NEW DELHI: “Healthcare” has been removed from the list of services specifically mentioned in the draft consumer protection bill, in what is seen as a bid to assuage the medical fraternity which has expressed apprehensions over the law being used adversely against it.
Officials, however, said the change will not prevent aggrieved persons from approaching consumer forums for medical negligence or deficiencies in health services and that the deletion was in keeping with the concerns expressed by doctors and medical associations. Sources said the Cabinet on Monday approved the “technical amendment” in the proposed law to ensure the bill is passed smoothly in the Upper House where it was stalled during the first Modi government and finally lapsed.
‘No provision to protect consumers has been diluted’
Vocal lobbies had opposed the passage of the bill alleging applicability of the law to healthcare would put doctors at a disadvantage and the fear of litigation would affect patients adversely. “The bill states that all goods and services will be covered under the proposed law and hence no provision to protect consumers has been diluted at all. For all practical purposes, this will include healthcare as well,” said an official.
Officials said when amendments to the Consumer Protection Act were introduced in 2015, there was no mention of “healthcare” in the list of examples of what constitutes “service”. The bill said “service” means service of any description made available to potential users and includes, but is not limited to, the provision of facilities relating to banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, telecom, board or lodging or both, housing construction entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information. It does not include the rendering of any service free of charge or under a contract of personal service.
The bill had gone through the parliamentary committee. But in 2019, when the new consumer protection bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha, “healthcare” was included in the list after telecom. Sources said this was done after the consumer affairs ministry came across a SC judgment of 1995 which said that medical services, for which fees are charged, come under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act. “So taking out healthcare won’t be legally tenable,” said a source.
Doctors’ associations had also protested against the enhanced pecuniary jurisdiction of district consumer forums to entertain complaints where the value of goods or services is up to Rs 1 crore. Currently, the upper cap is Rs 10 lakh for district forums. Similarly, the bill proposes that the state commission can take up complaints where the value of goods or services is Rs 10 crore, up from the current Rs 1 crore.