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Consumer Protection: A Distant Dream

Updated on July 8, 2021
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Lawyer, Consultant & Politician: Expert in Overseas Education & Immigration Matters, Traveller & Blog writer

Today we live in an era of a welfare state that has to promote the prosperity and well-being of the people. In other words, in the welfare state, it is the duty of the state to promote the welfare of the people by protecting a social order in which justice, social, economic, and political shall be done to all the institutions of national life. The preamble of our constitution clearly states the functions of the Republic, and one out of other functions is to secure to all its citizen's justice, social, economic political. The directive principles of state policy in part IV of the constitution have also laid down certain economic and social policies to be pursued by various Governments in India. Under clauses (b) and (c) of Article 39, the state is required to direct its policy towards securing the distribution of ownership and the control of material resources of the community in such a way as to subserve the common good and the operation of an economic system which does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment. The idea of common good and interest of the general public is also emphasized in article 19 of the constitution, which guarantees a right to all citizens to carry on any occupation, trade, and business. Still, at the same time, it is subject to reasonable restrictions also. Under Article19 (6), the state can make any law imposing reasonable restrictions in the general public's interest. The expression “In the interest of general public” in Article 19(6) is wide enough to include public order, public health, public security, morals, economic welfare of the community, and the objects mentioned in part IV of the Constitutional background and philosophy of welfare state that our legislature enacted various legislations from time to time aiming to control, eliminate and punish deceptive acts and practices of the manufacturer, traders and to protect the consumers from exploitation by unfair trade practice. Before the enactment of the consumer protection Act in 1986, all such legislations were there. Still, experience shows that ordinary law was not sufficient for giving the required protection to consumers because many times, the procedure followed by the ordinary Courts was so cumbersome and time consuming that consumers could hardly afford to initiate litigation. As is observed by Justice R.M.Sahai.”The law of consumer protection has come to meet the long-felt necessity of protecting the common person from wrongs for which the remedy under the ordinary law for various legislations and regulations permitting the state to intervene and protect the interest of consumers have become a haven for unscrupulous ones as the enforcement machinery either does not move or moves ineffectively inefficiently. The importance of the Act (Consumer Protection Act 1986) lies in promoting the welfare of the society in as much as it attempts to remove the helplessness of a consumer which he faces against powerful business class, described as a “Network of rackets “to rob the rest and the might of public bodies which are degenerating into storehouses of inaction where papers do not move from one desk to other as a matter of duty and responsibility but for extraneous consideration leaving the common person helpless, bewildered and shocked. The malady is becoming so rampant, widespread, and deep that society, instead of bothering, complaining, and fighting against it, accept it as a part of life. The enactment in these unbelievable yet harsh realities appears to be a silver lining, which may succeed in checking the rot in the course of the time”.

The Consumer Protection Act, which is social welfare legislation, is a milestone in the history of socio-economic legislation in the country, and the main purpose of this Act is to protect the consumer from exploitation by unfair trade practices and to provide a speedy, simple, timely, and expensive redressal to consumer disputes and complaints.

Now, coming to various features of the Consumer Protection Act 1986, which is designed to protect consumers. The Act applies to all goods and services (setion1 (4)) and covers the public, private, and cooperative sectors. Under the Act, three-tier quasi-judicial machinery, i.e. District Forum at District level, State Commission at State level, and National Commission at the national level, is provided. The pecuniary jurisdiction of District Forum under Section 11 of the Act is less than Rs 5 lakhs, while that of State Commission under Section 17 is now up to Rs.20 lakhs. The National Commission has the jurisdiction to redress consumer complaints having value more than Rs.20 lakhs. Under Section 15 and 19 of the Act, the provision of appeal against the decision of District Forum and State Commission is also made. The complaint can be filed by a consumer or any consumer association registered under Societies Registration Act or State or Central Government. If numerous consumers have the same interest, one or more on behalf of all can file a complaint. The most important feature of the Act is that there is no need for court fees for consumer complaints. The Act provides for the establishment of consumer protection councils in the Centre and State to promote voluntary consumer movement and ensure consumers' involvement.

Under the Act, it is no longer necessary that the consumer be confined in his remedies only to his immediate dealer. He can sue in his own hometown the distant manufacturer with whom he had no direct contractual relationship.

The Acts has undoubtedly fulfilled its objectives to a considerable extent since its enactment, and various positive steps have been taken to promote the consumer movement. However, despite all the measures, legislative and administrative, consumer protection remains a myth. For many reasons, the consumer is being exploited by unfair trade practices. He is helpless even after a decade since the passing of the Consumer Protection Act. Many flaws and loopholes are there in implementing machinery resulting in the ineffectiveness of the whole system. Shortage of staff in different levels of consumer dispute redressal system, delay in justice due to reasons, lack of proper information regarding rights and procedure for redressal of disputes are causes behind prevailing practices of consumer exploitation.

Every member of society, manufacturer, or trader is a consumer. The consumer does not constitute a separate class. Everybody is included. Even then the consumer awareness is a distant goal to be achieved. The ignorance of the Indian consumer of their rights and remedies available is the single major obstacle in the growth of the consumer movement. Mass education of the consumer is very much necessary to make them conscious of their rights. In this regard, voluntary organizations have a major part to play, to take up the cause of consumerism most effectively. It is a fact that the trading community is well organized while consumers are still unorganized, ignorant; consequently, their exploitation continues unchecked. The Consumer Protection Act also stressed the role of voluntary organizations to educate the consumer to protect their rights and privileges.

Keeping in view the factual position of our society, where problems like illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, and backwardness exist, there is a lot of work to be done to create a good and healthy environment and protect consumers' rights. Privileges protection will remain a distant dream.

  • Article as published in All India Reporter, 1997 A.I.R. Journal, page 33 & 34
  • Law and situations may have changed since 1997, but many facts still tell consumers' miserable stories.
  • This article was written in the Indian Context.


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