Precious time is being lost in the ongoing session of Parliament in wrangling over specious issues, relegating to background very crucial bills such as Consumer Protection Bill, 2015. The importance of the Bill cannot be spelt enough.
At a time when global economy is decelerating, and Indian economy, its currency and markets are in a buoyant mood, there is a need to answer the call of consumers for a speedy and vibrant grievance redressal system. They want companies and organisations, government as well as non-government, not to take them for granted any longer. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, amended thrice, has failed them. Confident consumers do loosen their purse strings and spend more, thereby further revving up economy.
The new Bill proposes an effective Central Consumer Protection Authority to take up their cases on appeal or suo motu. The need for such a law has never been felt so acutely as now. People are increasingly falling prey to fly-by-night operators, MLM companies, ponzi schemes, fraudulent services etc. Greater consumer protection also assumes significance in the wake of explosive growth of e-commerce directly linking businesses to consumers.
Competition can only to some extent weed out inefficient or ill-intentioned companies. There is an outcry out there for a law that listens to consumers, enforces their rights and does justice to them efficiently and speedily.
Another significant feature of the Bill is class action suits. A class action lawsuit is one in which a group of people with the same or similar grievance against the same product or service sue the defendant as a group. It may be recalled that a woman Erin Brockovich won $333 million compensation in 1996 from a company for the people of Hinkley in California for polluting a water supply. Even a film was made on her and it won awards.
While individuals can fight cases against companies, organisations and even governments abroad in developed countries, in India, the said authority would do it, once it is convinced of the legality of a plea by a group of people.
Milton Friedman, an American economist and Nobel laureate, says many people want the government to protect the consumer. But, a much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government. The Bill would meet this ennobled objective. As per the Ministry of Road Transport, the total number of road accidents due to potholes for 2015 was 10,876.
One also hears often of fatal incidents due to dangerous conditions of roads. After creditably empowering shareholders and depositors with class action suits in the Company Law, the NDA government is now seeking to benefit all consumers, putting governments and private organisations on same pedestal.
The new law will force authorities, companies or organisations to take remedial measures, announce compensation in case of injury, loss of life or asset damages, and put the officials concerned in the dock. Even celebrities endorsing defective products or services can be acted against, say analysts. Hence, it is highly imperative that Parliament realises at once that people want the new consumer bill passage and that they need it now.