The Consumer Protection Act 2019 needs root-level changes either in the Act itself or by modifications in rules so that the need for filing complaints may not arise. A very small fraction of consumers approach consumer forums for their consumer rights against the malpractices of big manufacturers.
The Jago Grahak Jago
portal of the department of consumer affairs (government of India) acts like a post-office to deliver eye-wash replies from companies against whom complaints are lodged. Consumers are advised to approach the consumer court if they are not satisfied with the replies of the companies received through the portal. The portal must be made practically effective with the department made to scrutinise replies from the companies and take the matter further in case replies are found unsatisfactory.
It should be made compulsory that all companies on their websites provide contact details, including names of concerned senior officers and directors. All such websites of companies should compulsorily give details of government portals and consumer forms. Annual maintenance contracts (AMCs) should be practically made extended warranties since most companies fool consumers by not entertaining many aspects covered under AMCs.
All packaged commodities must be packed in true metric spirit in either units of one, two, five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and thereafter in multiples of 1,000 basic units, abolishing any need for printing the unit price on packs. A popular milk brand (Namaste-India) has started packaging milk packs in 450 millilitres (ml) and 900ml to look like earlier packs of 500ml and one litre, respectively. There are so many packages in milk and milk products like 400ml and 450ml, that look like 500ml, confusing consumers.
Drug manufacturers, at times, cheat consumers by packing commonly advertised medicines like cough lozenges in eight per strip rather than the normal 10. Many drug manufacturers started packing medicines in strips of 15 rather than 10 simply to increase sales. The suggested packaging system may be for medicines also, unless exemption is sought from a competent authority for dose-wise administration. At times, free gifts given by manufacturers to promote other products are swallowed by traders. The system should be to tie the free gift with the marketed product. “Not for sale alone” should be prominently printed on the free gift.
Commodities like ghee are packed in litres in packs of one or five litres, but in kilograms (kg) in packs of 15kg. A uniform system should be implemented for marketing such products by weight or volume. Since the Supreme Court has allowed the use of A-4 size paper, any further production of legal size paper must be banned. A slight modification in A-4 size paper should be made from the present 29.5 centimetres (cm) x 21cm to 30cm x 20cm to be in tune with the metric spirit.
Commodities with government-administered prices should be in the round figure of Re1 per unit (like for petrol or diesel) and in multiples of Rs10 for items having a sale price above Rs100 (like LPG refill). It will not affect consumers since the delivery persons never return the balance coins. Rounding-off prices can earn extra revenue for governments.
Since the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRA) and the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) challenged the guidelines issued by the Central Consumer Protection Authority on levying service-charge in bills of hotels and restaurants in the court, the Consumer Protection Act should be amended so that hotels and restaurants may not be able to impose any extra levy other than government taxes. Moreover, the Consumer Protection Act should ban the colonial practice of paying tips and direct hotels and restaurants to prominently display ‘No Tips’ boards.
India, being the largest consumer base, can impose conditions on foreign companies exporting commodities to India to set up their manufacturing units in India, especially when many such foreign companies flood Indian markets with products manufactured in countries other than the country of origin. One example is the setting up of the biggest manufacturing plant of Samsung mobile phones at Noida in Uttar Pradesh (UP). It will result in a huge earning of foreign exchange by way of export from India rather than a drain of foreign exchange in importing such commodities. The Union government should ban the import of items that are already available in India in much superior quality.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) should call a meeting of printer manufacturers, including representatives of foreign companies, to minimise the types of ink cartridges. The largest selling foreign company Hewlett-Packard (HP) has many types of ink cartridges of similar shape and size for their vast range of inkjet and laser printers. Such standardisation will heavily reduce the cost of ink cartridges. The condition should be that such accessories may be allowed to be manufactured by Indian manufacturers. Standardisation of mobile chargers on the lines of electrical plugs and sockets should also be done for mobile phones of all makes and companies.
The Union government should also induce standardisation of common accessories like tyres and batteries so that the same parts may be used in different models of cars produced by various car manufacturers. It will heavily bring down the cost of consumables through their bumper production in extra large numbers in some limited sizes and specifications. It can be achieved by merging some near sizes and specifications. Such guidelines, though also mentioned in the auto policy of the Union government, are never followed in actual practice. There may be just two variants apart from the third with automatic gears, one basic Lx for economy customers and the other Vx with all company-fitted extra accessories and luxuries for affording customers.
At presently, there is no limit on the allowed total profit margin on a commodity between the maximum retail price (MRP) and the ex-factory price of commodities, allowing huge total trade margins. Even economically priced generic medicines have printed MRP which is 10 times higher than their wholesale price. Such big trade margins induce corruption in purchases. Moreover, victims are normal consumers, especially in rural areas who do not have access to, and knowledge of, wholesale markets. The department of consumer affairs must fix the maximum total trade margin for any commodity to bring down the MRP of commodities.
Even renowned confectioners, having daily sales in lakhs of rupees, do not issue bills, resulting in a big loss to the exchequer. Confectioners should be directed to compulsorily stick a copy of the goods and services tax (GST) invoice on each box of unbranded sweets sold loose. GST authorities should be advised to have a common GST rate of, say, 12% on all food items, where presently luxury sweets attract GST rate of just 5% while salted items attract 12% GST, giving the liberty to confectioners often selling both the items to show more sale of sweets to save GST under the composite scheme. Such can be the case with other unbranded commodities taxable under GST sold loose. A fear psychology should be developed whereby traders may themselves voluntarily issue GST invoices to customers even without being asked for.
The national anti-profiteering authority (NAPP), working under the department of revenue, should be shifted to the department of consumer affairs. There is no provision for entertaining suggestions coming from experts either by NAPP or by other authorities. There must be some authority that may have the power to study and implement suggestions (if feasible).
A consumer forum in Chandigarh once imposed a fine of Rs9,000 on a renowned shoe company for charging Rs3 as the cost of a paper bag. However, the company and many famous branded shopping malls are still charging the cost of paper bags from shoppers. The department of consumer affairs should prohibit by law the 'selling' of shopping bags just for packing goods.
(Subhash Chandra Agrawal is an RTI consultant holding the Guinness World record for most letters published in newspapers.)