Celebrities endorsing products with unrealistic and dodgy claims will not have to go to jail but instead face a fine of up to Rs 50 lakh and a ban on appearing for advertisements for up to three years, a high-level Group of Ministers (GoM) assigned to look into the issue has decided.
The GoM on Wednesday deliberated on the issue and agreed to do away with the provision for imprisonment of celebrities, arguing that such provisions do not exist in any country.
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The group, headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, includes Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, Communications & IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Health Minister J P Nadda, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Power Minister Piyush Goyal and Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. Paswan’s ministry piloted the Consumer Protection Bill, 2015.
When contacted, Paswan declined to comment on the deliberations of Wednesday’s meeting, but said, “Our efforts will be to pass the Bill in the winter session after the proposal is cleared by the Union Cabinet.”
The Consumer Protection Bill, 2015, which seeks to replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, by inserting tough measures for the protection of consumer rights and providing strict punishment to violators, was presented in Parliament in 2015.
It was referred to a Standing Committee, which gave a report suggesting measures like making celebrities accountable for the brands they endorse, and called for severe penalties such as jail term for celebrities endorsing the brands, publishers and broadcasters of misleading advertisements and manufacturers of such products.
The panel had recommended that for first-time offence, the offender celebrities may be penalised with either a fine of Rs 10 lakh or imprisonment up to two years or both. For second-time offences, it had suggested a fine of Rs 50 lakh and imprisonment of five years.
The GoM decided that instead of jailing the endorsers, they should be fined Rs 10 lakh and slapped a ban of one year for the first offence, and fined Rs 50 lakh and banned for up to three years for the second offence.
“It was seen that in no other country is a celebrity advertising products jailed. So the GoM decided to do way with the recommendation,” a source in the government said.
The issue of accountability of celebrities as brand endorsers came into the spotlight after the ban on Nestle India Ltd’s Maggi Noodles. The ban was subsequently lifted. Actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta had endorsed the product. Cricketer M S Dhoni quit as brand ambassador of realty firm Amrapali following protests by residents who had invested in flats. Some other celebrities, too, faced public ire for endorsing brands that did not meet expectations.