the king.

“To study consumer behavior is to explore human nature at its most fundamental level using the modern world as its backdrop.” – Gad Saad

References:

Questions

  1. Why was the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 enacted?
  2. What are the rights of a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act?
  3. What changes are made in the Consumer Protection Act, 2019?

[1] Skypak Couriers ltd. v/s Tata Chemicals Ltd MANU/SC/0845/2000

[2] Kishor lal v/s Chairman, Employees State Insurance Corp MANU/SC/2148/2007

[3] Karnataka Power Transmission Corp. v/s Ashok Ironworks Private Ltd. 111(2009)CPJ5 SC

[4] Dr.J.J.Merchant and Ors. v/s Shrinath Chaturvedi MANU/SC/0668/2002

[5] Lucknow Development Authority v/s M.K.Gupta MANU/SC/0178/1994

[6] Chairman, Thiruvalluvar Transport Corp. v/s Consumer Protection Council MANU/SC/0263/1995

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