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Online shopping boom

Apex court’s order to sue sellers anywhere gives liberty to consumers. But more must be done

In a move that could step up customer protection, satisfaction and rights, the Supreme Court of India’s recent order, which gives online buyers the liberty to sue a company for deficiency in services in any consumer court across the country, is welcome. Certainly, with the advent of the Internet, e-commerce industry has come of age. Online shopping has been the way forward and it has effectively transformed the way India shops. From selling electronic items to apparel to online ticketing — it sells almost everything and has virtually become one of the biggest shopping mall. Simultaneously, with the explosion of e-commerce, online shopping portals have earned a bad name for becoming a hub of consumer theft. This has been a real concern.

Even as online retailers re-assure their customers about the genuinity of their products and take every possible step to tighten security to prevent any malicious activity, there have been dubious elements who have devised ways and means to outwit the customers. In many cases, the service providers themselves have escaped responsibility. There have been numerous cases where substandard goods have been delivered to the customers or where the consumer has not received the delivery at all, only to later realise that he has been cheated. With lack of accountability on the part of retailers, customers have but been left to knock the doors of consumer courts. Here too, the situation has been no different. The courts have failed to deliver as there have been conflicts surrounding jurisdiction of cases itself. The concept of jurisdiction relates to which court has the authority to administer justice to the consumer. Unfortunately, in India, the jurisdiction of the court to decide on such matters was determined from the place where purchases were initiated. Resultantly, complaints were dismissed owing to territorial jurisdiction and the consumer suffered. However, the apex court has done well to bring clarity regarding the existing provisions surrounding jurisdiction. The order will come as a windfall for shoppers who were until now taken for a ride by retailers.

Nevertheless, the functioning of the consumer courts itself has been questionable. Even as the quasi-judicial body boasts of making consumer the king, the situation on the ground is different. Consumers are wary of approaching courts due to inherent complications and delay in solving cases. Lack of resources, infrastructure and competent staff, have led to delays in deliver of justice. Moreover, there is also lack of awareness about the existence of these bodies. Such factors have affected the functioning of this body. Sensing the expansion of global market forces and the upgradation of technology, it is all the more necessary for the Government to protect the rights of the consumers through an effective legislation. While the amendments to the Consumer Protection Bill, 2015, was a step in the right direction, it had limited impact to the extent of fixing responsibility of celebrity endorsements. It failed to secure the rights of the consumers the way it should have done. To this end, it’s high time that the Government walks an extra mile to formulate a separate legislation for the same.