Consumer Rights

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consumer rights

Consumer Rights in India   

A consumer right is the right of a consumer to be empowered and aware of the malpractices of sellers that may be harmful to the consumer’s interest. It is significant for the main reason that the consumer’s interest must prevail in the world. If he/she is wronged against, there must be certain ground rules that are set to remedy the wrong.

There are six main rights of the consumer that exist in India. These are as follows:

  • Right to Safety:

We live in a world of cutthroat competition. At all levels, each individual or organisation is trying to outdo the other in order to be at the top and reap personal gains. This is best seen in the market scenario today. In order to maximise profits and dominate the market, many sellers often end up offering those products for sale which are of poor quality and in turn harmful. A world-famous case which witnessed this is Grant v Australian Knitting Mills Ltd[1]. This most often is a result of using the cheap raw material in order to minimise costs. Hence, sellers try to conceal products of an inferior quality under the garb of an attractive packaging or product design. The inferior quality of products, for example, spurious, duplicate or adulterated goods and so on, may disrupt human health and hygiene, which is of topmost priority to individual existence and functioning. The goods and services sold to the consumers should not serve only the interests at present but should also be long-lasting.

Harmful trade noted in Hari Shankar v. Deputy Commissioner[2] and dangerous trade, seen in Lakhan Lai v. State of Orissa[3], along with hazardous goods, are major concerns to consumer protection. Hazardous goods come in various types. There are goods that release harmful gases. Some are explosive in nature. Both solid and liquid substances can be inflammable, that is, they can catch fire. Preservatives, decayed ingredients and so on, in products, can ruin standards of hygiene. Certain defective goods can cause serious damage to organs. These include products containing radioactive or toxic material.The examples of such hazardous products are witnessed by many. For example, deodorants containing an excessive amount of propane can not only harm one’s skin but are a peril to safety due to their tendency of catching fire. The subsequent use of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) made them even more harmful.

The consumer has the supreme right to safety or to being protected from the aforementioned products that could cause a damage to health and hygiene, and potentially ruin lives.

  • Right to be Informed:

Consumers cannot be kept uninformed or be ignorant about any detail of the goods and services being offered by the seller.This is because they are about to engage in the direct use of the product. They have the basic right to the complete information about the specifics of the product.Specifics of a product include its price, ingredients, date of manufacture, material or quality, that is, whether it has a quality certification or not and so forth. Directions of usage must also be mentioned along with all these details. Adequate information on the quality, quantity, purity and potency, standard and price of the product should be provided.Hence, there should be complete disclosure on the part of the seller as to the complete product being sold.

This right of the consumers is enforced in India, by making it legally binding for manufacturers to display all such relevant information on the packaging or outer covering of the product. This right ensures transparency and builds trust between the manufacturer and the consumer.

  • Right to Choose:

Consumers should know that they can access a variety of goods and services at competitive prices. They must be assured of satisfactory quality and service at a fair price. No consumer in India can be trapped in the monopoly of a product in the market. This means that no consumer can be forced to choose a particular product to consume as no market is allowed to be dominated by a single producer. Each and every consumer has the right to choose according to his/her discretion, across a range of options provided to him. These options are basically different versions of the same product.

Illustration:

If an individual wants to consume potato chips, he has the inherent right to choose amongst different brands like Lay’s, Bingo, Haldiram’s and plenty others. Different flavours may be offered too. It is entirely up to the consumer to decide which packet of chips he wants to purchase and consume. Hence, he has the right to choose.

This example can be replaced with any other product.The Indian government ensures a monopolistic market, that is, a market that has multiple producers or firms that are in competition.

The right to choose gives the consumer the liberty to consume what he/she prefers. It safe-guards consumer interest since any rational consumer would choose the product of the best quality at a reasonable price. In turn, all other manufacturers would find means to improve their product quality at a good enough price suitable to the consumer.

  • Right to be Heard:

The consumer is often deprived in the modern day and age. Many face grievances that they need a platform to speak about. They need to be heard. This has hence been made a mandatory right of the consumers.

Consumer interests must be given due consideration at forums. Consumers have the right to be represented in the multiple forums formed to consider the welfare of consumers.[4] Hence to ensure that the consumers are heard and compensated accordingly, they can file a complaint enclosing their grievance. A complaint as according to Section 2(b) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 allows a representative of a complaint. A complaint can be filed against a trader whose trade practices are unfair or restrictive, a service provider whose services suffer from any deficiency, or a manufacturer whose goods are defective.Complaints are the enforcement of the right to be heard that every consumer possesses. Any dissatisfaction with a product must be communicated. This right led to the development of customer service and grievance cells.

Illustration

In Anil Kumar v. M/s Naaptol Online Shopping Pvt. Ltd. and M/s Gati Limited[5], a complaint was filed against both the goods and service provider and the trader. In this case, the goods received were damaged. The aggrieved was granted compensation.

Similar was the judgement in VinodkumarVs. Shoed Merchant, Mumbai &Ebay India[6].

  • Right to Seek Redressal:

The consumer has the ultimate right of seeking redressal for products that fail to reach the standards that are implied or expressed by the manufacturer. Redressal is an individual’s act of correcting a fault or error, or to provide relief to the one who falls at a disadvantage as a result of the individual’s action.

There must be a fair settlement of genuine grievances of the consumers who have faced unscrupulous exploitation by sellers.

Redressal is provided by the manufacturer, seller, trader or service provider to his customers or consumers. It can be obtained in the following forms:

  1. Eliminating the defects in the good or service that the seller provides.
  2. Replacing the defective good with a new and similar good.
  3. Reimbursing or returning the price of the good to the consumer in distress.
  4. Compensating the consumer for the loss that he/she has suffered.
  5. Terminating the malicious, unfair or restrictive trade practices that the trader has indulged in.
  6. Discontinuing the sale of any hazardous good.
  7. Providing the inevitable costs borne by the complainant, for example, court fee.
  • Right to Consumer Education:

Knowledge is mandatory for a consumer to make informed and wise decisions that are best suited to him, otherwise he can be exploited. Consumer knowledge in the past has not been easy to acquire due to the lack of consumer organisations or associations. This was a major disadvantage to the consumers who took bad decisions in terms of product selection. Rural areas suffered the most. Hence, the right to consumer education has been enforced at present by various consumer associations and business organisations. This is done with the purpose of enlightening the consumer. The consumer must be educated as to what he/she should do in case any goodfalls short of the expectations created by the seller.

Every consumer should be aware of the rights that have been provided to him/her, for simply being a consumer. Any dissatisfaction that is a result of lack of education is also contrary to their right to consumer education.

These are the six pillars of consumer protection, known as consumer rights.

Consumer Rights in International Sphere:

  • Nigeria:

Nigerian Consumer Protection Council (CPC) looks after Consumer Protection. The government has been given the duty to ensure these rights through education. Health is given immense importance and unsafe goods are curbed. Consumer Protection councils ensure speedy relief.

  • Australia:

The agencies to ensure Consumer Protection are the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the individual State Consumer Affairs agencies. They ensure Consumer Rights.

  • European Union:

These countries collectively follow directives for Consumer Protection. The regulations set by the European Union is followed by the member states like Germany.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why consumer rights?

Consumers are an exploited section of the society. Producers and traders can indulge in unethical practices. Consumer rights enable the consumers to have a voice against these practices.

  1. What consumer rights do I have?

Each consumer has the right to safety, choice, redressal, be heard, consumer education and information.

  1. How are consumer rights violated?

Consumer rights are violated by the wrongful practices by manufacturers and traders. They often provide harmful goods and services and indulge in unfair or restrictive trade practices which harm a consumer’s rights.

  1. What are consumer rights and duties?

Each consumer has the right to safety, choice, redressal, be heard, consumer education and information. His duties are that he needs to use the good or service responsibly in order to deserve his rights.

  1. Are consumer rights human rights?

Consumer Rights are as important as human rights. They are not categorized under fundamental or human rights however, it has immense significance.

  1. The relationship between consumer rights and business rights.

Business rights and consumer rights are interrelated. Consumer rights are considered while framing business rights.

  1. What are consumer rights and responsibilities in health care?

Consumers must not be given hazardous medicines or equipment, they can choose the hospital they want to go to, they must be educated and imparted knowledge to.

  1. What are consumer rights available without receipt or proof of purchase?

The same rights will apply as long as the purchase is proven in any other manner such as bank statement.

[Reference]

[1](1933) 50 CLR 387.

[2] AIR 1975 SC 1121.

[3] AIR1977 SC 722.

[4]Retrieved from <www.consumeraffairs.nic.in>

[5]Appeal No. 354 of 2012.

[6]Appeal No 409.2006

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Sonika Sekhar
I am Sonika Sekhar from National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam. I have a keen interest in reading and writing, which stems from my fascination for the English language. Having done debates and moots in the past, articulation is of great importance to me. I have studied Civil Law and Consumer Protection Law in detail, along with some aspects of Criminal Law.