Consumer Protection Rights in the E-Commerce World
The consumers (falling under the definition given in Section 2(7) of the Consumer Protection Act) could be both physical as well as e-commerce consumers. They have been guaranteed certain rights against the manufacturers and the middlemen involved in the production and distribution of the final products and services for consumption. The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’), since its inception has widened the scope of the rights and remedies available to the Consumers. This article would focus on the consumer protection rights of the consumers, in what cases can they file a consumer complaint, how to file a complaint in case of a grievance, and lastly, the relief that a consumer can expect against his grievance.
Consumer rights which have been guaranteed under the Act are as follows:
- Right to Safety: Under this right, the consumers are entitled to be protected against the marketing and sale of hazardous goods and services. These goods can be hazardous to both life and property.
- Right to Information: Every person falling under the definition of ‘consumer’ under the Act has the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, purity, standard and price of goods and services. This will protect the consumer against unfair and abusive practices.
- Right to Choice: The consumer has the right to goods and service according to his own choices which will lead to assurance of a variety of goods and services at reasonable prices.
- Right to be Heard and Representation: In case any act is against the interests of the Consumer, he has the right to be represented in the appropriate forum and be assured that his interest would receive due consideration.
- Right to seek Redressal: All the rights of a consumer are enforceable under this Right, which assures justice to the consumer by redressing any unfair trade practice or other type of exploitation. Justice is provided to the consumer by penalising the wrong doer in various ways mentioned under the Act.
- Right to Consumer Education: It is the duty of the Consumer Protection Authorities established under the Act to educate the consumers regarding the rights guaranteed by law. In furtherance of which such Authorities can introduce various rules and regulations for the welfare of the consumers by protection of such rights.
GROUNDS FOR FILING A COMPLAINT
The grounds on the basis of which of which a complaint can be filed are stated under Section 2(5) of the Act as follows;
- An unfair contract (defined in Section 2(46) of the Act) or unfair trade practice (defined under Section 2(47) of the Act) or a restrictive trade practice (defined under Section 2(41) of the Act) has been adopted by any trader or service provider;
- The goods bought by him or agreed to be bought by him suffer from one or more defects;
- The services hired or availed of or agreed to be hired or availed of by him suffer from any deficiency;
- A trader or a service provider has charged for the goods or for the services mentioned in the complaint, a price in excess of the price fixed by law, displayed on either the package of the goods or on the price list exhibited, or agreed between the parties;
- Hazardous goods and services offered for sale to the public, either in contravention of standards relating to safety as stated by the law or the trader has knowledge of dangerous nature of the goods.
It has also been stated under this Section that a claim for product liability lies against the product manufacturer, product seller or product service provider.
PROCEDURE TO FILE A COMPLAINT
In case a consumer faces any difficulty in relation to the above stated grounds of Complaint, the suggested course of action is to send a notice to the opposite party. The Notice should highlight the defects/deficiencies in the goods or service provided. In case a consensus is not reached between the parties with regards to the issue, the consumer can go ahead and file a Complaint in the Forum of competent jurisdiction established under the Act. However, the complaint must be filed within two years from the date the cause of action arose.
To discuss the issue of ‘competent of jurisdiction’, here are a few lines. The jurisdiction of the Forums is either territorial or pecuniary. Territorial jurisdiction depends on the place where the opposite party resides. However, in cases where there are more than one opposite party, then the place where the opposite parties reside or carry on business or personally work for gain. These places are considered to be the territory where the cause of action is deemed to have arisen.
Pecuniary jurisdiction of the Forums as has been stated under the various provisions of the Act is as follows:
- District Commission- Amount of the subject matter of the Complaint is a maximum of Rupees One Crore.
- State Commission: Amount of the subject matter of the Complaint is Rupees One Crore or more but a maximum of Rupees Ten Crore.
- National Commission: Amount of the subject matter should be exceeding Rupees Ten Crore.
This Complaint can either be filed in a written format with the Forum physically or provision for registering an online complaint has also been stated under the Act and its supplementary Rules. In either case, the Complaint should contain the following basic content: Name and complete details of all the parties, date and time of purchase of goods/availing of services, necessary facts of the case establishing the cause of action, particulars of dispute i.e. defect in goods or deficiency in services, relief claimed in any form and the copies of the documents supporting the contention of the complaint i.e. Invoice, Warrant receipt, emails, phone records, etc. Lastly, the Complaint should be filed with the requisite amount of Court Fees that is required to be paid in the form of Demand Draft.
RELIEF THAT CONSUMERS ARE ENTITLED TO
Now that we have discussed as to how can you file a complaint, let’s see what you can expect as a result. The Act provides for the following reliefs which can be granted by any of the three Forums (with competent jurisdiction), after the forum is satisfied that the Complaint of the Consumer is genuine and he has proved his allegations successfully. The forum can pass an order directing the opposite party to:
- Remove the defect pointed out by the appropriate laboratory from the goods in question.
- Replace the goods with new goods of similar description which shall be free from any defect.
- Return the Complainant the price, or, as the case may be, the charges paid by the complainant along with such interest on such price or charges as may be decided.
- Pay such amount as may be awarded by it as compensation to the consumer for any loss or injury suffered by the consumer due to the negligence of the opposite party. The District Court shall have the power to grant punitive damages if the circumstances call for it.
- Pay such amount as may be awarded by it as compensation in a product liability action.
- Remove the defects in goods or deficiencies in the services in question
- Discontinue the unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practice and not to repeat them.
- Not to offer the hazardous or unsafe goods for sale.
- Cease manufacture of hazardous goods and to desist from offering services which are hazardous in nature.
- Pay such sum as may be determined by it, if it is of the opinion that loss or injury has been suffered by a large number of consumers who are not identifiable conveniently. However, the minimum amount of sum so payable shall not be less than twenty-five per cent. of the value of such defective goods sold or service provided, as the case may be, to such consumers.
The above stated considerations are few of the basic requirements for consumer protection rights which every Consumer should be acquainted with in today’s world where there has been an increase in the level of fraudulent activities on the part of the manufacturer, seller, service provider etc.
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