Updated: Feb 26
In a welfare State, the protection of consumer’s interests can never be over emphasised. The consumer in India, like in other countries, belong to the unorganised sector. Consequently, united efforts on their part to protect their interest against unscrupulous activities of the trade and business have become almost impossible.
The modern state, as pointed out by Prof. W. Friedmann, functions as the protector or dispenser of social service, industrial manager, economic controllers and as arbitrator, and has to take within its functional ambit the protection of the consumers.
The word “consumer” is a compendious word which includes all people irrespective of their sectional or group denominations. The word “consumer” is synonymous with the word “public”, and “consumer interests” is tantamount to “public interest”.
Thus the “public interest” is the predominant concern of every democratic State. The consumer protection is, therefore, one of the most important duties of the modern democratic States.
The Indian state has also taken many legislative, administrative and other measures to protect the interests of consumers from the exploitative deeds and deceptive or fraudulent trade practices of unscrupulous market operators.
Constitution is the ground norm of the Indian legal system.
Hence, the aim of the legal system is to achieve the goals enshrined in the constitution. For this reason, laws should be consistent with the spirit of Constitution. Similarly, the aim of the consumer protection laws is to achieve the goal of consumer protection and at the same time they should also be consistent with the spirit of constitution.
Consumer rights as a act of expression under article 19(1)(a)
The Preamble of the Indian Constitution declares its resolve to secure “social justice” to all its citizens. The right to be informed about the quantity, quality, potency, standard, purity and price of product are crucial to the exercise of other consumer rights. In India the “right to know” and the “right to receive and impart information” have been recognised as a part of the right to “freedom of speech and expression” guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
Time and again the Supreme Court has held that a citizen has a fundamental right to use the best means of imparting and receiving information and as such to have an access to telecasting for the purpose.
The freedom to telecast on the Doordarshan has been recognised by the apex court in Odyssey Communication (P.) Ltd. v. Lokvidayanm Sangathan, (1988) 3 SCC 410 know as Doordarshan case. In this case the respondents, a registered social organisation of Pune, filed a public interest litigation under Article 226 to restrain the Union of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the State of Maharashtra from telecasting the serial “Hony Anhoni” on the ground that it was likely to spread false or blind beliefs and superstition amongst the members of the public.
It was, however, held that the rights of a citizen to exhibit films on the Doordarshan, on the terms and conditions imposed by the Doordarshan is a part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), which can be curtailed only on the grounds mentioned in Article 19(2).
The right is similar to the right of a citizen to publish his views through any other media such as newspapers, magazines, advertisement hoarding etc. subject to the terms and conditions of the owners of the media.
The respondents failed to show that exhibition of the serial was prima facie prejudicial to the community. It was also not likely to endanger public morality.
In Secretary, Ministry of I&B v. Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) (1995) 2 SCC 161, The Supreme Court has considerably widened the scope and extent of the right to freedom of speech and expression and held that the Government has not monopoly on electronic media and a citizen has, under Article 19 (1) (a), a right to telecast and broad cast to viewers/listeners through electronic media Television and Radio any important event.
The Government can impose restrictions on such a right only on grounds specified in Clause (2) of Article 19 and not on any other ground. State monopoly on electronic media is not mentioned in Clause (2) of Article 19.
The Court directed the Government to set up an independent autonomous broadcasting authority which will free Doordarshan and Akashvani from the shackles of Government control and ensure conditions in which the freedom of speech and expression can be meaningful and effectively enjoyed by one and all.
Consumer Rights and Directive principle of state policy
Article 38(1) of the Constitution imposes a duty on the State to strive “to promote the welfare of the people” by securing and protecting a social order in which justice-social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.
Article 39(b) and (c) imposes a duty on the State to “direct its policies towards securing the distribution of the ownership and control of the material resources of the community in such a way to subserve the common good and that the operation of the economic system should not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to common detriment.”
These provisions in fact make the role of the State as the role of the dispenser of socio-economic justice and it is obliged to play it effectively to promote the “welfare of the people”. Thus, it is clear that consumer protection is one of the duties imposed on the State.
Article 46 of the Indian Constitution provides that state shall endeavour to protect the economic interest of the weaker section of its population and also protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
The term “social injustice and all forms of exploitation” besides other things may be interpreted to include consumer exploitation including all kinds of harassment and fraud in the marketplace.
It is the duty of the state to protect the health of its people and to strive to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of people. So, the State is under an obligation to check effectively in the market place, the flow of adulterated food stuff and consumable goods injurious to public health and safety.
Article 47 of the Constitution laid down the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. It is provided that the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption, except for medical purposes, of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.
Legislative competency to enact consumer laws?
Although, the term “consumer” is not expressly mentioned in any of the three lists, it should not present any difficulty for Parliament to enact legislations on different aspects of consumer protection because most of the items concerning such protection are already included in either Union List or Concurrent List.
For instance, railways, national highways, shipping and navigation, ports, carriage of passengers and goods by railways, ship or air, or by national water ways in mechanically propelled vessels, banking, bills of exchange, cheques etc. insurance, establishment of standard of weight and measure, film censorship,terminal taxes on goods or passengers, carriage by railway, sea, air, taxation on railway transactions and freights, offences against law with respect to any of the matters in List I etc., are items that find their place in List I.
Likewise, the matter of concern to consumers such as crimes and criminal procedure, adulteration of food stuff and other goods, drugs and poisons, commercial and industries monopolies, combines and trusts, legal, medical and other profession, price control, trade and commerce and the production, supply and distribution of food stuffs including edible oil seeds and oil, weight and measures, electricity,newspapers, books and printing presses etc., find their place in Concurrent List.
These are the item on which both Parliament and State Legislatures have power to enact legislation subject to limitation imposed by the Constitution.