| There is a proposal to amend the Consumer Protection Act.
Department of Consumer Affairs, Govt. of India, which had sought comments
/ suggestions on these amendments from the consumer groups as well as the
After having studied the revised
Consumer Protection Amendment Act, 2014, we have found that the proposed
amendments, in the present form, could cause irreparable damage to the consumer
movement of this country; which is already tottering.
Our comments / suggestions which
were revised, keeping in view the changes, were sent to the Department of
Consumer Affairs, have been reproduced below.
Unprincipled amendments to the Consumer Protection Act
Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 2014, as made available in the website
of Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India were studied and our
views / suggestions are given below:
The comparative statement
indicating the existing provisions and the amendments proposed have been
gone through. Our comments have been given below, in relation to the
proposed amendments. The major amendments appear to be illogical, unprincipled
and devoid of any value addition to the consumer population and rather would
result as a dampener to the spirit of the consumers and a drain on the scarce
resources of the state.
Negatives far outweigh the positives of these proposed amendments.
First, the negatives:
Chapter III Consumer Protection Authority
There is no change in the proposal to
install a Consumer Protection Authority. Time alone will reveal its
utility, with the onus on dispensing its responsibilities at the grass-root
levels still retained with the District Collector. Interestingly, the
provision for the bureaucrats to go on foreign trips to participate in international
conferences, in the garb of cooperating and working with consumer protection
agencies in foreign countries, has been dropped.
Chapter IV (to be changed from III) Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies
Proposal to rename Commissions as Forums – sec. 9(b), 9(c) and 9(d):
The cosmetic changes effected by naming the State
Commissions and the National Commission as the State Forums and the National
Forum, remains unchanged.
Proposal to provide for common Forums for multiple districts, etc. (Provision
under sec. 9):
As it is, the State Governments have
been found to be lacking the interest or commitment in establishing the District
Forum in each district and in manning them properly. Any concession
to club the Forums of different districts as proposed will cause more hardship
to the consumer litigants and will be detrimental to their wellbeing.
But the proposed amendments continue.
Proposal to change the manner of appointment to District Forums – sec. 10(1A):
The proposal to appoint the President and
Members of District Forums through the State Public Service Commission appears
to be inherently cumbersome and unworkable, especially for specialized short
service requirements and there is no change in the proposed amendment.
Proposal to exclude the value of compensation from the pecuniary
jurisdiction of the Forum / Commission – sec. (11):
Since a fee is already being
collected based on the value of the complaint and since logically the compensation
claimed along with the value of the goods or services needs to account for
the total value of the complaint dictating whether the said complaint will
fall under which one of the three-tier quasi-judicial machinery, excluding
the value of compensation claimed from the value of the litigation / pecuniary
jurisdiction of the District Forum / State Commission is not rational.
Further, the billed value of goods or services utilized by any authorized
person, say, as in the case of public utilities like lifts / escalators /
elevators, resulting in serious injury, will not be able to obtain the billed
value of the good / service, putting the consumer litigant to avoidable harassment.
After all, the Forum / Commission has powers to dismiss frivolous complaints.
Thus, the billed value of the goods or services alone should not be the basis
to determine the pecuniary jurisdiction of the District Forum and hence this
proposal needs to be dropped. Unfortunately, as is evident, rational
and logical approach do not seem to be the forte of the government, especially,
the Department of Consumer Affairs and have decided to retain this contentious
Proposal to allow the consumer to file a case in the Forum / State Commission,
within whose jurisdiction he resides – sec. 11(2)(d) and 17(2)(d):
Allowing a complainant to
file a consumer dispute case in any Forum / Commission in whose jurisdiction
he / she is residing or personally works for gain, though could appear to
be favouring the consumer, is ill-conceived, irrational and appear to be
illegal as to place the seller of goods / service provider in an unreasonably
disadvantageous position vis-à-vis the consumer who avails the good
/ service. Further, there is a distinct possibility of outstation shoppers
taking the shopkeeper / service provider to ransom. While retaining
this provision in the amendments in sec. 11(2)(d), it has been stated under
"Justification", that this will enable the e-shopping consumers to approach
the Forum anywhere he/she resides. It would have been better, had this
been stated as a part of the Act (sec. 11(2)(d)). Still worse, even
this "Justification" has not been mentioned against 17(2)(d).
Proposal to promote mediation through introduction of Sec. 13(A):
Introduction of sec. 13(A) to promote mediation
is likely to frustrate the ends of justice and harass the consumer litigant
on account of further delays and injustice. Hence, the proposed amendment
as a part of the consumer justice system under the Consumer Protection Act
needs to be dropped. Instead, the Consumer Affairs Department, if funds
are available for the purpose, can establish these Mediation Centres, through
the existing Voluntary Consumer Organisations or other means. But the
amendments have been retained.
Proposal for enhancing penalty under Sec. 14(1)(hb):
The proposal to enhance the penalty under Sec. 14(1)(hb),
when the goods or services affect a large number of consumers, appears more
of an hype. This is so because, the consumer courts as well as the
Supreme Court are shying away from awarding any penalty even when tailor
made cases are brought before them. (Example: Original Petition No. 224 of
2001, in the NCDRC, Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela Vs Indian Oil Corporation
and Others; Civil Appeal No. 10126 of 2010, in the Supreme Court, Consumer
Protection Council, Rourkela Vs Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and Others.)
In this country seeking money by NGOs are still considered blasphemous –
a sin – height of hypocrisy. Further, why the entire penalty should
be diverted to the Consumer Welfare Fund (as per the CP Rules)? If
the government and the Department of Consumer Affairs are serious about eliminating
the Unfair Trade Practices, to encourage such initiatives, some percentage
of the penalty should be awarded to the VCO fighting the case.
Proposal to delimit the number of members with judicial background :
Proposed amendment to delete
the provision after 16(1)(b)(iii), which limits the members with judicial
background to fifty per cent (50%), could pave the way for eliminating the
non-judicial members from the State Commissions. This is against the
structure of the quasi-judicial consumer courts, making these Commissions
vulnerable to become an extended arm of the Civil Courts; which should be
avoided. This proposed amendment which can change the complexion of
the Commissions (quasi-judicial body) has also been retained.
Proposal to restrict Appeal to single stage – sec. 19:
Amendment to Sec. 19, to restrict the appeal
to single stage will seriously jeopardize dispensation of justice.
Such restrictions can materially affect consumer justice and is ill-conceived;
should be dropped. Further, when the orders of the State Commission
can be appealed against, even as per the present amendments, how a distinction
can be made between a case arising from the District Forum and those arising
under the original jurisdiction of the State Commission itself, when both
are decided by the same bench? The proposed amendment is irrational
and without any logic. Is it that the Department of Consumer Affairs
wants the consumers to reduce the overburdened NCDRC and approach the Supreme
Court, which has lesser work, through a SLP, under 136 of the Constitution?
The entire approach is abhorrent, lacking depth and wisdom and is illegal.
The positives in the proposed Amendments:
Chapter II Consumer Protection Councils
Due to the general condemnation
of the amendments to withdraw the Consumer Protection Councils, this Chapter
remains unchanged. It is indeed welcome.
Chapter IV (to be changed from III) Consumer Disputes Redressal
Proposal to prevent
members of political parties from Forum appointments :
Amendments to prevent members
of political parties from being appointed as Members of the District Forums,
State Commission and National Commission are welcome.
Proposal for enhancement of compensation of the presiding members:
Amendments for standardization
and enhancement of remuneration of the Presiding Members of the District
Forums, State Commissions and the National Commission are welcome.
This will also attract capable individuals to man these bodies.
Proposal to decide the case on merits based on available records – sec. 13(2)(c):
Amendment to Sec. 13(2)(c), requiring
the Forum to decide the case on merits based on available records, instead
of dismissing it when the consumer fails to appear before it, is welcome.
Proposal to restrict the appearance of advocates – sec. 13(8):
Introduction of restrictions on the appearance
of advocates up to Rs. 2 lakhs is welcome.
Proposal to introduce quantification of punitive damages – sec. 14(1)(d):
Quantification of punitive damages, under Sec. 14(1)(d)
Proposal to make a sitting judge of the High Court to head the Selection
Providing for a sitting judge of the High
Court to head the Selection Committee in place of the President of the State
Commission, to appoint the Members of the State Commission is welcome as
this will bring in more objectivity in the appointments, rather than serving
the political interests of the Party in power.
Consumer Protection Act, as already
existing, is one of the progressive piece of legislations to have been enacted
for the better protection of the consumers. Unfortunately, the spirit of
the Act has been missing in its implementation. The present
government and the department will do well to bridge this gap, even if it
is unable to bring in further amendments to the CP Act, as the disadvantages
of the proposed amendments far outweigh the advantages, as the envisaged
structural changes in disputes redressal are far more harmful.
better sense prevail!!