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Baba’s Explainer – Right to Repair

  • IASbaba
  • July 18, 2022
  • 0
Economics, Governance
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Syllabus

  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-3: Indian Economy & challenges

Context: The government has proposed to introduce the ‘right to repair’ law. The department of consumer affairs has set up a committee to develop a right to repair framework in the country.

  • Though the world of consumer technology is bustling with electronic goods, options to get them repaired are getting fewer. Repairing is becoming unreasonably expensive or pretty much impossible because of multiple factors
  • In recent years, countries around the world have been attempting to pass effective ‘right to repair’ laws.
What is right to repair movement?
  • When electronic appliances become old or face issues, consumers are left at the mercy of manufacturers who make repairs inaccessible for most, by dictating who can fix your device and making it an inordinately expensive affair.
  • The tech giant has long been criticised for allowing repairs of its devices only by authorised technicians and not providing spare parts or manuals on how to fix its products
  • Also, Corporates are promoting the culture ‘planned obsolescence’ — which means that devices are designed specifically to last a limited amount of time and to be replaced
  • In this backdrop, activists and organisations around the world have been advocating for the right of consumers to be able to repair their own electronics and other products as part of the ‘right to repair’ movement.
  • The movement traces its roots back to the very dawn of the computer era in the 1950s.
  • The goal of the movement is to get companies to make spare parts, tools and information on how to repair devices available to customers and repair shops to increase the lifespan of products and to keep them from ending up in landfills.
  • The Right to Repair electronics refers to government legislation that is intended to allow consumers the ability to repair and modify their own consumer electronic devices, where otherwise the manufacturer of such devices require the consumer to use only their offered services.
  • The rationale behind the “right to repair” is that the individual who purchases a product must own it completely.
  • This implies that apart from being able to use the product, consumers must be able to repair and modify the product the way they want to.
  • If people want to fix things in a timely, safe and cost-effective way, whether by doing it themselves or taking it to a service centre of their choice, providing access to spare parts and information is imperative
What are the benefits of Right to Repair?
  • Avoids wastage of resources: Without Right to Repair, there will be wastage of natural resources causing immense pressure on the environment. It will help reduce the vast mountain of electrical waste (e-waste) that piles up each year on the continent.
  • Boosts Local 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.
  • Reduces Prices of Repair: If a manufacturer has monopoly on repairs, then prices rise exponentially and quality tends to drop. Repair manual in the market will bring down the cost of offering such a service.
  • Circular Economy: It will contribute to circular economy objectives by improving the life span, maintenance, re-use, upgrade, recyclability and waste handling of appliances.
  • Durable devices:  Some believe manufacturers of electronic devices may even start making their products more durable and long lasting.
What is the regulatory framework that Indian government is contemplating?
  • Under government’s regulatory framework, it would be mandatory for manufacturers to share their product details with customers so that they can either repair them by self or by third parties, rather than depending on original manufacturers.
  • The pertinent issues highlighted by the government include companies avoiding the publication of manuals that can help users make repairs easily.
  • As per the initial framework the products covered include mobile phones/tablets, consumer durables and electronic, automobile and farming equipment.
  • As per the government, the aim of developing a framework on right to repair is to
    • empower consumers and product buyers
    • cut product obsolescence rate
    • reduce e-waste in the country
    • help harmonise the trade between the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and third-party buyers and sellers, thus also creating new jobs.
  • Under the ‘right to repair’, companies will be asked to provide complete documentation and access to manuals, schematics and software updates to consumers.
  • It will require original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to provide consumers and independent repair businesses equal access to repair documentation, diagnostics, tools, service parts and firmware as their direct or authorised repair providers
Which are the other countries that offer 'right to repair' to its citizens?

The right to repair has been recognised in many countries across the globe, including the US, UK and European Union.

  • Recently, the UK passed a law that includes all the electronic appliance manufacturers to provide consumers with spare parts for getting repair done either by themselves or by the local repair shops.
  • Australia has repair cafes that are basically free meeting places where volunteer repairmen gather to share their repairing skills.
  • Further, the European Union passed legislation that requires manufacturers to supply parts of products to professional repairmen for a period of 10 years.
    • Manufacturers of products like washing machines, TVs and refrigerators are required to make spare parts available to people purchasing electrical appliances.
    • The new legislation gives manufacturers a two-year window to make the necessary changes to abide by the new legislation.
    • However, it does not cover all electrical appliances. It includes dishwashers, washing machines, refrigeration appliances and televisions. Smartphones and laptops, however, have been excluded.
But why do electronic manufacturers oppose this movement?
  • Large tech companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla, have been lobbying against the right to repair.
  • Misuse & compromise on safety: Their argument is that opening up their intellectual property to third party repair services or amateur repairers could lead to exploitation and impact the safety and security of their devices.
  • Tesla, for instance, has fought against right to repair advocacy, stating that such initiatives threaten data security and cyber security.
  • These companies are constantly claiming that they are working towards greater durability themselves, hence there is no need of such legislations.

Mains Practice Question – Why do you think the right to repair is the need of the hour?

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


 

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