The Consumer Protection Bill, 2019, as passed by Lok Sabha

SHRI AMAR PATNAIK (ODISHA): Sir, there are several provisions in the Bill which are really praiseworthy. Incidentally, in 2004-05, when I used to be the Principal Accountant General of Odisha, we had done a performance evaluation of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 at the national level across States, and several deficiencies were pointed out, particularly, relating to delay in the dispensation of disposal of cases, mainly due to infrastructure issues. Secondly, there was another issue relating to the punitive powers of the Commission. There were hardly any punitive powers in the Commission and it was largely a case of compensation dispensation under the Law of Torts. What is good about the new Bill is that it includes several criminal aspects into the Bill to give more teeth to the National Consumer Forum, the State Consumer Forums and the District Consumer Forums. It also opens a separate channel of mediation as a method of disposal of cases to hasten the cases probably. What it brings in is a new element of product liability, which is a very welcome development. There will be several new benefits to the consumers in terms of product liability provision. I would now go clause-by-clause to say that there are certain things which probably need reconsideration. One is the definition of 'consumer'. The definition of 'consumer' does not include a person who obtains goods for resale or goods for commercial purpose. That is basically a person who is buying goods from somebody to sell them to somebody else. He is not covered under the definition of 'consumer'. I fail to understand why he is not included. The person who is buying from another may be a manufacturer to resell it to somebody else. Ultimately, he is going to be a consumer. So, if you really want to develop the eco-system of product quality or product manufacturing quality everywhere, then everyone is a consumer and the definition should be much more broadened so that the system improves. There is another aspect about the General Provident Fund. For example, you don't pay any fees for the General Provident Fund or the Public Provident Fund. Strictly speaking, it will not be covered under the Consumer Protection Act. But several High Courts over a period of time and, I think, the Supreme Court also, have held that the Accountant General Offices are responsible for giving the General Provident Fund on time and correctly. So, I don't know whether this aspect has been looked into or not. Then there is a provision of the rights of consumers. It seeks redressal against unfair or restrictive trade practices. It also ensures that the consumer gets good services at competitive prices. I really do not know how it will overlap or conciliate with the Competition Commission or, in case of food items, with the Food Safety and Standards Authority. I believe there could be overlap. Maybe, this overlap could be at cross-purposes. There is another provision which I would like to mention here. It is relating to the timeline that has been set. What we had seen in the previous Consumer Protection Act is that if you want to check food items and send it to a laboratory, the number of laboratories is not adequate enough to give you a report within 40 days or 20 days or 24 hours. If you give your report after 48 hours or after 48 days, sometimes it is really not of any use. What kind of safeguard has been kept against that? It is something which one has to look into. I didn't find anything in the Act on this. There was also, I think, one miss in terms of health products and health services, which I don't know if it is deliberate. There is a second aspect relating to inadequacy or deficiency in dispensation of education in private schools. You are taking a fee, but are you giving a quality service? For that, the indicators also have to be mentioned very clearly. Is it going to come into the Rules or is going to be left to the States to formulate the Rules? It is something that has to be looked into. Similarly, there is deficiency in telecom services. In the end, I would like to say that the 'class action' which has been introduced in the Bill, particularly for home buyers, is very welcome. But the problem is the way the class action has to be executed because this kind of jurisprudence is new in India. Whether it can actually be effective has to be seen. I know for certain that the Supreme Court recently in a case has said that the contract which is one-sided and unfair cannot be sacrosanct. It is pronounced in the case of Pioneer Urban Land and Infrastructure Ltd. Vs. Govindan Raghavan. Now, this particular aspect is very essential in a consumer dispute. But this is not included in the Bill. This is the latest pronouncement of the Supreme Court. As Ravi Vermaji was saying, this keeps changing; Amendments also keep coming. But do we have provision of Protection Councils, which are advisory in nature, to promote consumer awareness, which would be looking into this or another authority which would be looking into this? This is something that the Bill is not talking about