History and Growth of Consumer Protection Law
By: Robin Pandey Date: 26/February/2022
The moment a person comes into this world, he starts consuming, He needs clothes, milk, oil, soap, water, and many more things and these needs keep taking one form or the other all along his life. Thus we all are consumer in the literal sense of the term. When we approach the market as a consume we expect value for money, i.e., right quality, right quantity, right price information about the mode of use, etc. But there may be instances where a consumer is harassed or cheated.
The Government understood the need to protect consumers from unscrupulous suppliers, and several laws have been made for this purpose. We have the Indian Contract Act, the Sale of Goods Act, the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Act, the Indian Standards Institution (Certification Marks) Act, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, the Standards of Weights and Measures Act, etc. which to some extent protect consumer interests. However, these laws require the consumer to initiate action by way of a civil suit involving lengthy legal process which is very expensive and time consuming.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted to provide a simpler and quicker access to redressal of consumer grievances. The Act for the first time introduced the concept of 'consumer' and conferred express additional rights on him. It is interesting to note that the Act doesn't seek to protect ever consumer within the literal meaning of the term. The protection is meant for the person who fits in the definition of 'consumer' given by the Act."
The Consumer Protection Act provides means to protect consumers from getting cheated or harassed by suppliers. The question arises how a consumer will seek protection? The answer is, the Act has provided machinery whereby consumers can file their complaints which will be entertained by the Consumer Forums with special powers so that action can be taken against erring suppliers and the possible compensation may be awarded to consumer for the hardships he has undergone. No court fee is required to be paid to these forums and there is no need to engage a lawyer to present the case.
In the good olden days the principle of 'Caveat emptor', which meant buyer beware, governed the relationship between seller and the buyer. In the era of open markets buyer and seller came face to face, seller exhibited his foods, and buyer thoroughly examined them and then purchased them. It was assumed that he would use all care and skill while entering into transaction. The maxim relieved the seller of the obligation to make disclosure about the quality of the product. In addition, the personal relation between the buyer and the seller was one of the major factors in their relations. But with the growth of trade and its globalization the rule no more holds true. It is now impossible for the buyer to examine the goods before hand and most of the transactions are concluded by correspondence. Further on account of complex structure of the modern goods, it is only the producer/ seller who can assure the quality of goods. With manufacturing activity becoming more organized, the producers/ sellers are becoming stronger and organised whereas the buyers are still weak and unorganised. In the age of revolutionized information technology and with the emergence of e-commerce related innovations the Consumers are further deprived to a great extent. As a result buyer is being misled, duped and deceived day in and day out. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of nation, attached great importance to what he described as the "poor Consumer", who according to him should be the principal beneficiary of the Consumer movement. He said: "A Consumer is the most important visitor on Our premises. He is not dependent on us we are on him. He is not an interruption to our work; he is the purpose of it".
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted on 24.12.1986 and it came into force on April 15, 1987. In July 1987, all the provisions came into operation. This Act is a very unique and highly progressive piece of social welfare legislation and is acclaimed as the Magna Carta of Indian Consumers. The Act has made the consumer movement really going and more powerful, broad- based and effective and people oriented. In fact, the Act and its Amendment in 1993 have brought fresh hopes to the beleaguered Indian Consumer. This is the only law which directly pertains to market place and seeks to redress complaints arising from it. In fact, this legislation provides more effective protection to consumers than any corresponding legislation in force in advanced Countries.