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Consumers and RTI – the Right to Information Act, 1986

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (CPA) protects the interests of the consumers in the widest range possible. The CPA gives the rights to the consumers to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, standard and price of goods or services so as to be protected against unfair trade practices. Though CPA came into force in 1986 it had the provision empowering consumers to seek information regarding goods or services under proper legislation. After the passing of Right to Information Act (RTI) in 2005, consumers may now seek information under this Act. Consumers may file a complaint under the RTI with respect to goods or services before the appropriate authority. The District forum may give orders for one or more of the following relief namely :

  • Removal of the defects from the goods.
  • Replacement of the goods with new goods of similar description.
  • Return of the price or charges paid by the consumers.
  • Grant of compensation for the loss or injury suffered due to the negligence of opposite party.
  • Removal of defects or deficiencies in the services in question.
  • Projecting right choices for the safety and health of consumers and the environment.
  • Discontinuance of unfair trade practices or restrictive trade practices or their repetition.
  • Withdrawal of the hazardous goods from being offered to sale, or.
  • Award of adequate costs to parties.

These reliefs are available only when a quasi-judicial authority like the District forum exercises its jurisdiction. The contemporary requirements are, however, totally different. This is so because the authorities under the CPA are quasi-judicial and they can provide a creative solution only. The need of the hour is to adopt a preventive approach as well. That essentially requires an action on the administrative side. This is the reason why RTI Act, 2005 assumes significance in the context of consumer rights. While the CPA provides a quasi-judicial remedy, the RTI Act takes care of the administrative remedy. A good combination of both can protect the consumer's rights in the widest form. The consumer can use the right to information legislation to know the price of goods, instructions for care, hazards and proper use associated with the goods or service as well as assembly and installation instructions where applicable, before making a purchase. The Act can also be used to provide for information to be given in relation to the application of professional fees, in transactions such as filling of prescriptions, wherein the past pharmacies have been known to apply such charges in addition to the cost of the prescription items, without first advising their customers or without separating the cost of receipt.

RTI - Right to information in case of Food and Drugs:

For food products, Section 23 r/w Rule 32 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 confers on consumers a right to be informed whether or not the article of food is vegetarian or non-vegetarian. As regards drugs and cosmetics, necessary amendments have not been made in the relevant statute. In Ozir Husain v U.O.I , the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court observed that it is the Fundamental Right of the consumers to know whether the food products, cosmetics and drugs are of non-vegetarian or vegetarian origin, as otherwise it will violate their Fundamental Right under Article 19(1) (a), 21 and 25 of the constitution. Moreover, reading Article 19(1) (a) along with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it must be recognized that the right to freedom of speech and expression includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information of ideas. Further Article 21 confers on every person right to receive information and also a right to know the ingredients or the constituents of drugs and food products. The packages of non-vegetarian products should bear a symbol giving their non-vegetarian origin and a package of a vegetarian product should also bear a symbol. In case a vegetarian consumer does not know the ingredients of the drugs or food products, which he/she wishes to buy, it will be difficult for him/her to practice vegetarianism. However, as far as life saving drugs are concerned, a limited exception applies because a patient, who is suffering from serious ailment, which can be fatal if a life saving drug is not administered to him, need not be informed in his own interest as to whether or not the drug contains part of any animal. Thus the High Court in Ozir Husain's case issued certain directions (to be followed till amendments are made in the Act) about declarations and different colored symbols to be displayed on packages of drugs and cosmetics regarding their vegetarian or non-vegetarian origin.

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