Report | Coronavirus and Consumer Rights in India
November 30, 2020
The following report on COVID and Consumer Law by Prof. (Dr.) Ashok R. Patil, was published by the International Association of Consumer Law (IACL) in November 2020. Dr Ashok Patil is Chair Professor, Consumer Law & Practice, NLSIU, Member, Central Consumer Protection Council (Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India), Coordinator, Post Graduate Diploma in Consumer Law, NLSIU, Bengaluru.
The novel Corona Virus Disease (Covid-19) spread all over the world and has witnessed large outbreaks of emerging and remerging infectious diseases. India as of October 2020 has witnessed 79,90,322 positive Cases of Coronavirus out of which 72,59,509 has been recovered, and has reported 1,20,054 deaths. Due to which it has changed the consumer behaviour who are turning out to so called digital marketing and has scaled new heights by reducing the physical barriers and maintain the social distancing.
However, incessant flourishment of the digital marketing has led to rampant increase in scams & frauds specifically charity scams, phishing scams, fraudulent websites, fake mobile apps and supplier scams including price gauging in Health and scams relating to refund. According to India’s Home Ministry, cybercrime has increased by 86% between the month of March and April of 2020, and personal data is the most attractive target as millions of consumers have fallen victim to malwares out of which more than 90% of them being financial frauds.” The one biggest scam was around the Airlines Sector i.e., refusal to refund the ticket amount whereas Supreme Court in case Pravasi Legal Cell & ors., v. Union of India (WP no. 10966/2020) held it as arbitrary and ultravires. Whereas in Health Sector the AYUSH ministry ordered the Patanjali Ayurveda to stop advertising of the Coronil vaccine as there is no scientific prove to show the same. Its advertisement should be stop immediately as there is no medical authority which can vouch on the claim of the Patanjali of curing highly contagious disease.
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution issued an order adding surgical and N95 masks and hand sanitizers to the list of essential commodities under Essential Commodities Act 1955 (ECA) . The prices of 2ply and 3 ply surgical masks and raw materials used for manufacturing masks and hand sanitizers were also fixed under a later order . State governments were advised to take measures to maintain the demand-supply balance of sanitizers .A contravention of orders under Section 3 of ECA is a cognizable offence and can lead to imprisonment of up to 7 years, or fine and also potential forfeiture of the offending property. For offences committed by companies, officers-in-charge, directors, managers and secretaries can be punished.
Another major issue was around the food security and nutrition where ministry of consumer affairs has taken rampant steps to protect the consumer from food starving by means of providing Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana to ameliorate the hardships being faced by the underprivileged and poor on account of lockdown. The Central Government and the State Government (Karnataka , Telangana , Delhi Etc.,) had issued a notification for fixing ceiling rates for different Covid-19 tests, isolation beds and others and also constituted a committee to supervise the same. For instance in Karntaka, “A COVID 19 patient was treated at a private hospital and had struggle to pay Hospital Bill, the supervisory team headed by IAS officer Mr. Harsh Gupta and IPS Officer Ms. D. Roopa Moudgil visited and scrutinised the hospitals bills found several instances of excess billing and directed to refund the amount. Around 22 patients have now got refunded. The Karnataka in view of the same has taken steps to borne treatment cost under the Suvarna Arogya Suraksha Trust (insurance) scheme and request the private hospitals to reserve 50% of beds.”
In the meanwhile on July 24, 2020, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India enforced Consumer Protection Act 2019, and various Rules and Regulations. The Act aims to protect the consumer rights and their interest. The Central Government established Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) under CPA 2019 with an object to protect the consumer from Unfair trade Practice and Misleading Advertisement of Consumer as a Class and if the CCPA deems that there is a prima facie case make bring an suo-moto action and pass an order. The Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules 2020 was enacted to regulate the E-Commerce Entities/Digital Marketing. The CPA 2019 has brought a drastic change by empowering the Consumer Commission to receive court fees and filing of complaint in electronic mode and also hearing and recording of witnesses through Video Conferencing.
The Central Government and State Government have come up with various legal policies & schemes so as to protect the Consumer. Once the new legislation CPA 2019 is implemented at the State Level then we may observe better protection of the Consumers.
For more news and reports on COVID and Consumer Law from other jurisdictions across the world, visit the IACL website.Visit IACL Website