When standards are flouted

Customers can address their grievances to the Consumer Affairs Department

How often do we find products or services not conforming to expected standards! Inferior quality, sub-par performance and defects plague goods, products and services we use in our day-to-day lives. We feel cheated all the more when the item bears a mark of standardisation such as the ISI. Under the new Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) Act, 2016, consumers need not be silent spectators. The Act introduces mandatory standardisation or certification for certain items, lays down strict penal provisions for those flouting standards or faking them, and boasts of a robust system of grievance redressal for consumers.

Consumer-friendly measures

The new BIS Act, brought into force from October 2017, is an improvement over the old legislation on a few counts. For one, the standardisation, marking and certification processes were applied only to articles and processes under the 1986 Act. The new Act has widened the ambit to include goods, services and systems. Secondly, the new Act enables the Centre to notify mandatory hallmarking of articles made of precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium.

As per reports in the public domain, work on bringing in hallmarking regulations under the new BIS Act is on at the Department of Consumer Affairs. So, when it is introduced for gold, for instance, mandatory hallmarking will not only vouch for purity but also ensure that only 14, 18 and 22 carat gold (standards have been developed only for these at present) is sold in the country.

Apart from precious metals, the Act also enables the government to bring under a regime of compulsory certification, any goods or articles which it considers essential in public interest, for environmental safety or national security. Similar to the food recall under the new FSSAI Act, a provision for repair or recall of products bearing the BIS mark, but not conforming to standards, has also been introduced.

Strict liability provisions have been brought in for any default on the part of sellers/companies when selling products that have a standard mark but do not conform to BIS standards. Accordingly, if there is a deficiency in the product, it is the duty of the seller to repair/replace/reprocess the standard marked goods, article, process, system or service, or pay compensation to the consumer as may be prescribed by the Bureau, or be liable for the injury caused by the non-conforming goods/article that bore a standard mark.

This apart, for any offence under the Act, companies are not allowed to take cover by claiming that it was committed without their knowledge, consent or connivance. The persons responsible for or in charge of the company will be presumed guilty, irrespective of whether they knew about it or not. A list of products for which standards are available can be found on the BIS website.

Grievance redressal

To look into consumer grievances, the BIS has a Consumer Affairs Department at its headquarters in New Delhi. If you have any complaints on the quality of a BIS-certified product or on the services provided by them or on any false or misleading advertisements put out with respect to a certified product, you can approach the Public Grievance Officers present at the regional and branch levels. Complaints can be submitted either to these officers or directly to the Head, Consumer Affairs Department, in the prescribed format.

Consumers can also register their complaints by email to complaints@bis.gov.in, or through the online compliant registration window on the BIS website, or through the BIS mobile app.

Complaints have to be looked into and resolved within three months from the date of receipt of the same.

Free repair or replacement of products is available if the complaint is established. It is interesting to note that even before the new Act came into being, the facility of free replacement was available in some form for jewellery.

Consumers can get jewellery/sample tested from any of the BIS-recognised assaying and hallmarking centres, a list of which is available on the BIS website. If it is found to be of less purity than what is marked, the seller has to replace the jewel.

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