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Dealers cannot shrug off responsibility

business Updated: Oct 05, 2008 22:56 IST
Pushpa Girimaji

You may choose a product for its brand name, but ultimately, it is the retailer or the dealer from whom you make the purchase. So if you have a complaint against the product, you will obviously turn to the shopkeeper for its resolution. But invariably, he will point to the manufacturer and tell you that it is now between you and the maker of the goods.

So whose responsibility is product quality? Is it only the manufacturer’s? Well, if you look at judicial pronouncements,the dealer by no means can escape responsibility for the products that he sells. In fact, the apex consumer court as well as the Supreme Court have made it clear that both the manufacturer and the retailer are jointly and severally responsible for the quality of the goods sold to the consumer. If the retailer has any objection to it, he can recover the compensation paid by him from the manufacturer, but as far as the consumer is concerned, he would be equally liable. However, where the case has been filed only against the retailer, they have made it clear that the retailer has to take full responsibility for the goods that he sells.

In the case of Ashoke Khan v. Abdul Karim, for example, the apex consumer court disagreed with the dealer that the manufacturer alone was responsible for the quality of the product. “It is true that normally such liability with regard to the manufacturing defects is to be borne by the manufacturer. But that would not mean that the dealer is absolved from joint and several liability,” it said. It also referred to the Contract Act and said since the purchase was made through the dealer, the privity of contract was with him. It was therefore incorrect to say that the dealer was not liable.

In the case of M Subba Rao v Avula Venkata Reddy, decided last year, the apex consumer court dismissed the contention of the dealer that he alone cannot be held liable for the poor quality of goods sold and that the manufacturer should be equally accountable. Upholding the verdict of the lower consumer courts asking the seller to fully compensate the complainant, the apex consumer court said it was open to the seller to recover the compensation amount from the manufacturer. Let me clarify — all these orders do not mean that manufacturers have been let off the hook for shoddy goods. What they do mean is that consumers have an option to file the case against either the dealer or the manufacturer or both. The orders also force dealers to be far more responsive when it comes to consumer complaints about the quality of the products that they sell and the claims that they make about them. In short, these orders ensure that dealers cannot shrug off their responsibility once the goods are sold.