Constitutional Approach to Basic Consumer Rights

INTRODUCTION:

“Customers are the most important visitor on our premises, and they are not dependent on us, we are dependent on them. They are not an interruption in our work. They are the purpose of it. They are not outsiders in our business. They are part of it; we are not doing them a favour by serving them.They are doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so”

Mahatma Gandhi

Every human is a consumer and consumer rights have become the hallmark of human existence. The concept of “Consumer Right” came at the forefront of the global arena after the second generation rights as a reaction to a post-modern global world engulfed by scientific evolution. The notion of consumer rights to be treated as fundamental rights began when US President John F. Kennedy outlined this concept in his special message to the United States Congress, on 15 March 1962. He specifically mentioned about four fundamental consumer rights. The speech of Kennedy attracted widespread attention elsewhere, descriptive of, and contributing to, the emergence of new social and legal phenomena.[1] Though Kennedy, the originator of the “consumer rights” himself, considered that consumer rights do not have the same value as “fundamental rights” from the Constitutional point of view.

Consumer right is the right to have information about the quality, potency, quantity, purity, price, and standard of goods or services’, as it may be the case. However, the consumer is to be protected against any unfair practices of the trade, so it is essential for the consumers to know these rights.[2] Due to the increasing importance of consumer rights around the world, the primary aim of consumer protection laws has become to create a conducive environment for consumers to enjoy their rights without any cinch of the violation. The prevalence of the need to protect “consumer rights” have been in continuance since times immemorial in the Indian scenario. However, the protection of consumer rights with the use of legislative device gained momentum only after India’s independence from British clutches. Constitution being the “Grund norm” of our glorious Nation, served the basis for the evolution of various laws, including consumer protection laws. Consumer rights not being considered as fundamental and human rights receive less importance despite of being very valuable for every human being, so a Constitutional approach to fundamental consumer rights can help these rights secure more significance and be treated at par with other fundamental rights. Though the Constitution does not contain any explicit provision for the protection of consumer rights yet there are specific Constitutional provisions in Part: III and Part: IV of the Indian Constitution, which have a direct bearing on the protection of consumer interests.

 

 

PREAMBLE OF INDIAN CONSTITUTION & CONSUMER RIGHTS:

Constitutional legitimacy flows from the very first words of the Preamble ― “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA.” The people of India are consumers as well. The Preamble emphasizes the principle of equality to all irrespective of their caste, colour, creed, race, religion, and place of birth, which constitutes the core values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The golden goals of Justice, Liberty, and Equality, set out in the Preamble are to be achieved in reality, thereby providing consumer justice.

CONSUMER RIGHTS’ RELATION WITH THE CONSTITUTIONAL MANDATE OF FREEDOM OF TRADE, PROFESSION & BUSINESS

The Indian Constitution, under sub-clause (g) of Article 19(1), guarantees freedom of profession, trade or business. This Article empowers carrying out any business beneficial for the community; however, reasonable restrictions can be imposed for public convenience.[3]

 

CONSUMER RIGHTS’ RELATION WITH THE CONSTITUTIONAL MANDATE OF RIGHT TO LIFE

The most germane provision of the Indian Constitution, Article:21, guarantees to every person right to life and personal liberty. The spectrum of this right is so extensive that it entails within its sphere every consumer rights. These are right to safe products, the right to demand and receive information, the right to be heard the right to choose, the right to consumer education, the right to redress, the right to the satisfaction of basic needs and the right to a healthy environment.

CONSUMER RIGHTS’ RELATION WITH THE CONSTITUTIONAL MANDATE OF CERTAIN DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES

Article 38(1) of the Indian Constitution directs the State to undertake those initiatives, which may help to secure a social order, which will eventually promote the welfare of the people. People are none other than consumers themselves, so the welfare of people denotes the welfare of consumers. The maintenance of social order, minimisation of income inequalities, elimination of inequalities in status, and providing more facilities, and opportunities will help consumers to reap the best benefits. Article 39 (b) and (c), facilitates the material resources of the community to be so distributed as best to sub-serve the common good and prevents the concentration of wealth and means of production to a particular section to prevent detriment of the common masses constituting the majority chunk of the population. This is the most important directive to the State under Chapter IV of the Constitution, which supports the whole public distribution system and the administrative mechanism to control hoarding and profiteering in India. Article 39 of the Constitution is another crucial provision that directs the State to charge only “fair prices” on every consumer goods, thereby preventing the deprivation of any individual from its consumption and use. Article 43 of the Constitution of India obligates the State to ensure to every working being a dignified standard of living in the same way as the International Labour Organisation is promoting the interests of workers as consumers.[4] Regarding public health, Article 47 directs the State authorities to take every initiative to keep the people of the Nation in good health. Every citizen is a consumer in one way or the other, so caring for the health of every citizen will automatically protect the health rights of all consumers.

 

 

 

CONSUMER RIGHTS & SEVENTH SCHEDULE OF INDIAN CONSTITUTION

The Constitution of India has, within it, specific Schedules that categorise and tabulate bureaucratic activity and government policies. Consumer protection is an important issue and the majority of the provisions dealing with the protection of consumer rights are imbibed in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule. [5] The relevant entries in the Seventh Schedule, specifically dealing with consumer rights are as mentioned below:

  1. Entry 3 of the Schedule deals with the preventive detention for the reasons connected with the maintenance of supplies and services essential to all the people of the community.
  2. Entry 18 fosters the prevention of adulteration of foodstuffs and other goods that may cause severe health hazards to consumers.
  3. Regulation of production of drugs and poisons excepting cultivation manufacture and sale for export of opium is entailed in Entry 19 of the Schedule.
  4. Strategies for economic and social planning is dealt with in Entry 20.
  5. Matters relating to commercial and industrial monopolies; combines and trusts beneficial to consumer interests are maintained under Entry 21.
  6. Legal, medical, and other professions are governed by the rules prescribed in Entry 26 of the Schedule.
  7. Entry 33 regulates the entire “Trade and Commerce” in, and the production, supply and distribution of – (a) the product of any industry where the control of such industry by the Union is declared by Parliament by Law to be expedient in the public interest, and imported goods on the same kind as such products; (b) foodstuffs, including edible oilseeds and oils (c) cattle fodder, including oil cakes and other concentrates; (d) raw cotton, whether ginned or un-ginned and cottonseed; and (e) raw jute, for the use and consumption purposes every citizen.
  8. Standardizations of weights and measures except for establishment of standards are regulated under Entry 33A of the Schedule.
  9. Entry 34 regulates the most essential matter that is “Price control.”
  10. The affairs relating to supply and regulation of Electricity is included in the Entry 38.
  11. The print media that involves newspapers, books, and printing presses is maintained under Entry 39 of the Seventh Schedule.

Thus, the Preamble, Articles 14, 19, 21 read with Articles 38, 39, 42, 43, 46 and 47 provide fundamental rights of individuals as well as directives to State authorities. This makes it necessary for the Union and State governments to translate into action, in due course of time, to improve the quality of life of the individuals who are none other than “consumers.”

 

 

CONSTITUTION OF INDIA: THE POWERHOUSE OF CONSUMER PROTECTION LAW

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and the Father of all legislation functioning in the Indian legal climate. Article:13 of the Constitution provides explicitly “laws inconsistent with or in derogation of the Fundamental Rights contained in Part III of the Constitution would to the extent of such inconsistency, be void.”[6] The Consumer Protection law derives its authority from the Constitution itself, so any deviance or clash of this law with the Constitutional mandate and any derogatory consequence of this law on the consumers may result in its nullification. The constitutional mandates prove that Consumer Rights derives its ultimate authority from Constitution. Hence, it is desirable that the consumer protection law must respect the underlying Constitutional philosophy, thereby enhancing Constitutional glory.

 

CONCLUSION:

The concept of “Consumerism,” i.e., the protection of the rights and interests of the general pool of buyers using protective laws, derives its ultimate authority from the Law of the land that is the Constitution if we visualise it from a Constitutional viewpoint. Constitutional rights are a primary condition to a civilized existence. The laws derived from these rights are premised on the existence of individual freedom for one’s maximum development and welfare. The constitutional approach to fundamental consumer rights makes the legal base of consumer protection stronger thereby protecting every consumer right with complete efficiency and elevating the status of ‘basic consumer rights’ to ‘fundamental human rights’ not entirely but to a maximum extent.

 

 REFERENCES

[1] Margus Kingisepp, The Constitutional Approach to Basic Consumer Rights, 19 JURIDICA INTERNATIONAL LAW REVIEW, 49-58 (2012).

[2]  Consumer Rights In India,  www.jagograhakjago.com (last visited on 4.4.2020 at 12:30pm).

[3] Ebrahim v. Regional Transport Authority, (1953) SCR 290.

[4]  Chapter 3, Constitutional and Legislative Framework of Consumer Protection Law in India (other than the Consumer Protection Act, 1986), https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/163911/7/07_chapter%203.pdf  (last visited on 4.4.2020 at 2:30pm).

[5]  The Constitution of India, Seventh Schedule (Article 246), List III- Concurrent List.

[6]  Shin Satellite Public Co. Ltd. v. Jain Studios Limited, AIR 2006 SC 963: (2006) 2 SCC 628.

 

-Sukannya Sarkar

LLM 1st year