CONSUMER PROTECTION – BACKGROUND AND INTRODUCTION

 

 

 

 

Each one of us is a ‘consumer’, right from the day the child comes in the womb till the day one goes to the grave. The child in the womb consumes through his mother. The question of the protection of the rights of the common consumer, if viewed in the above background, gains utmost significance. The industrial revolution and the development in the international trade and commerce has led to the vast expansion of business and trade, as a result of which a variety of consumer goods have appeared in the market to cater to the needs of the consumers and a host of services have been made available to the consumers like insurance, transport, electricity, housing, entertainment, finance, banking etc. A well organized sector of manufacturers and traders with better knowledge of markets has come into existence, thereby affecting the relationship between the traders and the consumers making the principle of consumer sovereignty almost in inapplicable. The advertisements of goods and services in television, newspapers and magazines influence the demand for the same by the consumers though there may be manufacturing defects or imperfections or short comings in the quality, quantity and the purity of the goods or there may be deficiency in the services rendered. In addition, the production of the same item by many firms has led the consumers, who have little time to make a selection, to think before they can purchase the best. For the welfare of the public, the glut of adulterated and sub-standard articles in the market has to be checked. In spite of various provisions providing protection to the consumer and providing for stringent action against the adulterated and sub-standard articles in the different enactments like Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, the Indian Contract Act, 1872, the Sale of Goods Act, 1930, the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1976 and the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, very little could be achieved in the field of Consumer Protection. Though the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969 and the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 have provided some relief to the consumers yet it became necessary to protect the consumers from the exploitation and to save them from adulterated and sub-standard goods and services and to safe guard their interest.

In the matter of consumer protection a major step was taken by the United Nations when after good amount of consultations with Governments and International Organisations, the Secretary General of United Nations submitted draft guidelines for consumer protection to the Economic and Social Counsel (UNESCO) in 1983. After extensive discussions and negotiations among the Governments on the scope and content of the guidelines, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the guidelines for consumer protection by consensus on 9th April, 1985 (General Assembly Resolution No. 39/248), In pursuance of the above Resolution of the United Nations, in the following year, i.e. in 1986, our Parliament has enacted the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’). The Statement of Objects and Reasons, appended to the Bill, which ultimately became the Act, stated that the Bill was intended to provide for the better protection of the interest of consumers and for that purpose to make provision for the establishment of Consumer Councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumer disputes and other matters connected thereto. Para 4 of the Statement of Objects and Reasons, appended to the Bill, reads as under:-


“To provide speedy and simple redressal to consumer disputes, a quasi-judicial machinery is sought to be set up at the District, State and Central levels. These quasi-judicial bodies will observe the principles of natural justice and have been empowered to give reliefs of a specific nature and to award, wherever appropriate, compensation to consumers. Penalties for non-compliance of the orders given by the quasi-judicial bodies have also been provided.”

The Preamble to the Act, as finally passed by the Parliament, is practically on the same lines and the same reads as under:-


“An Act to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers and for that purpose to make provision for the establishment of consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumers’ disputes and for matters connected therewith.”