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     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 general public.

     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.
                                                                                                                                        - Editor

Unprincipled amendments to the Consumer Protection Act

     The Revised 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 amendment.
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 Agencies

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) is welcome.
Proposal to make a sitting judge of the High Court to head the Selection Committee:
      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.

May better sense prevail!!




Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela