The Parliament has come up with a revolutionary form of Consumer Protection Bill this year, in 2018 in order to replace the old act of Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Bill introduces, numerous new features like concepts of product recall, product liability, formation of new regulatory bodies, introduction of ADR mechanism of dispute resolution as well as increase in the pecuniary jurisdiction of the already present Dispute Redressal Councils present at the District, State and National Level. It even includes a punishment to prohibit fraudulent and misleading advertisements, which can in turn attract a penalty of ten lakh rupees. The wide description of misleading advertisements and the term “deficiency” has been aimed at protecting the rights of the consumer who tend to be the most vulnerable lot in the process.
Even, if a celebrity endorses a fraudulent product to attract sell, knowing the same, liability in the form of pecuniary punishment can be levied upon him as well. Moreover, the violations of consumer rights have been quoted to be an offence which is punishable in nature. The inclusion of a body named Central Consumer Protection Authority has been advised to be formed which will regulate matters relating to violation of consumer rights, unfair trade practices and false or misleading advertisements.
This consumer-centric bill brings with it another benefit in the form of endorsing mediation as a process to resolve disputes between the parties. The bill states it as a duty of the forum of first hearing of a dispute to determine whether the dispute can be solved by reference to mediation proceedings and if the same seems feasible, it should be initiated. It even gives the freedom to the parties to decide whether they can solve the dispute by mediation and refer the same to the district forum, where the forum is bound to refer the matter to a court referred form of mediation.
A remarkable amendment has been brought about in giving the status of mediation, a somewhat higher value, whereby , if a district forum ratifies the settlement reached between parties through mediation, then the same shall not be appealable in a State Consumer Forum. This has led to answering of the much awaited question that the result of mediation can also be given such a strong legal colour by affirmation by the court that the same shall be made non-appealable. The benefit of such a process is in affixing a higher level of importance to the step of mediation. However, there is nowhere any mention of a mandatory pre-institution mediation which would have been favored, considering the fact that in such forums, the number of fraudulent casesis quite high in number, which in turn ends up wasting the valuable court hours.
The Bill further provides for the creation of a Mediation Cell along with a panel of mediators, the qualification of whose does not require any qualification with connection to law but rather a professional experience in the field, an welcome step to the fact that mediation is a place not for procedural professionalism but to create a conducive environment for the parties to open up for a communication so as to help them reach an amicable solution.
The Bill however fails to mention the required ethics on the part of the parties or the mediators which needs to be maintained during the process of mediation so as to uphold the sanguinty of the process. The Bill at the same time respects the due confidentiality which needs to be maintained so as to earn the confidence of the parties to open up for a communication, the sole aim of mediation especially in a consumer related dispute, where the agrieved consumer is always at a fear of being cheated by the other party during meditation proceedings. However, the provision for disclosure of personal information in the outcome of the dispute is highly against the principle of confidentiality which needs to be upheld all throughout the proceedings even in instances of disclosure of information before the court of law. The same has been provided by the Mediation Rules, 2003 made under the CPC provisions.
In an overall manner, the provisions for mediation in the said bill is a typical court referred type of mediation, where every single detail has been fixed by regulations made by the said authority. It offers least flexibility to the parties to decide the particulars of the environment to be maintained during the proceedings.
However, in this case, the bill has been successful enough in that regard, because often consumer disputes turn into heated arguments, where there is often a clash of interest between the parties concerned. In such an atmosphere, a set procedure is something which needs to be maintained where the mediator needs a professional experience for the same. In this regard, the bill has been able to fulfill the aims of the dispute concerning consumer issues. The bill has stil however, failed to specify the required details for a mediation proceeding to continue. However, the inclusion of the provision by itself has been helpful as in many cases, the great length of time and money invested that needs to be there is unaffordable by most people thereby discouraging them to file a report and to such people this provision is a much welcomed step.