Govt plans 'Right to Repair' framework to facilitate self, third party repair of products

Concerned over makers of cars, mobiles and other consumer goods monopolising repair and spare parts market, the government plans to make it mandatory for them to share with customers product details necessary for repair by self or third parties

July 14, 2022 05:52 pm | Updated 05:52 pm IST

Repairman disassembling smartphone with tweezers. Unrecognizable repairer hands holding mobile phone circuit in electronics repair service, white background

Repairman disassembling smartphone with tweezers. Unrecognizable repairer hands holding mobile phone circuit in electronics repair service, white background | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Department of Consumer Affairs said in a statement on Thursday that it has set up a committee chaired by Nidhi Khare, Additional Secretary to develop a comprehensive framework on 'Right to Repair'.

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Generally, manufacturers retain proprietary control over spare parts, including their design, and the government feels that this kind of monopoly on repair processes infringes the customer's "right to choose".

Besides, warranty cards of several products mention that getting them repaired from an outfit not recognised by the makers would lead to customers losing their warranty benefit.

The rationale behind the 'Right to Repair' is that when customers buy a product, it is inherent that they must own it completely "for which the consumers should be able to repair and modify the product with ease and at reasonable cost, without being captive to the whims of manufacturers for repairs", according to the statement.

The objective of the proposed framework will be to empower consumers, harmonise trade between the original equipment manufacturers and the third-party buyers and sellers, and reduction in e-waste.

On July 13, the committee held its first meeting where key sectors for 'Right to Repair' were identified. Sectors, including farming equipment, mobile phones/ tablets, consumer durables and automobiles/automobile equipment were listed out.

"The pertinent issues highlighted during the meeting include companies avoiding the publication of manuals that can help users make repairs easily," the statement said. Manufacturers have proprietary control over spare parts, regarding the kind of design they use for screws and other items. Monopoly on repair processes infringes the customer's "right to choose", it said.

Further, the department noted that digital warranty cards, ensure that by getting a product from a 'non-recognised' outfit, the customer loses the right to claim a warranty.

"During the deliberations, it was felt that the tech companies should provide complete knowledge and access to manuals, schematics, and software updates and to which the software license shouldn't limit the transparency of the product on sale," it said.

Further, the parts and tools to service devices, including diagnostic tools should be made available to third parties, including individuals so that the product can be repaired in case of minor glitches.

"Fortunately, in our country, there exists a vibrant repair service sector and third party repairs, including those who cannibalise the products for providing spare parts for circular economy," the statement said.

According to the statement, once rolled out in India, the framework will become a "game-changer" for the sustainability of the products and serve as a catalyst for employment generation through Aatmanirbhar Bharat by allowing third-party repairs.

The committee includes Anupam Mishra, Joint Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, Justice Paramjeet Singh Dhaliwal, former Judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Former President of State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, Punjab, G.S. Bajpai Vice-Chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala, Professor Ashok Patil, Chair of Consumer Law and Practice.

Representatives from various stakeholders like ICEA, SIAM, consumer activists and consumer organizations are also members.

The committee held its first meeting on July 13, 2022, wherein important sectors for the right to repair were identified. The sectors identified include farming equipment, mobile phones/ tablets, consumer durables and automobiles/automobile equipment.

"Manufacturers are encouraging a culture of 'planned obsolescence. This is a system whereby the design of any gadget is such that it lasts a particular time only and after that particular period it has to be mandatorily replaced. When contracts fail to cede full control to the buyer-the legal right of owners are damaged," it said.

In the meeting, members discussed international best practices and steps that have been taken by other countries and how the same could be included in the Indian scenario.

The right to repair has been recognised in many countries across the globe, including the US, UK and European Union

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission has directed manufacturers to remedy unfair anti-competitive practices and asked them to make sure that consumers can make repairs, either themselves or by a third-party agency.

The department highlighted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month launched the concept of LiFE movement (Lifestyle for Environment) in India. This includes the concept of reuse and recycling various consumer products.

"A product that cannot be repaired or falls under planned obsolescence i.e. designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, not only becomes e-waste but also forces the consumers to buy new products for want of any repair to reuse it.

"Thus, restricting the repair of products forces consumers to deliberately make a choice to purchase a new model of that product," the department said.

However, the department pointed out that it has been observed that the Right to Repair is getting severely restricted, and not only there is a considerable delay in repair but at times the products are repaired at an exorbitantly high price.

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