this article is written by Aditya Grandhi.
In this era, Globalization has changed the scenario in the Indian market. Various kinds of products and services are coming into being so are new ways of duping the Consumers. A Consumer is the spine of the market. Due to consumers, businesses exist. To protect the rights and guard the welfare of consumers, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted and brought into force.
Since the dynamics of the market were changing due to globalization; there was a need to enact a new law that was more efficient to protect the consumer’s rights in every way possible. This induced legislature to make a new law which was known as Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (COPRA). Consumer Protection Act 2019 (COPRA) replaced the Consumer Protection Act 1986 and got approval from the Honourable President on 9th August in the year 2019. This act emphasizes bolstering the rights of the consumer. The COPRA 2019 incorporates VIII chapters and 107 sections. It extends to Jammu and Kashmir. The main object of the Act is to protect the interest of the consumers and to work for the welfare of the consumers.
Who is the consumer?
A person who agrees to purchase goods for consideration or on credit, or hires or avails any services for consideration or on credit from the market is known as a consumer.
What is a consumer dispute?
A person against whom the complaint has been filed, who denies, or disputed the allegations contained in the complaint is called a consumer dispute.
Councils which enforce COPRA 2019?
The consumer council aims to solve the grievance caused to the consumer and to guard the consumer’s rights. There are three councils, which are written as under:
- Central Consumer Protection Council;
- State Consumer Protection Council;
- District Consumer Protection Council.
All these councils are advisory councils that render advice on the promotion and protection of consumer rights under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The composition of these councils is incorporated under the aforementioned chapter.
Central Consumer Protection Authority
Central Consumer Protection Authority is also known as Central Authority. It was created to deal with matters relating to violation of consumer’s rights, unfair trade practices, misleading advertisements, and all those circumstances which are prejudicial to the consumer’s rights. Chapter III of COPRA 2019 deals with the central Consumer Protection Authority. It suggests the necessary qualifications and manner in which the officers have to be recruited. The District Collector has the power to entertain complaints that are referred by the Central Authority or the Commissioner of any regional office and can also start an investigation or inquire about the same.
The Central Government appoints the Chief Commissioner and other Commissioners. The highlight of this chapter is that it has created an Investigation Wing which will be regulated by the Central Authority to conduct investigations and inquiries as may be directed by the Central Authority. A complaint is filed in writing or electronic mode and should be sent to any one of the authorities, which are the District Collector or the Commissioner of the Regional office, or the Central Authority.
Powers of central authority
Power to investigate or to refer a matter to another Regulator
The Central Authority may, under the direction of the Central Government or its motion, conduct a preliminary inquiry and see whether there is any threat to the rights of the customer. If the Central Authority is satisfied that there is a threat to the same, then, the matter shall be investigated by the Director-General or by the District Collector. In case, the Central Authority finds out a matter is to be dealt with by a Regulator established under any other law, it may refer such matter to the concerned Regulator along with its report.
Power to recall goods, etc.
After investigation, if the Central Authority is satisfied that there is a threat to the customer rights so in that case, the Central Authority according to section 20 may pass such order as may be necessary, including:
(a) Recalling of unsafe good and services which are deficient; or
(b) Discontinuation of unfair trade practices; or
(c) All such instances which are prejudicial to customer’s rights:
Before passing the order, The Central Authority shall give the person an opportunity of being heard.
Power to issue directions and penalties
After investigation, if the Central Authority is satisfied that there is a threat to the customer rights so in that case, the Central Authority according to section 21, may issue orders to the concerned trader, as the case may be, to discontinue such advertisement or to modify the same within the time frame provided under the order.
If the Central Authority believes that it is necessary to impose a penalty, it may, by order, impose on the manufacturer or endorser a penalty and prohibit the endorser from an endorsement of any product or service.
Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
The Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is categorized under 3 heads:
- District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (District Commission);
- State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (State Commission);
- National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (National Commission).
District Commission’s Jurisdiction
The District Commission has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints whose value does not exceed one crore rupees.
State Commission’s Jurisdiction
The State Commission has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints whose value exceeds one crore rupees but does not exceed rupees ten crores.
National Commission’s Jurisdiction
The National Commission has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints whose value exceeds rupees ten crores.
Institution of complaint
A complaint shall be filed in a District Commission or State Commission or National Commission within the local limits of whose jurisdiction:
- The opposite party ordinarily resides or carries on business at the time of the institution of the complaint; or
- The place where the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises; or
- The place where the complainant resides or personally works for gain.
Who can file a complaint?
The case may be filed with a District Commission or State Commission or National Commission by—
- The consumer; or
- Any recognized consumer association; or
- Group of the consumer having the same interest, on behalf of, or for the benefit of, all consumers so interested; or
- The Central Authority, the State Government, or the Central Government, as the case may be.
To minimize the workload of the Courts, Mediation was introduced. Chapter V of COPRA 2019 deals with mediation. After the first hearing of any case, at any later stage, the District Commission, if it thinks that the case can be settled between both the parties then it can ask for the consent of both the parties, and if the parties agree then the matter referred to Mediation. Then the parties have to follow the procedure enshrined under chapter V of this Act.
The State Government establishes a consumer mediation cell related to each District Commission and State Commission. The consumer mediation cell related to the National Commission is established by the Central Government. The mediation shall be held in the consumer mediation cell related to the District Commission or the State Commission or the National Commission, as the case may be. Within seven days of the receipt of the settlement report, the District Commission or the State Commission, or the National Commission, pass suitable order as it may deem fit to dispose of the matter accordingly.
Chapter VI of COPRA 2019 deals with product liability. Product liability is the responsibility of the product manufacturer or the product seller to provide compensation to the complainant who got harm due to the deficiency in the product or its services.
The product manufacturer will be held liable if a product has a manufacturing defect or the product is defective in design or there is a deviation from manufacturing specifications.
The product service provider will be held liable if the service provided by him is faulty or if the service provider did not issue adequate instructions or warnings to prevent any harm or the service did not obey to express warranty or the terms and conditions of the contract.
Offences and penalties
Chapter VII of COPRA 2019 deals with offenses and penalties.
Penalty and Punishment for refusal to perform as per direction of Central Authority
Imprisonment up to six months or with fine up to twenty lakh rupees, or with both.
Penalty and Punishment for false or misleading advertisement
Imprisonment up to two years and with fine up to ten lakh rupees;
And be punished with imprisonment up to five years and with a fine up to fifty lakh rupees for every subsequent offense.
Punishment for manufacturing for sale or for storing or selling or distributing or importing spurious goods
Injury not amounting to grievous hurt to the customer, with imprisonment up to 1 year or fine up to 3 lakh rupees;
Injury amounting to grievous hurt to the customer, with imprisonment up to seven years and with fine up to five lakh rupees;
Results in the death of the consumer, with imprisonment minimum of seven years, but may extend up to imprisonment for life and with fine which shall not be less than ten lakh rupees.
Chapter VIII of COPRA 2019 deals with MISCELLANEOUS. Nowadays, the E-commerce market is getting attention like never before that led to introducing new scams and new ways to dupe the customers/consumers. But the Central Government has the authority to make rules to prevent unfair trade practices in the e-commerce industry. The penalty collected may be credited to such a fund as may be prescribed. If the Presidents and members of all the three Commissions, the Chief Commissioner, the Commissioner, any officer or employee, and other person performed the act/duty in good faith, then, no suit or prosecution shall lie against them.
Repeal and savings
Section 107 talks about the repeal and savings clause. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is repealed. If anything is done or supposed to have been done under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 if it is not inconsistent with the provision of this act be deemed to have been done under the corresponding provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
- Sapient Corporation Employees Provident Fund Trust v HDFC & Ors.
In this case, the complainant filed a case stating that the service provided by the bank i.e. respondent had a deficiency. The court found out that the complaint was frivolous and to protect against such frivolous complaints, the court imposed a fine of 25,000/- on the complainant.
In this case, the complainant was denied insurance by the insurance company as there was a delay in claiming the insurance on the complainant’s part. The complainant stated that the delay was out of his power. The court said that when the delay is out of the power of the complainant then the terms and conditions don’t need to be met if settlement is of genuine claims. Further stated that the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 is beneficial legislation and be interpreted liberally in the interest of the consumer.
The Consumer Protection Act solely prioritizes that there should not be any hamper or damage to the rights of the customers. While interpreting, it is interpreted in such a way that the rights of the customers are protected against the unfair trade practices in the market. Consumers should always be aware of their rights. In some cases, Supreme Court asked the Commission to be liberal while interpreting the law and take a pragmatic view of the consumer’s rights. It’s good that the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 was enacted considering all the current scenarios but still there is a need foor proper implementation of the act. Still, many consumers in our country don’t know much about their legal rights and have an opinion that the court work is time taking as a result of which they are hesitant to file the case. So the Government of India should try to educate the consumers of their legal rights and should also simplify the case filing mechanism.
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