The Government recently introduced the Consumer Protection Bill, 2018, in the Lok Sabha to replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Bill proposes to safeguard the consumer rights on account of rapid changes that have taken place due to advancements in e-commerce.

The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that "the emergence of global supply chains, rise in international trade and the rapid development of e-commerce have led to new delivery systems for goods and services and have provided new options and opportunities for consumers. Equally, this has rendered the consumer vulnerable to new forms of unfair trade and unethical business practices. Misleading advertisements, telemarketing, multilevel marketing, direct selling and e-commerce pose new challenges to consumer protection and will require appropriate and swift executive interventions to prevent consumer detriment."

The Bill empowers the Centre to formulate measures to prevent unfair trade practices in e-commerce. As per the draft Bill, the e-commerce entities would be: (1) mandated to share with consumers the main features of their terms and conditions in a simplified and an easily understandable form; and (2) required to disclose to consumers the terms and conditions governing their arrangement with vendors.

Both the Bill and the draft e-commerce policy will need to consider the issue of variety of products that are available through e-commerce. For example, the definition of 'product' under the Bill pertains to tangible physical products that would obviously not include financial products (insurance policies sold online) or services (housekeeping, pest control, etc).

Another positive step is the introduction of the concept of 'product liability'. As per the Bill, a consumer can initiate product liability action against a manufacturer or a service provider or a seller (as the case may be) as per the provisions of the Bill, for any harm caused on account of a defective product or deficiency in services.

E-commerce and online purchasing in India have grown by leaps and bounds, and are set to record unprecedented growth owing to increasing penetration of internet. We are living in the times where disruption and novel ideas pour in almost on a daily basis. It is often said that law always plays catchup to novel business ideas, and e-commerce is no exception. The present time is perhaps the most challenging yet interesting, where the law (and lawmakers) has to play catch-up faster than ever to make sure that the aspirations of the industry and consumers are met evenly.

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