Buyers suing firms for faulty products or approaching consumer courts to settle disputes won’t need to hire lawyers. Also, all such cases have to be decided within 90 days.
These consumer-friendly moves are part of a new consumer rights bill that is likely to be tabled in Parliament next month.
The last issue that remains to be fixed is the exact provisions on celebrity endorsements. The government is not in favour of harsh jail terms for celebrities appearing in deceptive advertisements, but they may face heavy fines and bans if products they endorse are found dangerous, substandard and misleading.
A parliamentary panel had recommended up to five years of jail for celebrities endorsing untruthful products.
The bill will make provisions to set up a consumer protection authority, empowered to initiate complaints and investigation on its own. Buyers won’t need to hire lawyers to sue firms for faulty products or bad service. The consumer affairs ministry’s previous stand was that lawyers must represent cases involving more than `2 lakh worth of goods and services.
The bill seeks to replace an outdated law governing legal rights of consumers and expand their rights in a changed economy marked by e-commerce and digital transactions.
Consumers will be able to sue manufacturers even before they actually buy their products if they feel a product or its sample is prima facie faulty or too good to be true.
For instance, products that promise crash cures to chronic diseases. Firms selling these miraculous cures can be sued by a prospective consumer even if no transaction has taken place.
The revamped legislation focuses on dismantling hurdles built into the country’s consumer-court system.
If Parliament passes the bill, appeals decided in states can’t be re-appealed at the national-level consumer court to ensure time-bound settlement. District courts will be empowered to admit cases on goods and services worth up to Rs 1 crore, up from Rs 20 lakh. This will increase access to consumer courts for high-value products even at the local level.
The ministry had moved the Consumer Protection Bill 2015 last August in the Lok Sabha, aiming to replace the consumer protection act of 1986. The bill was referred to a parliamentary standing committee and is likely to be tabled when Parliament sits from November 16.