AAs the recent news of non-compulsory service charge is buzzing across the country, here are some additional rights that every citizen should know about as a consumer in India.
Is there a special law protecting consumers in India?
Yes there is. It is known as the “Consumer Protection Act 2019”.
How do I know if I am a consumer to whom this law applies?
If you purchase goods or receive services in exchange for consideration (i.e. money), you will be treated as a consumer under the law. But if you buy these goods for resale or for commercial purposes, you will not be considered a consumer.
The law treats all means of purchase equally. Whether purchasing goods and/or obtaining services online, in person, through teleshopping, direct selling or multi-level marketing, all types of purchases are covered by law.
What are my rights as a consumer?
The Consumer Protection Act broadly covers six consumer protection rights that aim to protect consumers in general. These include:
1. Protection against hazardous products
2. Right to information on the characteristics of goods and services in order to be protected against unfair commercial practices
3. Right to be assured of access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices
4. Right to be heard and right to have the interests of consumers duly taken into account
5. Right to seek redress in the event of violation of consumer rights
6. Consumer’s right to information, ie the law applicable to you.
The new service charge rule states that imposing such a charge on a customer could constitute an “unfair commercial practice”. What is this unfair trade practice?
If an unfair method or deceptive practice is adopted for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply of goods or to provide services, it is an unfair trade practice.
This largely occurs when a statement is made – either orally, in writing or by any visual representation, by
- Misrepresenting goods or services as being of one standard, grade, quantity, quality, etc.
- Misrepresenting any rebuilt, used, refurbished, refurbished or older property as new
- Represent that the goods, services or even the seller have sponsorship, endorsement, performance, characteristics, etc. that they don’t have
- Make a false or misleading statement regarding the necessity or usefulness of any good or service
- Give any warranty or guarantee of performance, effectiveness or life of any product which is not based on adequate or proper testing.
What if I am sold a defective product?
If you are sold a defective product that causes you harm, the product manufacturer, service provider and seller who sells you these products can be punished under the Consumer Protection Act.
The law goes on to describe what “damage” entails. It can be one of the following:
This could include damage to any property other than the product itself; any personal injury, illness or death; any mental agony or emotional distress caused by the use of the defective products or services.
If any of these things have happened to you due to faulty products, you can file a consumer complaint.
An advertisement claimed that a product had certain qualities. After purchase, it turns out that this is not the case. Can anything be done in such cases?
Yes, these ads are called deceptive ads. According to consumer protection law, if an advertisement that describes a product or service is not accurate and leads consumers to take advantage of those products or services and leads them to believe false information, it is considered misleading advertising.
For example, brands that advertise products with the guarantee that their products will increase hair growth in a short period of time and do not provide conclusive scientific evidence, often mislead consumers with such advertisements. In such cases, you can file a consumer complaint.
What happens if I am charged more than the MRP (maximum selling price) listed on a product? What can I do then?
Often, products and services have a fixed cost, borne by the consumer. This cost, when set by the government, is called the maximum retail price (MRP). In other cases, this price is displayed on the goods or on a price list or previously agreed by mutual agreement between consumers and traders/service providers. In any event, when such goods or services are sold for more than this fixed cost, you may file a consumer complaint.
Are e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Myntra also covered by consumer protection law?
Yes, the Consumer Protection Act also covers the area of e-commerce. It specifically provides that sellers of electronic products will have the same duties, responsibilities and liabilities as any other seller.
It also states that any disclosure of a consumer’s personal information to another person or entity would constitute an unfair business practice.
Any product or service purchased or sold through an automated or electronic network is covered by such law. Therefore, all online retail businesses are covered by the Consumer Protection Act 2019.
The complaint mechanism for e-commerce transactions is as follows:
- In accordance with the Information Technology Act, all such websites/companies require a grievance officer to whom any such complaint should be directed;
- If the complaint is not resolved to the consumer’s satisfaction, the consumer can individually send the complaint to the seller/service provider with a deadline to resolve the problem;
- If the complaint is still unresolved, the consumer may file a complaint with the consumer forums in their own city/local jurisdiction.
How can I file a consumer complaint?
In case of violation of consumer rights protected by law, complaints can be filed in two ways: online or via a physical application.
Online complaints can be filed here.
Physical complaints can be filed with the Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission which is available at the district, state and national levels. A complaint can be filed in either forum depending on the value of the goods or services you used. For example, a district-level commission can receive complaints about goods with a total value of less than Rs 1 crore. Additionally, you can even choose to file a complaint in a different forum depending on where you live or work, where the seller lives or works, or where the dispute started.
An important point to note here is that consumer complaints must be filed within two years of the dispute arising. Complaints filed after two years will not be considered.
If you have any doubts about filing consumer complaints, you can call the National Consumer Helpline – 1915
More information on how to file such complaints is also available. here.
This blog is written by Aditya Tannu, Consultant Fellow and Shonottra Kumar, Senior Associate for Outreach and Communications at Civis.Vote, a non-profit platform that works to enable effective dialogue between governments and citizens on draft legislation and policies – using technology to bridge the gap between the two.