Evolution of Consumerism in India- Journey from ‘Caveat emptor’ to ‘Caveat venditor’

Lately, India has started witnessing an increase in awareness of rights of its citizens. Be it women, backward classes or homosexuals, Indians have started demanding enforcement of their rights and enactment of laws wherever required.

One such law that was enacted as an urgent need was felt was the Consumer Protection Act 1986. Long back, the Latin maxim that was applicable was ‘caveat emptor’ which means ‘Let the buyer beware’. A consumer was subjected to exploitation by unscrupulous traders and service providers. But on having known the conditions in which the civil courts work and the time period they require to dispose the cases, an aggrieved consumer would never approach the court.

Thus a need was felt to provide protection to these helpless consumers and reach the democratic goal of ‘Justice within Reach’. To this end, Consumer Protection Act 1986 was enacted.

The act has been generous enough while defining a consumer. The act defines consumer as person who pays money for goods and services and deserves to get what he pays for.

Section 2(d) of the act recognizes two categories of consumers:-

  • Consumer of goods
  • Consumer of services

The term consumer however does not cover a person who obtains goods for resale or commercial purposes. It also does not cover a person who avails of services for any commercial purpose.

The Consumer Protection Act provides for a three tier quasi-judicial machinery at the district, state and national level. It is a redressal mechanism formulated exclusively for the consumers. This act was thus need of the hour.

 Various landmark judgements have been given post the act which have created wonders in the history of consumerism in India.

One such class of consumers which has lately benefitted a lot through this act and its enforcement is the home buyers. Home buyers are often taken for a ride by the builders who delay in handing them over their flats in the said time period. But certain recent judgements seem to indicate better days for home buyers.

A recent case of Shubhechha Welfare Society v Earth Infrastructure Pvt Ltd (Consumer Case no. 1197 of 2016) gave a huge relief to the aggrieved home buyers. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) had allowed multiple individuals, who bought flats from real estate developer Amrapali, to club their cases to cross the Rs 1 crore ceiling, which was challenged by the builder before the apex court.

The apex court also upheld the order of  NCDRC that flat buyers can jointly approach it in case of a dispute with the builder.

According to the Consumer Protection Act, a plea can be filed in NCDRC only if the cost involved is more than Rs 1 Crore. But the Supreme court has paved the way for homebuyers to directly drag the builders to NCDRC for delay in delivering the projects. However, homebuyers must come together for fulfilling the criteria required to file a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act, the apex court ruled while rejecting an appeal filed by Amrapali Sapphire Developers Pvt Ltd against 43 flat buyers who had together moved the NCDRC against it for delay in handing over the possession of their flats.  Some of the laws other than consumer protection act which are in favour of consumers inter alia are Prevention of food adulteration act 1954, Essential Commodities Act 1955, sale of goods act 1930.

Along with legislations, various schemes have been introduced to make consumers aware of their rights. The slogan ‘JagoGrahakJago’ has now become a household name as a result of the publicity campaign undertaken in the past few years. Through the increased thrust on consumer awareness in the XIth Five Year Plan, the Government has endeavoured to inform the common man of his rights as a consumer. As part of the consumer awareness scheme, the rural and remote areas have been given the top priority. The Government has used multiple channels to create awareness.

Brazil is considered to have a complete and a very strict Consumer Protection Code (CPC). The CPC prohibits products that present unreasonable risks to a consumer’s life, health, and safety, as well as deceptive or coercive advertising tactics. The CPC also requires suppliers to immediately inform consumers of any knowledge of potential harm or danger arising from the use of a product already sold. Three provisions under the CPC that suppliers should be specifically aware of are: product liability, advertising, and contract provisions and rights.

The International Organisation of Consumers’ Union (IOCU) has formulated the following eight consumer rights (most of which are also recognized by the Consumer Protection Act in India)

  • The right to safety
  • The right to be informed
  • The right to choose
  • The right to be heard
  • The right to redress
  • The right to consumer protection
  • The right to consumer education
  • The right to healthy environment
  • The right to basic needs

Thanks to the national as well as the global consumer movement that today we have come long way from the time when ‘consumers’ had to be beware. The increase in awareness and publicity through print and electonic media is the major factor. A citizen can enforce his rights only when he is aware of it. Education too has played its role.

Along with rights, come one’s duties. Some of the basic duties of consumers are as follows:-

  • A consumer must be cautious. He should not blindly believe the words of the seller. He must insist on getting full information on quantity, quality, utility, price etc.
  • A consumer must never get carried away by the advertisements. He should compare the actual use of the products with the use shown in the advertisement
  • A consumer must file a complaint even for a small loss. This awareness among the consumers will make the sellers more conscious to supply quality product. The complaint should be genuine and should not exaggerate the loss.
  • A consumer must insist on cash memo. To file a complaint, consumer needs evidence of purchase and cash memo is the proof of it.

To conclude, it can be said that we have come long way from the application of the maxim ‘Caveat Emptor’ (Let the buyer beware). The maxim that seems to be more relevant today is ‘Caveat Venditor’ (Let the seller beware) and the increase in consumer movement, both in India and abroad has indeed paved the way for a bright future of consumers.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Krupa Thakkar

KRUPA THAKKAR

Krupa Thakkar is currently pursuing BLS LLB from Government Law College, Mumbai. She is presently in her second year. Always eager to learn new things, she keeps herself updated with happenings around the world. Though not an extrovert, she makes sure that she performs the best whenever she is allotted any task.

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