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Online buyers may get ‘shield’ under the Consumer Protection Act

The Cabinet note proposes widening the net of Consumer Protection Law to online retailers and e-commerce sites, while also setting up a new authority to deal with unfair trade practices and consumer issues


The Consumer Affairs Department had moved a Cabinet proposal looking to cover e-commerce and online retail under the Consumer Protection Act, say media reports. The Cabinet note has recommended that a Consumer Protection Authority, with powers to act against sellers or marketers of unsafe or hazardous products and service. This Authority will have the power to investigate, take suo moto action, search and seize documents.


This comes in the light of greater penetration of the internet and of online retail and e-commerce websites like Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal among others. There have been many complaints about deficient services and reversed orders on these portals. Reports have surfaced where instead of mobile phones, stones and soap bars were being delivered to customers from some of the ‘fly-by-night’ shopping portals.


Considering that the e-commerce space is still in its early stages, an institutional framework, which can help deal with these challenges, will help. The newly proposed Authority is also expected, as per the Cabinet note, to smooth over a lacuna in the regulatory framework under the Consumer Protection Law, where no specific agency or organ of the executive is tasked with dealing with unfair trade practices.


The news report however, also said that the law would only apply to direct retailers and service providers, and not facilitators of sales or marketing. This may turn out to be a problematic loophole. Already e-commerce firms in India run under a marketplace model to circumvent prevalent laws. Firms running purely a marketplace where they connect the buyer to another seller may be able to escape thee provisions.


Studies have pegged the online retail sector at $3.5 billion, and this is set to grow steeply in the coming years. India's technology laws are behind the curve and a strong push at making an early start in order to cover the e-commerce space may be the best thing to protect consumer rights in this nascent sector.


Medical aid at stations: HC gives Railways the last chance

The Bombay HC pulled up the Railway Board and warned that it could face contempt proceedings if there was any more delay in complying with its directives regarding medical care at all suburban stations in Mumbai


A division bench of the Bombay High Court has warned the Railways initiating contempt proceedings for not followings its directions. However, as a last chance, the HC asked the Railway Board to identify official responsible for complying court orders and ask him to submit an affidavit about his intention to set up emergency medical rooms (EMR) at stations on the Mumbai Suburban rail network.


Last Monday, the 3rd of November, the Bombay HC had slammed the Railways and called it 'insensitive' in its approach towards setting up EMRs at all stations in Mumbai.


"Not only have you taken a stand contrary to earlier court orders, you have shown complete lack of sensitivity too,” the Court had said.


The Court had passed its order in March 2013, saying that EMRs were necessary and should be set up immediately. The Court had asked the Railways to inform about plan to set up EMRs, by 10th November. The Railways had earlier said that setting up a medical centre was 'not feasible'.


Arguing for the Railways, its counsel had said that the Railways had stationed ambulances outside stations to be able to ferry accident victims to hospitals. The Court had responded by asking if the ambulance would be of any use in rush hours. This Monday, when the Court heard the matter again, it pointed out that the data on ambulances as provided by the Railways was not in line with data of the State Government, that in fact only 38 ambulances were in operation, contrary to the Railways claim of 47.


Another blow to the Railways was the appointment of a court official to perform surprise checks in order to confirm whether these ambulances were indeed in use and with regard to first aid boxes at stations.


The Court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) from Sameer Zaveri and the next hearing in the case will be on 12th December.


This is not the first time that the Bombay HC has heard a Contempt case against the Railways. In 2004 the Bombay HC had passed an order directing the Western and Central Railways to take preventive steps for reducing the number of accidents on local trains. The order had asked the Railways to reduce the gaps between the station and the footboard, construction of boundary walls, fences and the provision of ambulances and medical care for accident victims. In January 2012, the HC then issued a show-cause notice under Contempt of Court rules to the General Managers of Central and Western Railways for non-compliance of the 2004 orders.



Bapoo Malcolm

3 years ago

Sameer needs to be put on the highest pedestal. May God give strength to his legs.

Another facet should be the contact of the nearest doctors in the area of the railway station; and instructions to respond to any emergency. The Golden Hour starts NOW, should be the motto.

Then again, more imperative is the prevention than the cure. The public should be bombarded with educative warnings. And the warnings need to be changed regularly. People get tired of listening to the same drone year after year.

Maybe ad agencies could help.

Bapoo M. Malcolm, almost a victim in December 2012 at Dadar.

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