The government, instead of bringing an amendment to the 1986 Consumer Protection Act (“CPA 1986”) enacted a new act altogether. The objective to introduce a novel act was primarily to provide enhanced protection to the consumers whilst keeping the track-record in the account and the exponential boom in the e-commerce industry, including all the modern methods used for providing goods and services to the consumers via online mode. The rubrics of the Act has been designed in a way to provide safety of the pursuit of consumers, a mechanism to settle shopper disputes, the establishment of central grievance resolving authority, and regulation on deceptive advertisements. The developments of the new act attempt to cover effective administration and well-timed disposal of consumer grievances and complaints. There have been many significant changes in the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (“CPA 2019”), set out below are some of the key highlights of the new act.
Consumer: Act of 2019 has broadened the scope of the definition of Consumer by including all the consumers who avail/hire any kind of services/goods through either online and offline mode, resultantly, taking the E-commerce industry involving electronic means, direct or multilevel marketing, teleshopping; under the sphere of the new consumer protection act. CPA 1986 remained silent upon this facet.
Unfair Trade Practice: CPA 2019 has broadened the horizons of the definition of unfair trade practice. It now covers all the misleading online advertisements, common practices of non-issuance of the invoice, disclosure of personal information unless required by law or in the public interest, failing to return defective goods or defective services and refund of the amount within the prescribed time limit.
The novel concept of Product liability has been introduced under CPA 2019. This definition is not exhaustive, but rather inclusive as it includes product manufacturer, product service provider, and product seller, for any claim of compensation. Essentially, it means that if any harm is caused to a consumer by a defective product, manufactured or sold or by a deficiency in services, relating to the product then it would a responsibility of the product manufacturer or product seller of any product or service related to the product. The Product manufacturer or product seller will compensate for any harm caused to a consumer by such defective product manufactured or sold or by a deficiency in services relating to the product. Since the product seller is included in the definition it would automatically include all the e-commerce platforms within its realm.
This essentially bars the execution of any such contracts, which ex facie favors the manufacturer(s) or the service provider(s) and are against the interest of the consumer(s). Therefore, it has been embarked to cover the dominance/ prerogatives of banking and e-commerce industries over the pool of consumers in the market. Consumers being left with no other viable option but to sign such unfair contracts resulting in insubordination of consumers at a large level.
CENTRAL CONSUMER PROTECTION AUTHORITY
Another significant amendment that the act of 2019 includes is the establishment of the CCPA. This body has an underline objective “to regulate, protect, and enforce the interest of the consumers and ancillary matters pertaining to unfair trade practices. In order, to curb the menace caused by such Unfair Practices, CCPA has been also provided with extensive powers to inquire, investigate, and take action against the said violations. In addition, the CCPA is now vested with powers to penalize and take action against the endorser who has nexus with false or misleading advertisements, which essentially means a celebrity endorsing misleading advertisement can be penalized under the realm of CPA, 2019.
The CPA 2019 provides relief to the aggrieved party in terms of the period for preferring an appeal, instead of 30 days; now an appeal can be preferred against the order passed by the District Commissioner within 45 to State Commissioner. Whereas, the pre-deposit amount for preferring an Appeal has been increased from Rs. 25, 000 to 50% of the amount ordered by the District Commissioner.
It is to be noted that CPA 2019 has broadened the ambit of ‘Service’ by adding the word ‘Telecom’ to the list of services. Whereas, it astonishes that such additions have not been worded as ‘telecommunication service’ defined under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, which would have included internet, cellular, and data services.
FILLING OF COMPLAINTS THROUGH E-MODE
In CPA 2019, consumers can lodge complaints online/electronically. Moreover, now permission may be taken to attend the hearing through video conferencing. This will ultimately help in minimizing unnecessary burden upon consumers.
1. Pecuniary Jurisdiction: The pecuniary jurisdiction has been expanded and the new law, consumers can file complaints at the district level if the value of the goods and services in the dispute does not exceed Rs. 1 crore. Another remarkable change in relation to pecuniary jurisdiction is that for the purposes of jurisdiction, only the value of the goods and services are taken into account and not the amount of the damage claimed thus, the consumer can no longer delegate jurisdiction to a forum his choice/convenience by demanding excessive compensation for mental harassment, etc.
2. Territorial Jurisdiction: The new act bestows an advantage to the consumer by now authorizing them to launch the complaint where either complainant resides or actually works for gains.
3. Mediation: Chapter 5 of the 2019 act allows courts to work towards a settlement with the aid of mediation cells.
THE UNRESOLVED FACET
The definition of service has been amended under CPA 2019 but the head of Healthcare, still remains a matter of question. Though it was explicitly added in Consumer protection Bill, 2019, but due to high revolt form the medical practitioners it was subsequently removed from the definition through the amendment known as “Healthcare Amendment”. However, it is significant to note that the definition has a very wide connotation as before, listing out the categories of services it states, “but not limited to”, which leaves it open for judicial interpretation. Furthermore, in the case of Indian Medical Association v. VP Shantha (“VP Shantha”), the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that patients are consumers as long as they are making some form of payment for the medical service rendered moreover; the healthcare is to be included in the definition of services. Therefore, it remains a matter of ambiguity that whether the VP Shantha Case will continue to apply or, the new act will take away the basis of the Judgment.
Indubitably, the new act will bolster grievances of the consumers, but on the other hand, it may cause serious discomfort to the manufacturers and sellers. In a country like India, where people happily lodge complaints just to check whether a complaint has a plausible point, so to say that the complainant can use it to seek compensation from the courts, therefore, it behooves upon the justice delivery system of the country to infuse the intent with which CPA 2019 has been brought into effect. Therefore, to say, this would be a horrendous task for the courts to identify the veracity of the complaints and to ensure that none is left helpless on the cost of satisfaction of others (consumers).