The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is one of the most important milestones in the area of consumer protection movement in the country. The Seminal Act provides for better protection of the interests of consumers in respect of all goods and services, excluding goods for resale or for commercial purposes and services rendered free of charge and under a contract for personal services. The Act covers public, private, joint and cooperative sectors. It seeks to redress the grievances of consume in respect of defective goods, deficiency in services and unfair trade practices in a time bound through three-tier quasi-judicial consumer dispute redressal machinery at the National, State and District levels. The Provisions of the Act are compensatory I nature. The Act also provide for setting up the Consumer Protection Councils at the Centre, Sate and District levels, to act as advisory bodies for the promotions and protection of Consumer Rights.
Presently, there are 629 District Forums, 35 State Commissions and the National Commissions. They have so far disposed about 32 lakh cases; with a disposal rate of 90% National Commission has also started holding Circuit Bench sitting in different parts of the Country.
The Consumer can approach Consumer Disputes Redressal Forums against sale of defective goods or deficient services or adoption of unfair or restrictive trade practices. The jurisdiction of Consumer Forums depends upon the cost of the goods or services or the compensation asked for where the cause of action arose or where the opposite party works or resides.
The Consumer Protection Act provides for a three-tier structure like civil courts. At the Lowest level is the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forums, dealing with companies for less than Rs 20 lakh. At the middle level, there is State Commission dealing with complaints for Rs 20 lakh up to Rs. 1 crore and also hear appeals against the orders of the Forums. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission deals with cases for more than Rs. 1 crore and hears appeals against the orders of the State Commissioner. These bodies are manned by judges.
The Consumer Protection Act mandates settlement of all cases within 90 to 150 days and award of punitive damages in appropriate circumstances.
B. Competition Act,2002
The Competition Act, 2002, aims at promoting and sustaining free and fair market practices by restricting anti-competitive agreement and abuse of dominance across various sectors. The Act provides for the establishment of a Commission to prevent practices having adverse effect on competition, to protect the interests of consumers of India (CCI), simply stated, deals with the following anti-competitive agreements and business practices:
Any enterprise, consumer, consumer association or trade association can file compliant/information about anti-competitive agreements and business practices before the CCI. The CCI also has the power to examine on its own motion to examine anti-competitive trade practices.
C. Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act, 2006
Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act, 2006, provides for better and strict regime to check adulteration of food and beverages. The Central Government has also notified the FSS (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 for the enforcement of the Act.
The main objects of the FSS Act include protecting the public from poisonous and harmful foods; preventing the sale of sub-standard foods; and safeguarding the interest of consumers by eliminating fraudulent practices.
The FSS Act, which came into effect throughout the country on 05-08-2011, has repealed other enactments, namely, the Prevention of Food Adulterations Act,1954, Fruits Product Order, 1955, Solvent Extracted Oil, De-oiled Meat and Edible Floor(Control) Order, 1967, Meat Food Products Order, 1973, Edible Oils Packaging, 1988, Vegetable Oil Product Order, 1988, Milk and Milk Product Regulations, 2009.
One of the important provisions of the regulation provides for labeling and disclosing the names of ingredients along with their percentages in food and soft drinks. Section 24 of the Act puts restrictions, on misleading or receiving advertisements and unfair trade practices, promoting the sale, supply, use and consumption of articles of food or adopt any unfair deceptive practice or information which-
All persons/manufactures/dealers/importers of food items, are required to comply with the above provisions of the laws while advertising or disseminating information through direct or indirect promotional activity.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) set up under the Act, function sunder administrative control of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. It is a single reference points for all matters relating to food safety and standards, by moving from multi-level, multi department control to single line of command. The functions of FSSI include laying down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import, to ensure availability of sale and wholesome food for human consumption.
The Act provides penalty on manufactures of adulterated food items including fine of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, to be adjudicated by an officer of the rank of sub-divisional magistrate. In case of unsafe food, the sentence can extend from six months to seven years’ imprisonment, depending on the nature of the offence. In the event of death caused due to adulteration, the maximum punishment will be life term and fine up to Rs 10 lakh. The punishment will be doubled in case of subsequent offences.
The Act also provides that government will also pay compensation advertisement about food products (not injurious to health) the cases will not go o the court. The offenders would, however, be fined up to Rs. 10 Lakh
In case food manufacturing and processing units can be fined up to Rs 10 lakh if these do not meet the stipulated standards of hygiene.
Under the Act, all traders in food business will have to register themselves with the food department of their respective governments and obtains a license.
D. The Legal Metrology Act,2009
The Legal Metrology Act has come into force from March 01, 2009, after repealing the Standards of Weight and Measures Act, 1976 and the Standards of Weight and Measures (Enforcement) Act, 1985. The Government has also notified the Legal Metrology (Approval of Models) Rules, 2011; Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 2011; and Legal Metrology (General) Rules, 2011. The object of the Act is prescribed the scientific quality, standards and weights for a wide range of food products.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in its paper has highlighted the following aspects:
Be a responsible consumer
Consumers share the responsibility for maintaining an ethical marketplace. When doing business with any organization – be it a store, professional service, or a large corporation –today’s consumers should strive to conduct their business, following some basic ethical practices in the following ways:
Know your rights and responsibilities, comparison of shops, read contracts, and ask questions before you buy. Investigate offers that sound to good to be true.
Don’t return used goods under the pretence that they are damaged if they are not. This practice, as well as switching price tags and shifting (or failure to report shoplifters), costs all consumers in terms of Time and money. Honesty
Exhibit the same kind of honesty you expect to receive from business firms. If a sales clerk makes a mistake in your favor, point it out as quickly as you would a mistake in the company’s favor.
Live up to your obligations. Enter agreements in good faith, and pay your bills when they are due. If you can’t inform the merchant and explain why.
Recognise that store employees are individuals. Treat them as you wish to be treated.
Do not make unreasonable demands. Respect the firm’s right to limit services and products offered. Do not expect to get something for nothing.
FACC Character (Draft) Member companies will recognize that this Code of Ethics is voluntary and will undertake their business in accordance with the principle of uploading consumer rights.
Consumer Service Representative