Right to repair: Can biz mend its wasteful ways?


The government wants to replace the ‘use-and-throw’ design philosophy of products with a ‘right to repair’ framework. Benefits are many. Mint explains the concept, its need and how this move may disrupt the way businesses operate.

What is ‘right to repair’?

It is a framework that will give consumers the option to repair their products rather than discard them and buy new ones. It will ensure the product can be repaired at a reasonable cost via third party service providers (even during the warranty period) rather than depending solely on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or their partners, who are often costlier. To enable this, the OEMs will have to mandatorily share their product details with consumers. The ministry of consumer affairs unveiled this idea in July 2022 and has set up a committee to prepare the framework.

What is the idea behind the move?

It seeks to replace the existing product design philosophy that prefers ‘use-and-throw’ and ‘planned obsolescence’ (making a product unusable in time) with one that fosters a circular economy. Reports suggest that India generated 1.6 million tonnes of e-waste in 2021-22, and only a third of it was recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills. Right to repair is also critical for India to achieve carbon neutrality by 2070. It will save consumers money, reduce e-waste by extending the life of a gadget, boost third-party repair shops, create jobs and enable reuse and recycling of parts.

Is repairing an Indian obsession?

No. Governments across the world are pushing for the right to repair in a bid to reduce waste and encourage a circular economy. In March 2021, the European Union passed legislation on mandatory right to repair. The US followed in July 2021. The UK too has a similar policy. India will have legislation once a panel to design a comprehensive framework submits its report.

What’s the response from manufacturers?

A right to repair portal was unveiled by the consumer affairs ministry in December 2022 for voluntary registration of manufacturers. Only 41 did. So, the government recently asked 112 companies in four sectors – farming equipment, electronic gadgets, consumer durables and automobiles—to ensure that consumers enjoy the right to repair. Manufacturers are resisting change, fearing a substantial disruption to their business model. They cite concerns over protecting their intellectual property rights.

How will this law disrupt the market?

It will force companies to tweak their business models. For example, a vehicle buyer today is forced to service it at an authorized dealer as they will lose the warranty if they go to a third-party service provider. OEMs also restrict the availability of quality spare parts to their dealers. The customer, invariably, ends up paying more. Once the law takes effect, the warranty that OEMs offer will be valid with third-party entities too. The dealers will lose captive customers, possibly impacting their viability.

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