An examination of the main problems facing the Indian consumer would make clear the need for more effective government intervention and consumer movement to safeguard consumer rights. The multiplicity of regulatory bodies without any coordination and independent monitoring puts Indian Citizens at a huge risk. Consumer rights, the laws protecting consumers rights and its limitations are all discussed in this article in detail. The authors are advocates practicing in the High Court of Kerala.
Consumers have always been at the receiving end of unscrupulous manufacturers and producers. The classic Latin legal maxim explains this predicament as ‘caveat emptor’ or ‘let the buyer beware’. The buyer or consumer is expected to be cautious while making a purchase and once a thing is purchased, the liability of the manufacturer or the consumer is said to have been extinguished.
Every manufacturer or producer is expected to show a duty of care to their consumers. This legal principle is the foundation of modern consumer laws which seek to redress the grievances suffered by them. Donoghue v. Stevenson decided in 1932 by the House of Lords set this principle in action by ordering a ginger beer manufacturer to pay the ‘consumer’ Ms. Donoghue a compensation of £ 550 which was a huge sum of money at that time.
Ms. Donoghue had found a dead snail at the bottom of the opaque bottle of ginger beer and she got shocked and was subsequently diagnosed with food poisoning. The duty of care by the manufacturer to the final consumer was established in this case. Also, this case caused to open up a category of cases giving rise to a ‘special duty’ and the case incrementally expanded the duty of care of manufacturers for products sold by them.
The legal system has since evolved much to cater to the increasing demands of the consumers to move against the manufacturers of unsafe and defective goods. One major milestone in this developmental phase of consumer laws can be found in the speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy on March 15, 1962, in the United States Congress which later came to be known as ‘Consumer Bill of Rights’. This new set of rights identified four basic rights of the consumer, viz;
- The right to safety
- The right to be informed
- The right to choose
- The right to be heard
This formed the foundation of the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985.
The Indian Parliament passed the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (hereinafter the Act) to provide for better protection of these interests of consumers. The Act intends to protect the rights of the consumers against marketing of goods which are hazardous to life and property. In this regard Consumer Safety is given paramount importance in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
The number of consumer products, introduced into the market, which run unreasonable risks of injury, multiply on a daily basis. The complexities of consumer products and the diverse nature and abilities of consumers using them frequently result in an inability of users to anticipate risks and to safeguard themselves adequately. The public should be protected against unreasonable risks of injury associated with consumer products. The United States Congress introduced the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), 1972 with these objectives.
(Read the full article in the January issue of Safety Messenger Magazine 2016)