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Indian government starts work on right to repair rules

Mobiles and tablets among sectors identified for regulation

India’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs says it is developing a right to repair framework to reduce waste and bolster parts of the economy.

The committee set up to address the matter identified mobile phones and tablets as priorities at its first meeting last week.

The Ministry drew upon two separate initiatives to justify the endeavor: India’s Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE) movement and its AatmaNirbhar Bharat self-suffiency drive.

By establishing the right to repair within India, the government reckons it can bolster sustainable consumption and e-waste reduction.

"A product that cannot be repaired or falls under planned obsolescence i.e. designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, not only becomes e-waste but also forces the consumers to buy new products for want of any repair to reuse it," stated the Ministry. "Thus, restricting the repair of products forces consumers to deliberately make a choice to purchase a new model of that product."

And just as buying those new models throws some cash back to overseas OEMs like Samsung, Apple, and Xiaomi, forcing the right to repair theoretically redirects some of that money to domestic employment.

The Ministry asserted that third-party repairs could serve as "a catalyst for employment generation through AatmaNirbhar Bharat."

"Fortunately, in our country, there exists a vibrant repair service sector and third-party repairs, including those who cannibalize the products for providing spare parts for circular economy," said the Ministry.

In its first meeting, the Committee identified some of the challenges that funnel people toward new purchases over repairs – including companies that don’t publish their manuals, proprietary control over spare parts, and warranties that go void if you seek repair external to the manufacturer.

The Ministry called the legal rights of owners "damaged" when contracts refuse to cede full control.

The Committee concluded:

During the deliberations, it was felt that the tech companies should provide complete knowledge and access to manuals, schematics, and software updates and to which the software license shouldn’t limit the transparency of the product in sale.

The parts and tools to service devices, including diagnostic tools, should be made available to third parties, including individuals so that the product can be repaired if there are minor glitches.

The Ministry drew on similar right to repair efforts in the US, UK, Australia and EU as evidence of the strategy's ability to succeed.

"In USA, the Federal Trade Commission has directed manufacturers to remedy unfair anti-competitive practices and asked them to make sure that consumers can make repairs, either themselves or by a third-party agency."

Last month, New York state passed the Digital Fair Repair Act which, assuming it becomes law, will be the first US state legislation to address the repairability of electronic devices.

California killed a similar bill in late May. Although its unknown why the popular bill did not pass, many fingers are pointing at the lobbying efforts of the tech companies located within the state.

In April, Apple launched its self-repair service, thereby doing an about face to previous lobbying efforts that would prevent such measures. The effort was panned by repair advocacy groups as a mere marketing ploy that would benefit Apple through the delay of any legislation of the matter, when it emerged that the program was extremely strict regarding aftermarket parts. ®

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