The Department of Consumer Affairs (“DCA”) has set up a committee (“R2R Committee”) to develop a framework on the Right to Repair (“R2R”) in India, under the LiFE (i.e. Lifestyle for Environment) Movement, with the aim of ‘developing sustainable consumption of products’, ‘reducing e-waste’ and harmonizing ‘trade between original equipment manufacturers and third party buyers and sellers’. The R2R Committee is chaired by the Additional Secretary of the DCA and includes members from the legal fraternity as well as stakeholders from various consumer organizations.
The R2R movement demands that manufacturers make spare parts of their products available to consumers and/or third parties to allow consumers to repair the products purchased by them or choose their own service providers, instead of approaching the manufacturer or purchasing an authorized replacement.
The R2R Committee held its first meeting on 13th July 2022 and identified various sectors, including, (i) Farming Equipment, (ii) Mobile Phones/Tablets, (iii) Consumer Durables, and (iv) Automobiles/Automobile Equipment, for the purposes of constructing the R2R framework.
The R2R Committee discussion included aspects like manufacturers’ proprietary control over spare parts and claim that such monopoly infringes consumers’ ‘right to choose’. Further, this committee also discussed the issue of ‘planned obsolescence’ and artificially limited life spans of products to encourage replacements. As per the committee, restricting the R2R forces consumers to deliberately make a choice to purchase a new model of their product. Further, the R2R Committee acknowledged that India has a vibrant repair service sector which includes inter alia third-party repairs. Accordingly, parts and tools should be made available to these third parties to repair minor glitches.
It was felt that tech companies should provide complete knowledge and access to manuals, schematics and software updates to these third party service centers and the software license should not limit the transparency of the product.
The R2R Committee considered the steps taken as well as practices adopted by other jurisdictions (the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America) towards R2R and how the same can be incorporated within the Indian framework.
With the strengthening of consumer protection statutory framework in India, the R2R topic has now come centre-stage with the government actively considering a framework on this topic.
While consumer interest indeed needs to be strengthened, the government will have to carefully assess the implications of the R2R framework/policy particularly from the perspective of cyber security issues in relation to high-tech products, any potential expropriation or non-treaty limitations of/exceptions to intellectual property rights and finally the aspect of quality as regards spare parts availability and how these will impact manufacturer warranties etc.
Pertinently, access to the aftermarket allows manufacturers to ensure reliability of their products and eliminate malpractices pertaining to their products which may end up hurting their goodwill and the safety of their consumers.
Presently, the discussions around introduction of R2R in India are at a nascent stage. Accordingly, the R2R Committee’s approach towards resolution of these issues in the Indian market would be crucial to the formal introduction and the scope of the R2R in India. A balanced approach will have to be taken to provide a consumer-friendly market while maintaining the rights of the manufacturers.