Why should Indian consumers have the right to repair?

The movement for the right of consumers to repair goods purchased outside the manufacturer has attracted worldwide attention in recent years. This movement aims to persuade companies to provide their consumers with spare parts, tools and information on how to repair gadgets in order to increase the life of products and reduce the cost of repairs for products that are no longer covered by warranties and replacements.

The Indian government has also presented a plan to develop a regulatory framework for the “right to repair” framework, and a committee has been set up by the Department of Consumer Affairs to make recommendations to this effect. Such a regulatory framework will allow citizens to repair their durable consumer goods, phones, cars, etc., without depending on manufacturers. Initially targeted sectors are agricultural equipment, mobile devices and tablets, hardware, batteries, memory and processing power, consumer durables, automobiles and automotive equipment.

Right to repair the movement

The right to repair movement found its first legislative recognition in the United States. Massachusetts in the United States enacted the Right to Repair Act of 2012 requiring manufacturers to provide the necessary documents and information to allow anyone to repair their vehicles. The law was later amended to require manufacturers to implement an open data platform. Authorized repair personnel and independent repair companies were allowed to access repair information through a mobile app or other comparable means.

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The UK introduced the Right to Repair Act on July 1, 2021, through the Ecodesign of Energy-Related Products and Energy Information Regulations, 2021, with the aim of increase the life cycle of gadgets to 10 years. This regulation requires all manufacturers of electronic devices to offer users spare parts so that they can repair their products themselves or in repair shops. However, this regulation exempts products such as mobile phones. Manufacturers have two years to comply with the law.

EU Right to Repair laws oblige manufacturers to ensure that electronic products can be repaired for up to 10 years. In July 2017, the European Parliament accepted legislative recommendations granting consumers the right to repair their electronic devices. These recommendations indicated that consumer appliances, including refrigerators and washing machines, should be part of the right to repair. In October 2019, the EU approved regulations requiring manufacturers to supply components to qualified repairers for ten years from 2021. The EU approved and commissioned a new circular economy action plan in 2020 , including the right to repair electronic products.

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In India, although there is no specific right to remedy law, the Indian Competition Commission, in the case of Shamsher Kataria v Honda Siel Cars India Ltd. (2014 SCC OnLine CCI 95), determined that exclusive access to spare parts only to automakers’ authorized repairers constituted an anti-competitive practice. Accordingly, the ICC required manufacturers to make spare parts available to all repairers in order to promote healthy competition in the marketplace. It was a welcome move, but its impact was limited only to automakers that hold a dominant position in the Indian market. This command certainly opened a window for similar commands in other sectors.

It is a known fact that major electronics manufacturers promote “planned obsolescence”, a system in which all equipment is designed to last only a certain time, after which the product must be replaced. This has serious environmental concerns in addition to affecting consumer rights. Replacing thousands of devices as part of planned obsolescence wastes natural resources and adds to the carbon credit. Proponents of the movement have advocated for access to technology and spare parts for consumers to allow them to repair goods independently. Additionally, small repair shops that are not necessarily tied to manufacturers are also considered essential to the local economy.

Powerful industrial and tech giants like Apple and Microsoft have strongly opposed the right to repair campaign. They reject this move claiming that allowing third parties to access their proprietary information or properties will lead to infringement, in addition to jeopardizing the safety and security of the gadgets. Many companies claim that granting unfettered access to repairers will lead to unauthorized access to proprietary diagnostic data and software.

Conclusion

In a country like India, the right to redress is essential for environmental and economic considerations in addition to access. A right to repair law will usher in and empower small local repair businesses. They will also help consumers who cannot replace and replace gadgets on a regular basis. Planned obsolescence arguably helps economic monopolies and leads to adverse environmental outcomes. Considerations for the protection of intellectual property and proprietary rights can be adequately addressed through a legal framework that grants repairers limited access and rights only to repair assistance. The government has made a start, it will be interesting to see how this development unfolds.

(By Abhishek Tripathi (Managing Partner) and Sakshi Tripathi (Partner), Sarthak Advocates & Solicitors)

Alejandro L. Myatt