• False and misleading advertisements promising things like whiter teeth in two weeks or four shades fairer skin in a month may soon a thing of the past once ‘The Consumer Protection Act 2019’ comes into force, expectedly later this year or beginning of next year.

This is the level of confidence National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) President Justice RK Agrawal (retd) exuded while delivering a lecture on the topic “Advances In Consumer Law – Vision For Future” at a conference on “Consumer Is Always Right?” organised by Rotary Club Chandigarh Midtown in association with Rotary Club Chandigarh Central on Saturday.

File Photo Of Justice RK Agrawal (retd), President, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission

Justice Agrawal informed the gathering that the Act, which is awaiting government notification to become law, while clearly defining what constituted a misleading advertisement, has for the first time specified penal provisions, including fine of up to Rs 10 lakh and imprisonment of up to two years.

“It also provides for prosecution of celebrities, including imposing fines (on them) for endorsing products with misleading claims,” he said, while expressing confidence that these measures will prove to be a strong deterrence against such unethical practises.

Justice Agrawal hailed several other forward looking provisions of the Act, including introduction of the concept of mediation, as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, and establishment of a national level ‘Regulator’ called ‘Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA)’ with wide ranging powers.

Enumerating some other important provisions of the Act 2019, the National Commission President said among these inclusion of offline as well as online transactions through electronic means or by teleshopping or direct selling or multi-level marketing in the ambit of the Act was quite noteworthy. He felt that raising of the pecuniary jurisdiction of district fora, state commissions and national commission to Rs 1 crore, Rs 10 crore and above Rs 10 crore, respectively was a welcome step.

“The changes that have been incorporated in the Act 2019 will most certainly ensure a safer and fairer market for consumers to interact with the providers, but to what extent, only time will tell,” he remarked.

While acknowledging that the 1986 Act, with amendments in 1991, 1993 and 2002, had benefitted lakhs of consumers, Justice Agrawal at the same time admitted to several lacunas in it, which needed to be fixed.

Huge Pendency

Sharing some facts and figures to point out that the previous Act had failed to meet the expectations of the consumers in a rapidly transforming world, he said though disposal rate of complaints in the various consumer fora had on an average been over 90%, yet there were over 4.5 lakh pending cases in all fora as on Sept 30, 2019. 

With cases dragging on for over a year on average, there was growing disillusionment and frustration among the consumers, who were hesitant in approaching the consumer fora. The reasons for the delay, he said, were many, including lack of infrastructure, appalling working conditions, non-functioning of consumer fora due to delay in appointments of presidents and members, adjournments taken by lawyers and unnecessary pleadings.

Why New Law Required

Giving justification for a new Consumer Protection Law, Justice Agrawal emphasised that with changing times, the consumer law had to grow in order to satisfy the needs of a rapidly  changing society and keep abreast with economic developments.

Another consideration was that consumers were now participants in a global and online market. The potential of the internet to create a virtual borderless market had made the domestic territorial-based consumer protection laws incompatible with the non-territorial or cross-border nature of e-transactions, raising issues relating to enforceability of judgements and laws, he shared.

Therefore, for a long time a need was being felt to suitably amend the existing Act to deal with these aspects of the globalised world, Justice Agrawal added.

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