PARLIAMENT ON Tuesday approved the Consumer Protection Bill, which seeks to establish the Central Consumer Protection Authority to protect and enforce consumer rights. The Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on July 30, and cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, has provisions with strict penalties, including jail term for adulteration and misleading advertisements by companies.
The Bill replaces the existing Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and aims to provide a mechanism for the redressal of consumer complaints regarding defects in goods and deficiency in services, right down to the level of districts. The Consumer Protection Bill, 2019, was passed by voice vote negating demands by some of the opposition parties, including the Trinamool Congress and the CPM, to refer the Bill to a select committee. Amendments moved by TMC’s Derek O’ Brien and CPM’s K K Ragesh were rejected by the Upper House.
Replying to the debate, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said suggestions given by members would be included in the rules framed by the ministry under the legislation.
Eyes on standing committees
The government's reluctance to refer Bills to standing and select committees was at the heart of the tussle between the Opposition and Centre during the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha. The other being the Opposition’s charge that the Centre was riding roughshod over federalism. With the session ending on Wednesday, all eyes are on the fate of some of the Bills, which are yet to get the nod of Parliament. With standing committees likely to be constituted soon, one cannot rule out some of them being referred to panels.
The minister said if a product is found faulty, instead of earlier individual examination, the entire batch would be examined. He said the new Bill seeks to take care of product liabilities and service, as well as action against publishers and celebrities of misleading advertisements. Paswan said that media and celebrities must only advertise what has been given in writing to them by manufacturers or else they will be responsible.
During the debate, members from the Left parties, DMK and TMC opposed certain provisions in the Bill, arguing it takes away indirectly the powers of the state governments.
“All the executive powers are being retained by the Centre but the financial burden, according to this Bill, is going to the states….The Centre makes rules for qualification, appointment as Members to the districts as well as the State Commissions,” O’ Brien said. “The states have to bear the cost of setting up these Commissions. And the federal power of the states, that is being taken away because of this Bill or certain clauses in the Bill. The states have not been consulted at all,” he said.
CPI’s Binoy Vishwam raised similar concerns. “In this Bill, the Central Consumer Protection Authority has become very strong. And, there are apprehensions expressed by various states that the powers of the states may be curtailed. The Central Consumer Protection Authority is the supreme body that will decide everything,” he said.
Arguing that the Bill is yet another example of assault on federalism by the government, CPI(M) member K K Ragesh said powers of the states are being snatched away through various provisions.
DMK’s Tiruchi Siva too argued that the Bill takes away powers of the states. “What is the reason for taking away the states’ powers indirectly in every Bill?” he asked.