e-Waste Management

Consumer Affairs Ministry unveils ‘Right to Repair’ Portal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Right to Repair

Mains level : Read the attached story

right to repair

The Food and Consumer Affairs Minister introduced a host of new initiatives, including a right to repair portal.

Right to Repair portal

  • On the ‘right to repair’ portal, manufacturers would share the manual of product details with customers so that they could either repair by self, by third parties, rather than depend on original manufacturers.
  • Initially, mobile phones, electronics, consumer durables, automobile and farming equipments would be covered.

What is Right to Repair?

  • It refers to proposed government legislation that would allow consumers the ability to repair and modify their own consumer products (e.g. electronic, automotive devices).
  • The idea behind “right to repair” is in the name: If you own something, you should be able to repair it yourself or take it to a technician of your choice.
  • People are pretty used to this concept when it comes to older cars and appliances, but right-to-repair advocates argue that modern tech, especially anything with a computer chip inside, is rarely repairable.

The Right to Repair movement aims for:

  1. Easy repair: The device should be constructed and designed in a manner that allows easy repairs
  2. Access to critical components: End users and independent repair providers should be able to access original spare parts and tools (software as well as physical tools) needed to repair the device at fair market conditions
  3. No technical barriers: Repairs should by design be possible and not hindered by software programming
  4. Proper communication: The repairability of a device should be clearly communicated by the manufacturer.

How did it came to existence?

  • The average consumer purchases an electronic gadget, knowing that it will very quickly become obsolete as its manufacturer releases newer and more amped up version.
  • As your device grows older, issues start to crop up — your smartphone may slow down to a point where it is almost unusable, or your gaming console may require one too many hard resets.
  • When this happens, more often than not, you are left at the mercy of manufacturers who make repairs inaccessible and an inordinately expensive affair.

Why is such right significant?

  • Exorbitant repair price: Often, manufacturers reduce the durability of the product, compelling consumers to either repurchase the product or get it repaired at exorbitant prices affixed by the manufacturers.
  • Lifespan enhancement: The goal of the movement is to increase the lifespan of products and to keep them from ending up in landfills.
  • Against planned obsolescence: The electronic manufacturers are encouraging such culture so that devices are designed specifically to last a limited amount of time and to be replaced.
  • Scarcity of natural resources: Obsolescence leads to immense pressure on the environment and wasted natural resources.
  • Mitigating climate change: Manufacturing an electronic device is a highly polluting process. It makes use of polluting sources of energy, such as fossil fuel.
  • Boost to repair economy: Right to repair advocates also argue that this will help boost business for small repair shops, which are an important part of local economies.

Issues with obsolete devices

  • Unfair trade practice:  For manufacturers, either of these options is a win-win case, because high-priced repairs, as well as new sales, mean more profits.
  • High cost to consumers: This often led to higher consumer costs or drive consumers to replace devices instead of repairing them.
  • Generation of E-waste: The global community is concerned over the continuously growing size of the e-waste stream.
  • Recyclability: Up to 95% of raw materials used to produce electronic devices can be recycled, while the vast majority of newly produced devices use little to none recycled material due to the higher cost.

Why do electronic manufacturers oppose this movement?

Large tech companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla, have been lobbying against the right to repair.

  • IPR violations through reverse engineering: Their argument is that opening up their intellectual property to third party repair services.
  • Threats to device safety: Amateur repairers could lead to exploitation and impact the safety and security of their devices.
  • Personal data security: Tesla, for instance, has fought against right to repair advocacy, stating that such initiatives threaten data security and cyber security.
  • Sheer casualization: Tech giant has allowed repairs of its devices only by authorised technicians and not providing spare parts or DIY manuals on how to fix its products.

Right to Repair in India

The ‘right to repair’ is not recognised as a statutory right in India, but certain pronouncements within the antitrust landscape have tacitly recognized the right.

  • Necessary consumer right: Monopoly on repair processes infringes the customer’s’ “right to choose” recognised by the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  • Acknowledgment by agencies: Consumer disputes jurisprudence in the country has also partially acknowledged the right to repair.
  • Upholding Competition: In Shamsher Kataria v Honda Siel Cars India Ltd (2017), for instance, the Competition Commission of India ruled that restricting the access of independent automobile repair units to spare parts as anti-competitive.
  • Part of consumer welfare: The CCI observed that the practice was detrimental to consumer welfare.
  • Laws for recycle: The e-waste (management and handling) rules addresses not only to handle the waste in an environmentally friendly manner, but also has laid down rules about its transportation, storage and recycling.

Way forward

  • Avoiding blanket waiver: While necessary clauses to maintain the quality of the product can be included, a blanket waiver should be avoided.
  • For instance, the quality assurance clause can be incorporated for use of company-recommended spare parts and certified repair shops.
  • Making available the repair manual: Making repair manuals available to certified business owners could go a long way in balancing the rights of consumers and manufacturers.
  • Sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect IP rights: Manufacturers can sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect the IP with certified repairers/businesses.
  • Alloting certification/license: Further, the lack of certification/licensing of repair workers is seen as a reflection of their lack of skills.
  • Insert right to repair in Consumer protection Act: The ‘right to repair’ can be said to be implicit in Section 2(9) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  • Reparability parameter: The product liability clause under Section 84 can be amended and expanded to impose product liability concerning various reparability parameters of the product.
  • Duration of product liability: The duration of imposing product liability may vary depending on the product and its longevity.

 

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