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India’s consumer protection authority issues notice to e-commerce platforms on sale of acid

The Central Consumer Protection Authority has observed that e-commerce platforms are currently in violation of the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines on the sale of acid.

India’s Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) on November 29 issued a notice urging e-commerce platforms to implement appropriate measures to restrict the sale of acid and other corrosives online. The Authority also warned users against the purchase of acid on e-commerce platforms.

CCPA noted that it has come across the sale of highly corrosive acids on e-commerce platforms and the “availability of hazardous acids in such a freewheeling and easily accessible manner can be dangerous and unsafe for consumers and to the public at large.”

The easy availability of acid online is worrying because it can be misused to carry out acid attacks that leave victims permanently scarred and ostracised.

What measures has the CCPA ordered e-commerce platforms to implement: The CCPA has urged all e-commerce platforms to immediately incorporate appropriate measures to adhere to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) guidelines on the sale of acid (outlined in the next section). These measures include:

  • Separate undertaking from sellers: Before onboarding any seller which sells acid, platforms must take a separate undertaking from the seller on proper compliance with the MHA guidelines regulating the sale of acid.
  • Mandatory photo ID of buyers: Mandate the requirement for buyers 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.
  • Reasons for purchase: Include a section during the purchase process where the buyer must provide a specific reason or purpose to procure the acid.

“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,” the CCPA stated, suggesting that failure to adopt the above measures could violate the E-Commerce Rules.

Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines on the sale of acid: The Ministry of Home Affairs in 2013 issued guidelines to all state and union territories on measures to be taken to prevent acid attacks. These guidelines also include the following measures to regulate the sale of acid:

  • Over-the-counter sale of acid and corrosives is prohibited unless the seller maintains a register recording the sale of acid that contains the details of the person (including address) to whom the acid is sold and the quantity sold.
  • The buyer must produce a photo ID issued by the government which includes the address of the person and proves that he/she is above 18 years of age.
  • The seller must register the buyer’s reason or purpose for procuring acid.
  • All stocks of acid must be declared by the seller with the concerned Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) within 15 days. In case any undeclared stock of acid is found, the same can be confiscated and the seller fined up to Rs 50,000.
  • Educational institutions, research laboratories, hospitals, government departments and the departments of Public Sector Undertakings, who are required to keep acids and corrosive should also maintain a register of usage of acid and the same should be filed with the concerned SDM. There should be a person appointed to be accountable for the safekeeping of the acid on the premises.
  • SDM can also impose a fine of up to Rs.50,000 on any person who breaches any of the above directions.

These guidelines were framed following the directions issued by the Supreme Court in 2006  in the case of Laxmi vs. Union of India.

E-commerce platforms currently violate the above guidelines: CCPA observed that e-commerce platforms don’t require a photo ID of the buyer, don’t record the purpose of buying the acid, and don’t have an actual mechanism for age verification of the buyer, making the sale of acid on these platforms a clear violation of the MHA guidelines as well as the Supreme Court directions.

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“The sale of corrosive acid is enabled by a mere click of a button. Such an 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.” — CCPA

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