Consumer Protection: A Distant Dream
Today we are living in an era of a welfare state which has to promote the prosperity and well being of the people. In other words, in the welfare state it is the duty of state to promote the welfare of the people by protecting a social order in which justice, social, economical 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 citizens justice, social, economic political. The directive principles of state policy contained in part IV of the constitution has also laid down certain economic and social policies to be pursued by various Governments in India. Under clauses (b) and (c) of Article 39, 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 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 general public is also emphasized in article 19 of constitution which guarantees a right to all citizens to carry on any occupation, trade and business but at same time it is subject to reasonable restrictions also. Under Article19 (6), state can make any law imposing reasonable restriction in the interest of general public. 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 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 manufacturer, traders and to protect the consumers from exploitation by unfair trade practice .Before the enactment of consumer protection Act, in 1986,all such legislations were there but 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 man from wrongs for which the remedy under the ordinary law for various legislations an regulations permitting the state to intervene and protect 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 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 “Net work 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 man helpless, bewildered and shocked. The malady is becoming so rampant, widespread and deep that society instead of bothering ,complaining and fighting against it, is accepting as a part of life .The enactment in these unbelievable yet harsh realities, appears to be a silver-lining, which may in course of time succeed in checking the rot”.
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 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 Consumer Protection Act 1986, which is designed to protect consumers. The Act applies to all goods and services (setion1 (4)) and covers public, private and co-operative sector. Under the Act, a three tier quasi judicial machinery i.e. District Forum at District level, State Commission at State level, and National Commission at 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 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. In case there are numerous consumers having same interest, one or more on the behalf of all can file complaint. The most important feature of the Act is that there is no need for court fees for consumer complaints. The Act provides for establishment of consumer protection councils in Centre and State to promote voluntary consumer movement and also to ensure involvement of consumers.
Now under the Act it is no longer necessary that consumer should be confined in his remedies only to his immediate dealer. He can sue in his own home town the distant manufacturer with whom he had no direct contract relationship.
No doubt, the Acts has fulfilled its objectives to a considerable extent since its enactment and various positive steps have been taken to promote the consumer movement but in spite of all the measures, legislative and administrative, the consumer protection still remains a myth. For many reasons, the consumer is being exploited by the unfair trade practices. He is helpless even after a decade since passing of Consumer Protection Act. Many flaws and loopholes are there in implementing machinery resulting in ineffectiveness of whole system. Shortage of staff in different level of consumer dispute redressal system, delay in justice due to many reason, 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 .Consumer does not constitute a separate class. Every body 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 consumer movement. Mass education of the consumer is very much necessary to make them conscious of their rights. In this regard voluntary organizations has a major part to play, to take up the the cause of consumerism most effectively .It is fact that 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 organization 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 existing, there is a lot of work to be done to create a good and healthy environment and to protect the rights and privileges of consumer 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 still there are lot of facts telling miserable story of consumers.
- This Article was written in Indian Context