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Ethical Consumerism. Consumer Protection Law in India

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The Indian legal system experienced a revolution with the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 ["CPA"], which was specifically designed to protect consumer interests. The CPA was passed with avowed objectives. It is intended to provide justice which is "less formal, and involves less paper work, less delay and less expense". The CPA has received wide recognition in India as poor man's legislation, ensuring easy access to justice. However, the CPA simply gives a new dimension to rights that have been recognized and protected since the ancient period. It is rightly said that

"The present-day concern for consumer rights . . . is not new and that consumer's rights like the right to have safe, un-adulterated and defect-free commodities at appropriate prices has been recognized since ancient times."

The CPA creates a sense of legal awareness among the public and at the same time, brings disinterest to approach traditional courts, especially on consumer matters. It has changed the legal mindset of the public and made them think first of their remedies under the CPA, regardless of the nature of their case. In short, the CPA has instilled confidence among the "teeming millions" of impoverished litigants.

The liberalization shows the care that has been taken to represent and fight for the cause of weak, indifferent and illiterate consumers. The novelty of the CPA is the inclusion of both goods and services within its ambit. The consumer can bring suit for defective products as well as for deficiency of services. In the event of any deficiency, all services, whether provided by the government or private companies, can be questioned under the CPA.

The CPA also liberalized rigid procedural requirements and introduced simple and easy methods of access to justice. To proceed under the CPA, the consumer need only pay a nominal fee and need not send any notices to the opposite party. A simple letter addressed to the consumer forum draws enough attention to initiate legal action. Another major procedural flexibility is the option the consumer has to engage a lawyer. If the consumer prefers, he can represent himself. The simple measures of action drive consumers to avail themselves of the benefits of the CPA.

Consumer protection laws are designed to ensure fair trade competition and the free flow of truthful information in the marketplace. The laws are designed to prevent businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors and may provide additional protection for the weak and those unable to take care of themselves. Consumer Protection laws are a form of government regulation which aim to protect the rights of consumers. Consumer protection is linked to the idea of "consumer rights" (that consumers have various rights as consumers), and to the formation of consumer organizations which help consumers make better choices in the marketplace.

The Consumer Protection Act 1986 is a social welfare legislation which was enacted as a result of widespread consumer protection movement. Consumer Protection Act imposes strict liability on a manufacturer, in case of supply of defective goods by him, and a service provider, in case of deficiency in rendering of its services. In order to promote and protect the rights and interests of consumers, quasi judicial machinery is sought to be set up at district, state and central levels. These quasi judicial bodies have to observe the principles of natural justice and have been empowered to give reliefs, of specific nature and also to impose penalties for non compliance of the orders given by such bodies.

Consumer is defined as someone who acquires goods or services for direct use or ownership rather than for resale or use in production and manufacturing.

Consumer interests can also be protected by promoting competition in the markets which directly and indirectly serve consumers, consistent with economic efficiency, but this topic is treated in Competition law.

Consumer protection can also be asserted via non-government organizations and individuals as consumer activism.

The salient features of the Act are:

(I) It covers all the sectors whether private, public, and cooperative or any person. The provisions of the Act are compensatory as well as preventive and punitive in nature and the Act applies to all goods covered by sale of goods Act and services unless specifically exempted by the Central Government;

(II) It enshrines the following rights of consumers:

 Right to be protected against the marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property;

 Right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services so as to protect the consumers against unfair trade practices;

 Right to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices;

 Right to be heard and to be assured that consumer' interests will receive due consideration at the appropriate fora;

 Right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; and

 Right to consumer education;

(III) The Act also envisages establishment of Consumer Protection Councils at the central, state and district levels, whose main objectives are to promote



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