History & Development of Consumer Protection laws in India
Authored By- Ekta Choudhary
Keywords: Consumer Protection, Consumers, Sellers, Rights, Development, Ancient, Modern, etc.
Consumer Protection has its deep roots within the rich soil of Indian Civilization, which dates back to 320 B.C. In ancient India, human values were cherished & ethical practices were considered of great importance. However, the rules felt that the welfare of their subjects was the primary area of concern. They showed a keen interest in regulating not only the social conditions but also the economic life of the people, establishing many trade restrictions to safeguard the interests of buyers. An attempt is made to discuss the legal of society followed Dharma-sastras (Dharma), which laid out social rules and norms and served as the guiding principle governing human relations. And the growing interdependence of the global economy and international character of the many business practices have contributed to the development of universal emphasis on Consumer Protection rights.
It is the duty of a State to provide every rightful consumer with assured protection from any unlawful business or unfair trade practice happening within the territory of the concerned country.
India being an excessively populated country with a considerably large number of people bearing tremendously poor knowledge regarding Consumer Rights and Protection is obviously an easy target for brutally business-minded people who actively or silently promote and support unfair trade practices in India, suppressing the rights of their consumers.
History & Development of Consumer Protection:
Manu Smriti narrates the social, political, and economic conditions of ancient society. Manu, the ancient lawgiver, also wrote about ethical trade practices. Thus, Manu Smriti effectively handled with various consumer matters, many of which remain of great concern in the modern legal system.
Between 400 and 300 B.C., Kautilya’s Arthasastra primary concern is with matters of practical administration, consumer protection occupies a prominent place in Arthasastra. It describes the role of the State in regulating trade and its duty to stop crimes against consumers.
Consumer Protection in Medieval Periods:
The consumer protection continued to be of prime concern of the rulers. During Muslim rule, an outsized number of units of weights were employed in India. During the rule of Alauddin Khalji, strict controls were established within the market place. In those days, there was an unending supply of grain to the town and grain-carriers sold at prices fixed by the Sultan.
The British system renovated the age-old traditional legal system of India. However, one among the outstanding achievements of British rule out India was "the formation of a unified nationwide modern legal system”. During the British period, the Indian legal system was totally revolutionized and therefore the English system was introduced to administer justice. However, it's important to notice that the traditions and customs of the Indian legal system weren't ignored. The law itself underwent considerable adaptation.
There are some laws which were passed during the regime concerning interests are
The Indian Contract Act 1872, the Sale of products Act 1930, the Indian penal code 1860, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940, the Usurious Loans Act 1918, and the Agriculture Procedure 1937. These laws provided specific legal protection for consumers.
For fifty-five years, the Sale of Goods Act, 1930 was the exclusive source of consumer protection in India. The main protection for the customer against the vendor for defective goods is found in Section 16 of the Act. It provides exceptions to the principle of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware), and therefore the interests of the customer are sufficiently safeguarded.
Consumer protection was also provided in India’s criminal justice system. The Indian penal code, 1860 features a number of provisions to deal with crimes against consumers. It deals with offences associated with the utilization of false weights and measures, the sale of adulterated food or drinks, the sale of noxious food or drink, etc.
The Consumer protection legislation passed after India’s independence from Britain includes:
The Essential Commodities Act 1955, The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 and therefore the Standard of Weights and Measures Act, 1976. Criminal law within the field of consumer protection has acquired much significance, as consumers are less inclined to go to civil court for little claims. It's been an attempt to appear at consumer protection as “a public interest issue instead of as a personal issue” to be left to individuals for settlement in court.
Due to unethical nature of business and lack of professionalism and responsibilities towards the consumers, these money-minded manufacturers and traders drastically hamper the genuineness and quality of their commodities and sell those out at high price within the market and because the inevitable consequence of such odious act, innocent consumers purchase that inferiority, substandard products out of need and suffer.
The Indian Consumer Protection Act of 1986 and therefore the Evolution of a New Legal Culture:
The Indian legal system underwent a revolution with the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, which was specifically designed to protect consumer interests. The CPA was passed with avowed objectives. It’s intended to provide justice which is “less formal, less paperwork, less delay, and less expense”. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted with the aim of providing “cheap, simple and quick” justice to Indian consumers. The CPA has received wide recognition in India as a poor man’s legislation, ensuring easy access to justice. However, the CPA simply gives a new dimension to rights that are recognized and guarded since the ancient period.
The Act establishes three different Consumer Courts to serve justice according to the differences in the disputed amount:
● Section 11 of the Act confers the power to promote redressal on The District Consumer Forum for cases amounting to disputed amount up to Rs.20lakhs.
● Section 17 of the Act confers the power to promote redressal on The State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission for cases ranging from Rs.20Lakhs to 1 Crore.
● Section 21 of the Act states that cases exceeding the disputed amount of Rs.1crore shall be redressed by The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
Consumer Protection Act, 1986 Amended in 2019:
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 8 July, 2019 by the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan. This momentous Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on 30 July 2019 and later passed in Rajya Sabha on 6 August 2019.
The Government of India introduced the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 with a goal to provide protection of the interests of consumers against unfair trade practices in India and to establish authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumer disputes in India.
What purpose does the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 serve?
The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 was solely enacted with an aim to safeguard the interests of the consumers in India against unlawful business activities and unfair trade practices and serve speedy resolution to the consumer disputes within the territory of India.
Rights of Consumers as per the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 are:
● The right should be protected against the marketing of goods and services that are hazardous to life and property;
● The right should be informed about the quality, quantity, standard, and price of goods or services so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices;
● The right to receive precise access, wherever possible;
● The right to be heard and to be ensured that consumers interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums;
● Right to consumer education, etc.
Consumer protection is usually a matter of great concern. In ancient India, effective measures were initiated to safeguard consumers from crimes within the market place. Ancient lawgivers very well described various kinds of unfair trade practices and also prescribed severe punishments for wrongdoers. Mainly, acts of adulteration and false weights and measures were seriously restricted. In ancient India, the king was the arbiter to render justice, but his authority was circumscribed by the principles of Dharma. In the medieval period, some Muslim rulers developed well-organized market mechanisms to observe prices and also the supply of goods to the markets.
During the British period, the Traditional system was introduced in India and many laws were enacted to safeguard the interests of consumers generally. Today, the civil justice system is decomposed with drawbacks that discourage the consumer from seeking legal recourse. At an equivalent time, these mechanisms pose an excellent legal challenge to the traditional courts which conduct litigation in orthodox ways. The consumers are the king in this new era, the dominion of Indian consumer law will undoubtedly rule Indian markets and bestow a new phase on the existing Indian legal structure with its strong ancient legal foundations.