Stringent penalties like jail term for adulteration and endorsing false and misleading advertisements by celebrities may still remain a distant possibility as the much-awaited Consumer Protection Bill has fallen off the priority list of the lawmakers as the last Parliament session for the BJP-led government in its current tenure comes to an end.
If the Bill is not passed in this session of the Rajya Sabha, then it will be for a future government that comes after the elections to pursue it.
The proposed Bill, which is to overhaul the three-decade-old Consumer Protection Act 1986, was passed in the Lok Sabha in December last year after it was introduced in 2015.
It was decided in a meeting of leaders of various parties in the Rajya Sabha held last week that only non-contentious bills would be taken up for discussion.
CPI leader D. Raja, who is a member of the Upper House, said "We agreed only to passage of non-contentious bills such as the one relating to Scheduled Tribes."
Speaking about the Consumer Protection Bill, he said, "I do not think so. Since there is no consensus, we said the government should not bring those bills on which there is no consensus."
According to officials in the Consumer Affairs Ministry, the major opposition to the Bill is from the medical fraternity and e-commerce portals.
During the winter session of Parliament, Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha member Dr. Santanu Sen had raised objections to the Bill saying the entire medical profession and the small traders will be affected by it.
He had said there was no provision for penalty against false complaints which may encourage people to launch false complaints just for getting money and sought further amendments.
A senior ministry official told IANS, "We are taking our best efforts to ensure the Bill is passed. However, we cannot decide whether it comes up for discussion."
Sachin Taparia, Chairman of LocalCircles, a social engagement platform, said the Consumer Protection Bill is the biggest consumer reform in three decades.
"It seems that all parties have together prioritised six bills for clearance based on consensus and the Consumer Protection Bill is not one of them. They must not forget that all consumers are voters too and reconsider this decision," he said.
According to an online survey conducted by the LocalCircles, 81 per cent of the total 28,000 participants considered it one of the three critical pending bills.
The Bill seeks to ensure faster dispute redressal for consumers regarding defect in goods and deficiency in services and will allow the government to regulate e-commerce and direct selling. The Bill also seeks to establish a Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to protect consumer rights and look into the issues related to false or misleading advertisements.
It has provision for fine and ban on celebrities for endorsing misleading advertisements. They can be slapped with fines up to Rs 50 lakh and face a ban on endorsements for up to three years.
The fine on manufacturers and companies would be up to Rs 10 lakh and a jail term of up to two years for the first offence. For any subsequent offence, they would have to pay a fine of Rs 50 lakh and serve a jail term of five years. A life term jail sentence in case of adulteration has also been provided.
It also has provisions for post-litigation stage mediation as an alternate dispute resolution mechanism and also provides for product liability action.
(Saurabh Katkurwar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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