New tough consumer law under making is the need of the hour

Empowering consumers through a modern, simple and progressive law is a welcome move. Apart from protecting consumer interest, the new law that replaces Consumer Protection Act of 1986, should be able to curb unfair trade practices. Vetted by the Union cabinet, it should clearly define the role of brand ambassadors and propose stringent measures to deal with misleading advertisements of companies making tall claims to sell their products unethically. Prime minister Narendra Modi on Thursday talked about the new law to protect consumers’ interest in the present day market conditions that have changed over the last two decades. Modern day consumers of both products and services should be able to easily bring shoddy companies and cheats to book within a time frame without the usual hassles of bureaucratic red tape and lengthy tribunal proceedings. Consumers will hopefully get a better deal in several aspects ranging from quality and pricing of the product to packaging, presenting correct consumer-related information on packs to utility-related issues. More than anything else, misleading advertisements should be curbed. With non-existent claims, these unscrupulous peddlers of make belief are harming their own interests, even as gullible users of their products suffer. Competitive advertising is another grey area, which needs to be examined as promises are made on how X product is better than Y. The ASCI is doing a good job of looking at ads that make tall claims, but a government watchdog may enhance their edge. The two big sets of consumers that are usually taken for a ride are domestic and foreign tourists apart from the unassuming rural population. In fact, service providers get away with white-collar crime while peddling financial products. Mis-selling by banks and NBFCs is a common occurrence in India and this needs a proper crackdown. For instance in the western world, insurance is bought, while in India, insurance is sold and then the seller forgets what he has sold and to whom, leaving the hapless buyer stranded.   Not servicing a client or consumer of financial products must be made a cognisable offence. Then again, there is the subject of modern markets that sell consumer products. Till the sale happens, the companies follow the consumer. After-sales service, that’s mandatory, never happens as a matter of responsibility. Top celebrities appear before consumers to endorse brands and products without any responsibility towards the consumers. Severe reprimands from courts notwithstanding, brand endorsement has been going on merrily. Clearly, the new law will have to balance out the interests of consumers, companies and brand ambassadors.