STING OFF CONSUMER LAW 

Read more below

By BY SUNANDO SARKAR in Calcutta
  • Published 4.07.01
  •  
Calcutta, July 4 :    Calcutta, July 4:  The Centre's decision to propose some changes in the Consumer Protection Act (Copra) may rob the law of all meaning and make it a "big zero", feels the state government. The proposed amendments, tabled in Parliament recently, seek to bring several aspects outside the consumer courts' purview and make payment of fees mandatory while lodging a suit in a consumers' redressal forum. The amendments, if passed in toto, would mean a gradual "de-toothing" of Copra and make it "absolutely ineffective", consumer affairs department minister Narendranath De said today, promising to take up the matter with the Centre. The proposed amendments have also drawn protests from consumers' organisations, member-judges of the Calcutta District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum and advocates; some proposed changes are "entirely against" the spirit with which consumer redressal fora were set up throughout the country to protect the public against big business lobby, they feel. One of the amendments, to be discussed by Parliament later this month, suggests taking away several subjects from the purview of consumer courts. Claims which have other "remedies of judicial nature" will not be entertained by consumer courts any more, Section 3 of the Bill says. This gives many businesses - mainly those having a large percentage of government involvement like banking and insurance - immunity from any action by consumer disputes redressal fora; for instance, if a consumer feels he has been wrongly dealt with by the postal savings bank, he will have to go for redressal - more often than not delayed - to the National Savings Commissioner; if he has a complaint about banking services, he will have to go to the banking ombudsman concerned. Consumers' fora have reacted sharply to this amendment. "The Centre might just as well abolish Copra if it wants to take away so many important sectors from its purview," working president of the Bengal Federation of Consumer Organisations said. Another proposed change - to make payment of fees by complaining consumers mandatory - has also drawn a lot of flak; according to the practice now, a consumer can lodge a complaint without paying any court fee.