Belling the Cat

Flouting rules, online platforms sell all kinds of dangerous goods, including acid and e-cigarettes. The Punjab and Haryana High Court pulled up authorities for one such sale affecting minors

The Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the state authorities to take appropriate steps to ensure that tobacco items are not readily available to minors in the online platform and to take steps to implement all statutory provisions.

Acting Chief Justice GS Sandhawalia and Justice Lapita Banerji heard a PIL seeking direction to regulate the sale of tobacco products on online platforms to minors. The submission made on behalf of the 15-year-old petitioner said that as per notifications dated September 26, 2019, and September 30, 2019, import and export of electronic cigarettes along with all forms of electronic nicotine delivery systems was prohibited. In spite of that, they were commonly available on various sale platforms. “Vape” and “E-cigarette” are the common names and were easily available in Punjab and Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. The petition said that authorities were not taking any redressal steps to ensure that the young generation was not hooked to it; they were consuming it in clubs, pubs, breweries, malls, restaurants and gardens.

The petitioner said he/she had ordered a pack of cigarettes from an App and the delivery was made outside a government school within the assured period of nine minutes.  

The bench issued a notice to the authorities and listed the matter on July 24.

Besides e-cigarettes, there are other harmful substances easily available on online platforms, including acid (see box). In a horrific incident on December 14, 2022, in Delhi, a 17-year-old girl was on her way to school with her younger sister when she was attacked with an acid-like substance by two men on a motorcycle near her home in Dwarka. While the accused were arrested, the victim suffered 8% burns and disfigurement on the face and neck. The accused during interrogation said that the acid used in the incident was bought from an e-commerce company.

Rule 4 of the Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 2020, gives the duties of e-commerce entities. These include appointing a nodal person of contact or a senior designated functionary who is a resident in India to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Act or the rules made thereunder. Every e-commerce entity shall provide the following information in a clear and accessible manner on its platform, displayed prominently to its users, namely: legal name of the e-commerce entity; principal geographic address of its headquarters and all branches; name and details of its website and contact details like e-mail address, fax, landline and mobile numbers of customer care as well as of the grievance officer.

The Rule also says that no e-commerce entity shall adopt any unfair trade practice, whether in the course of business on its platform or otherwise. Every e-commerce entity shall establish an adequate grievance redressal mechanism having regard to the number of grievances ordinarily received by such an entity from India, and shall appoint a grievance officer and display his name, contact details and designation on its platform. Every e-commerce entity shall ensure that the grievance officer acknowledges the receipt of any consumer complaint within 48 hours and redresses the complaint within one month from the date of receipt of it.

Where an e-commerce entity offers imported goods or services for sale, it shall mention the name and details of the importer from whom it has purchased such goods or services, or who may be a seller on its platform. Every e-commerce entity shall endeavour to become a partner in the convergence process of the National Consumer Helpline of the central government. No e-commerce entity shall impose cancellation charges on consumers cancelling after confirming purchase unless similar charges are also borne by it if it cancels the purchase order unilaterally for any reason.

Every e-commerce entity shall only record the consent of a consumer for the purchase of any good or service offered on its platform where such consent is expressed through an explicit and affirmative action, and no such entity shall record such consent automatically, including in the form of pre-ticked checkboxes. Every e-commerce entity shall effect all payments towards accepted refund requests of the consumers as prescribed by the Reserve Bank of India or any other competent authority within a reasonable period of time, or as prescribed under applicable laws.

No e-commerce entity shall manipulate the price of the goods or services offered on its platform in such a manner as to gain unreasonable profit. 

Neither shall it discriminate between consumers of the same class or make any arbitrary classification of consumers affecting their rights under the Act. 

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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