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Govt issues advisory against purchase of acid on e-commerce platforms

By TIOL News Service

NEW DELHI, NOV 30, 2023: THE Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), headed by Chief Commissioner, Mrs. Nidhi Khare, has issued Safety Notice under Section 18(2)(j) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (‘the Act') to alert consumers against purchase of acid on e-commerce platforms.

CCPA, being the watchdog of consumer interest in India, has come across the sale of highly corrosive acids on e-commerce platforms. Availability of hazardous acids in such a freewheeling and easily accessible manner can be dangerous and unsafe for consumers and to public at large.

Consumer safety is among the preambular objectives of the Act. ‘Consumer rights' as defined under Section 2(9) of the Act, include the right to be protected against the marketing of goods, products or services which are hazardous to life and property and the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods, products or services, as the case may be, so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices.

It may be mentioned that the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in the case of Laxmi vs. Union of India [W.P. (Crl.) No. 129 of 2006], has issued directions which are required to be complied, with respect to sale of acid and other corrosive substances. Pursuant to the directions, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued guidelines dated 30 th August, 2013 to all States/UTs on ‘Measures to be taken to prevent acid attacks on people and for treatment and rehabilitation of survivors' which inter alia notes the following actions to regulate the sale of acid  -

1. Banning over the counter sale of acid/corrosives unless the seller maintains a logbook/register recording the sale of acid which will contain the details of the person(s) to whom acid(s) is/are sold and the quantity sold. The log/register shall also contain the address of the person to whom it is sold.

2. A sale will be made only when the buyer produces a photo ID issued by the Government which also has the address of the person and proves that he/she is above 18 years of age.

3. The logbook/register should also specify the reason/purpose for procuring acid.

4. All stocks of acid must be declared by the seller with the concerned Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) within 15 days and in case of undeclared stock of acid, it will be open to the concerned SDM to confiscate the stock and suitably impose a fine on such seller up to Rs. 50,000/-

5. The concerned SDM may impose a fine up to Rs.50,000/- on any person who commits breach of any of the above directions. Educational institutions, research laboratories, hospitals, Government Departments and the departments of Public Sector Undertakings, who are required to keep and store acid/corrosive shall maintain a register of usage of acid and the same shall be filed with the concerned SDM.

6. A person shall be made accountable for the possession and safe keeping of acid in their premises. The acid shall be stored under the supervision of this person and there shall be compulsory checking of the students/ personnel leaving the laboratories/place of storage where acid is used.

It has been observed that neither there is any requirement to produce Photo ID issued by the Government, nor there is any manner in which the purpose of buying the acid is recorded by the e-commerce platforms before placing an order. Further, there is no actual mechanism by which age verification of the buyer takes place before placing the order. Enabling the purchase of acid in such manner on the e-commerce platform is a clear violation to directions of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India and the MHA Advisory.

As a result of this, the sale of corrosive acid is enabled by a mere click of a button. Such unverified manner of purchase can cause consumers and public at large to be left vulnerable, unprotected and unsafe, given that the product is capable of causing severe dermal corrosion.

As per Section 4 (3) of Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 2020, no e-commerce entity shall adopt any unfair trade practice, whether in the course of business on its platform or otherwise

Taking in view the safety of consumers and public at large from such unregulated manner of sale, CCPA has issued Safety Notice urging all e-commerce platforms to immediately incorporate appropriate mechanism to ensure that acid is not purchased on their platforms in violation to the mandatory requirements of the rules notified by the respective State Governments and in case of absence of the same, compliance may be made of the guidelines issued by MHA on 30 th August, 2013. Such measures may include :-

1. Before onboarding a seller which sells acid, take a separate undertaking from such seller on proper compliance to each of the mandatory condition regulating sale of such acid.

2. Mandate the requirement to upload a Photo ID issued by the Government, to ensure that acid is not purchased by any individual below the age of 18 years on the e-commerce platform.

3. Include a section during the purchase process where the buyer must provide specific reason/purpose to procure the acid

The Safety Notice cautions all consumers against purchasing acid on e-commerce platforms without adhering to the mandatory requirements for sale of the same noted above


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