Twenty-seven years ago, the Consumer Protection Act gave Indian consumers the right to repair, replacement or refund if products sold to them turned out to be defective. Yet, businesses do not recognise this right to date.
I get hundreds of letters from consumers about retailers and manufacturers who refuse to acknowledge this right of the consumer or accept their responsibility with regard to the quality of goods sold by them.
The attitude of businesses can be seen in the terms and conditions on their cash receipts and on the notices they put up at their showrooms, declaring that they will not take responsibility for the quality of goods sold or that they will neither exchange nor refund the cost of the goods. And the government, which is supposed to protect the rights of consumers, does nothing about it!
In sharp contrast, the Australian government tells consumers on its websites that under the Australian Consumer Law, it is illegal for businesses to put up notices such as "No refunds on sale items", "No exchanges", "No warranties for repairs - deal directly with the manufacturer" or "Seven-day returns policy". It exhorts consumers to report any such illegal notices by calling on a toll free number provided and underscores that consumers have a right to repair, replacement or refund of a defective product.
Similarly, in the United Kingdom, regulators, through their websites and brochures, tell consumers that their rights are not curtailed when they buy goods at a discount sale and that notices such as "No returns on sale goods" or "Sold as seen" are illegal. Call on the toll-free number and complain against those that put up such notices, consumers are told.
So, why aren't consumers in India protected similarly? First and foremost, there is lack of political will to do so. As a result, our laws are deficient and their enforcement even more so. In Australia, for example, the Consumer Protection Law is enforced by regulators. But In India, 'promotion and protection' of the rights of consumers is entrusted to toothless recommendatory bodies called the Consumer Protection Councils at the central, state and the district level, constituted under the Consumer Protection Act. Even the regulator for unfair trade practices (Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission) that once existed, is taken away (or dissolved), leaving consumers totally vulnerable to the machinations of the marketplace.
In short, in India, the much touted Consumer Protection Act does not fulfill the objective of the Act: "better protection of consumers". All it does is provide for a mechanism for the enforcement of one of the rights enumerated under the law - the right to redress of grievances - through the consumer courts. Even if the consumer courts or the grievance redress system provided under Act worked efficiently (and they are far from being so), they cannot be a substitute for a regulator. So consumers continue to be victims of unethical practices, unfair terms and conditions, defective products and shoddy after sales service.
Dr Pankaj Sharma: I purchased a pair of branded shoes at 40% discount from a multi-brand showroom in Katwaria Sarai, New Delhi. The shoes, which cost me Rs. 1,319 after discount, turned out to be defective. The showroom owner, however, refuses to replace the pair, saying that there are no guarantee at multi-brand showrooms. What do I do?
Answer: Whatever be the nature of the showroom, if the product sold turns out to be defective, the retailer has to take full responsibility for it. If he is unwilling to accept that, you will have to fight for your right to a replacement or a refund through a complaint before the consumer court.