By Sapan Parekh:
With the completion of 25 years of Consumer Protection Act, the Central Government has taken another step towards increasing consumer safety and providing speedy redressal for consumer disputes. To this end, the government introduced “The Consumer Protection Amendment Bill, 2011” in the Lok Sabha on the 16th of December, 2011 which if approved without alterations by both the Houses of the parliament, will mark a significant victory for the consumers.
This amendment is much more far-reaching than the earlier amendments of 1991,1993 and 2002 envisaging more than 40 modificationsÂ and adding 15 new sub-sections to the existing “Consumer Protection Act,1986”.
Here are the few important amendments proposed to the existing act –
The perennial problem of the refusal to provide a cash memo or a receipt for a purchase of a good or a service has been tackled by the bill. The new amendment categorizes such a refusal as an unfair trade practice and a sufficient enough reason to institute a consumer complaint. Thus such an amendment will go a long way in ensuring that consumers have a proof of purchase in case of future consumer disputes.
Also the widely prevalent “No return, No refund” Â policy of the shopkeepers, will most likely meet its end with the bill recognizing such refusal to return the good or money as an unfair trade practice.
In view of the rapid spread of internet connectivity in the country, the amendment bill seeks to allow consumers to file complains in “electronic-form”. This will not only make it more convenient for consumers to file complaints but also encourage more consumers to come forward with their complaints.
In order to reduce the pendency of the consumer cases, novel provisions have been made in the amendment bill. The bill proposes to allow the creation of benches in district forums after consultation with the state government. Also it gives the District forums the leeway to function at “any such place” other than the district headquarters after consultation with the State Commission.
Such provisions will allow consumer forums of one district to take up cases of another district where the pendency is higher thus helping in reducing the overall case pendency.
The amendments in the bill include a proposal to equate the decisions of the consumer forums to that of civil courts, which would definitely increase the enforceability of the decisions of consumer forum. Also in case of non-compliance it has been proposed that a charge Rupees 500 or one-half per cent of the fine amount (whichever is higher) per day will be levied on the offender. This seems to be deterrent enough for someone not complying with the consumer forum’s order.
Further the bill proposes to widen the scope of the definitions of deficiency, defect and complaint thus making them more open-ended which would also allow consumer courts to adjudicate on a far greater number of consumer disputes.
Other amendments include increasing the minimum age limit for the consumer forum members, barring members from being an office-bearer of any political party, time-limit on admissibility of complaint and compensation where a large no of consumers suffer loss or injury( like the blackberry service outrage of 2011) amongst other things.
Taken together, with all these proposed amendments the government has taken another decisive step towards achieving the goal of empowering consumers and providing an effective, inexpensive and speedy redressal system for consumer disputes.Yet much will depend on the seriousness with which the proposed amendment bill is implemented by the government and is used by the consumers.
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