Consumer Protection Act, 2019 – Key Highlights

COPRA 1986  V/s  COPRA 2019

The Digital Age has ushered in a new era of commerce and digital branding, as well as a new set of customer expectations. Digitisation has provided easy access, a large variety of choice, convenient payment mechanisms, improved services and shopping as per convenience. However, along the growth path it also brought in challenges related to consumer protection.

Keeping this in mind and to address the new set of challenges faced by consumers in the digital age, the Indian Parliament, on 6 August 2019, passed the landmark Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 which aims to provide the timely and effective administration and settlement of consumer disputes. The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (New Act) received the assent of the President of India and was published in the official gazette on 9 August 2019. The New Act will come into force on such date as the Central Government may so notify. The New Act seeks to replace the more than 3 (three) decades old Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (Act).

Key Highlights of the New Act:

- Covers E-Commerce Transactions: The New Act has widened the definition of 'consumer'. The definition now includes any person who buys any goods, whether through offline or online transactions, electronic means, teleshopping, direct selling or multi-level marketing. The earlier Act did not specifically include e-commerce transactions, and this lacuna has been addressed by the New Act.

- Improved pecuniary jurisdiction

The New Act enhances the pecuniary jurisdictions of the following forums: –
District Commission: – from Rupees 20 Lakhs to Rupees 1 Crore
State Commission: – from Rupees 1 Crore to Rupees Ten Crore
National Commission: – from Rupees 1 Crore to above 10 Crore
However, the New Act mandates the Commission to suggest mediation between parties before admitting the complaint.

- E-Filing of Complaints: The New Act provides flexibility to the consumer to file complaints with the jurisdictional consumer forum located at the place of residence or work of the consumer. This is unlike the current practice of filing it at the place of purchase or where the seller has its registered office address. The New Act also contains enabling provisions for consumers to file complaints electronically and for hearing and/or examining parties through video-conferencing. This is aimed to provide procedural ease and reduce inconvenience and harassment for the consumers.

- Establishment of Central Consumer Protection Authority: The New Act proposes the establishment of a regulatory authority known as the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), with wide powers of enforcement. The CCPA will have an investigation wing, headed by a Director-General, which may conduct inquiry or investigation into consumer law violations.The new Authority also can “promote”, “protect” and “enforce” the rights a class of consumers.  The CCPA has been granted wide powers to take suo-moto actions, recall products, order reimbursement of the price of goods/services, cancel licenses and file class action suits, if a consumer complaint affects more than 1 (one) individual.

- Product Liability & Penal Consequences: The New Act has introduced the concept of product liability and brings within its scope, the product manufacturer, product service provider and product seller, for any claim for compensation. The term 'product seller' is defined to include a person who is involved in placing the product for a commercial purpose and as such would include e-commerce platforms as well. The defense that e-commerce platforms merely act as 'platforms' or 'aggregators' will not be accepted. There are increased liability risks for manufacturers as compared to product service providers and product sellers, considering that under the New Act, manufacturers will be liable in product liability action even where he proves that he was not negligent or fraudulent in making the express warranty of a product. Certain exceptions have been provided under the New Act from liability claims, such as, that the product seller will not be liable where the product has been misused, altered or modified.

- Unfair Trade Practices: The New Act introduces a specific broad definition of Unfair Trade Practices, which also includes sharing of personal information given by the consumer in confidence, unless such disclosure is made in accordance with the provisions of any other law.

- Penalties for Misleading Advertisement: The CCPA may impose a penalty of up to INR 1,000,000 (Indian Rupees One Million) on a manufacturer or an endorser, for a false or misleading advertisement. The CCPA may also sentence them to imprisonment for up to 2 (two) years for the same. In case of a subsequent offence, the fine may extend to INR 5,000,000 (Indian Rupees Five Million) and imprisonment of up to 5 (five) years. The CCPA can also prohibit the endorser of a misleading advertisement from endorsing that particular product or service for a period of up to 1 (one) year. For every subsequent offence, the period of prohibition may extend to 3 (three) years.

- The New Act fixes liability on endorsers considering that there have been numerous instances in the recent past where consumers have fallen prey to unfair trade practices under the influence of celebrities acting as brand ambassadors. In such cases, it becomes important for the endorser to take the onus and exercise due diligence to verify the veracity of the claims made in the advertisement to refute liability claims.

- Provision for Alternate Dispute Resolution: The New Act provides for mediation as an Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanism, making the process of dispute adjudication simpler and quicker. This will help with the speedier resolution of disputes and reduce pressure on consumer courts, who already have numerous cases pending before them.

With the New Act all set to become the law, gone are the days, where the 'consumer was asked to beware'. A consumer is now the one who assumes to be treated like a King. Hence, it is important for consumer driven businesses (such as, retail, e-commerce) to be mindful of the changes in the legal landscape and have robust policies dealing with consumer redressal in place. Consumer driven businesses must also strive to take extra precautions against unfair trade practices and unethical business practices.

For Full details please read the Gazette Notification by clicking on the following link: COPRA 2019

Here's how consumers will benefit under the new Consumer Protection Act

The new Consumer Protection Act proposes a slew of measures and tightens the existing rules to further safeguard consumer rights. The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 has recently replaced the three-decade old Consumer Protection Act, 1986. 
Introduction of a central regulator, strict penalties for misleading advertisements and guidelines for e-commerce and electronic service providers are some of the key highlights.

Consumer courts

Consumer redressal commissions, aka consumer courts, are present at the district, state and national levels to address consumer complaints. The Act has increased the pecuniary jurisdiction, which means ability of courts to take up cases depending on the value of the case, of the consumer courts. “Since access to district courts is better compared to state and national commissions, the increase in limit to Rs 1 crore of district courts will be a convenience point,” says M.R. Madhavan, Co-Founder and President, PRS Legislative Research.

Another crucial change says that now the money spent on buying the product till that time will determine the value of the case as opposed to the previous parameter of total value of the purchased goods/service. “Say something is bought on discount, it’s only fair that the amount the consumer has paid is the determiner in place of the MRP,” says Madhavan.

In another move, the Act allows consumers to file their complaint with the court from anywhere. This comes as a big relief as earlier they were required to file complaint in the area where the seller or service provider was located. This is a fitting move considering the rise in e-commerce purchases, where the seller could be located anywhere. In addition, the Act also enables the consumer to seek a hearing through video conferencing, saving him both money and time.

What has changed in the new Act?

Product liability
The Act has proposed provisions for product liability under which a manufacturer or a service provider has to compensate a consumer if their good/service cause injury or loss to the consumer due to manufacturing defect or poor service. For instance, if a pressure cooker explodes due to a manufacturing defect and harms the consumer, the manufacturer is liable to compensate the consumer for the injury. Earlier, the consumer would only be compensated with the cooker’s cost. The consumer could ask for compensation, but through a civil court, which usually takes years to resolve a case, and not consumer forum.

The most significant impact of this provision will be on e-commerce platforms as it also includes service providers under its ambit. “Product liability is now extended to service providers and sellers along with manufacturers. This means e-commerce sites cannot escape as aggregators anymore,” says Mukesh Jain, Founder, Mukesh Jain & Associates.

E-commerce under the radar
E-commerce will now be governed by all the laws that apply to direct selling. The guidelines propose that platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal etc will have to disclose sellers’ details, such as their address, website, email, etc and other conditions related to refund, exchange, terms of contract and warranty on their website to increase transparency.

The onus of ensuring that no counterfeit products are sold on these platforms will also most likely lie with the companies. If any such product is reported or recognised, the company could be penalised. This move is fitting since cases of fake products sold through e-commerce platforms is rampant. A survey by a social community platform Local Circles conducted in December last year showed that 38% respondents out of 6,923 were sold counterfeit products from an ecommerce site in one year.

Separate regulator
The Act proposes establishment of a central regulator, Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), to address issues related to consumer rights, unfair trade practices, misleading advertisements and impose penalties for selling faulty and fake products. Broadly, regulatory moves of CCPA will be directed towards the manufacturers, sellers and service providers and will not address customers’ grievances and disputes directly. Nevertheless, the overall purpose of CCPA is to strengthen the existing consumer rights.

Source: http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/210422.pdf , Economic Times. Mondaq.com, The Indian Lawyer

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