The Role Of Consumer Dispute Redressal Agencies

(ANONYMOUS)

Editor’s Note: Consumer exploitation in India can be brought down only with proper awareness of the consumers about their rights. There are many platforms which they can approach to put in their complaints and escalate it to achieve justice. The Government understood the need to protect consumers from unscrupulous suppliers, and several laws have been made for this purpose. We have the Indian Contract Act, the Sale of Goods Act, the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Act, the Indian Standards Institution (Certification Marks) Act, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, the Stand­ards of Weights and Measures Act, etc. which to some extent protect consumer interests. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted to provide a sim­pler and quicker access to redressal of consumer grievances. However, from the analysis of performance with regards to the disposal rate of cases of various Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies in India, it has been found that the agencies at the district level are working more efficiently than those at the national level and state level. Therefore, there is still need of agencies functioning at state and national level to dispose of the pending cases as early as possible by creating supplementary benches as per the provisions of Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

Introduction

Consumer Protection has its roots in the rich soil of our civilization. Human values and ethical practices were given great importance in ancient India. The need for consumer protection is recognized by law makers in India in ancient times. It was a very well realized that a consumer is prone to exploitation on the part of providers of goods and services. It is the duty of very organisation to satisfy consumer by providing quality goods and services at right place, time and in right quantity at a fair price. For fifty-five years, the Sale of Goods Act of 1930 (SGA) was the main source of consumer protection in India. The SGA was the exclusive consumer legislation until 1986, with the passage of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, designed to supplement the remedies already provided under the SGA.

1.1 Research Problem

To understand the structure of consumer protection in India. India being the mother of Consumer protection law plays a vital role in formation and enactment of this law in an efficient manner which could help the prime focus of its subject i.e. Consumers in a legal and just way which can protect their from hampering in the market. To understand the different provisions existing in law and their proper and equal application and finding more and more provisions for curtailing the law in the consumer redressal forums.

1.2. Literature Review

Gurjeet Singh, in his study suggested that the significance of social litigation via- a vis consumer protection has to be visualized, appreciated and encouraged. Only then the dream of consumer protection will become a reality for the ordinary India consumer.[i]Gurjeet Singh in his article stresses that media can play a vital role in moulding public opinion and so it can be used as a potent tool for consumer education.[ii]

Gurjeet Singh’s book, “The Law of Consumer Protection in India: Justice with in Reach” covers all aspects of consumer protection and it is bound to be of great assistance, value and utility to consumer organizations, individual consumers as well as the legal profession.[iii]

Dr. B.K. Das and S.S. Rao have authored a book on consumer protection This book ,“A Commentary on Consumer Protection Act, 1986” covers the relevant Central and State Protection rules for knocking the doors of consumers redressal agencies. This book shows that the consumers very often suffer due to the poor, inefficient and negligent services which the public utility services are rendering.[iv]

1.3 Scope and Objective                                              

 To study the concept of consumer Dispute and functioning of Redressal Agencies.

 To study the settlement of complaints by these Redressal agencies.

1.4. Research Methodology

The paper is an attempt to understand the concept of consumer dispute and working of Redressal Agencies, who can file a complaint & the procedure of filing a complaint, findings and powers of redressal agencies. How to appeal against the order of Redressal Agencies. In the last the various type of penalties which can be imposed by the Redressal Agency due non acceptance of their orders are also discussed.

We will be using doctrinal method. We for our project have basically resorted to the use of books, journals, websites, articles etc., which are together are the library sources. We have used this method basically for the collection of data for our project.

We will also use in our project explanatory method as we will be explaining the details of our project. We will make a review of the literature available from the books of eminent authors, periodicals and articles published by standard Institutions

CHAPTER-1

INTRODUCTION

 The consumer movement in India is as old as trade and commerce. In Kautilya‟s Arthashastra, there are references to the concept of consumer protection against exploitation by the trade and industry, short weighment and measures, adulteration and punishment for these offences. However, there was no organized and systematic movement actually safeguarding the interests of the consumers. With the advent of the 20th century due to rapid industrialization and multifaceted development in India after the Independence, there appeared a flood of consumer goods and services in the Indian Market, which almost changed the relationship between the consumer and the trader. Technological advancements in the field of media led to flooding of advertisements of goods and services further worsening the otherwise grim situation. Lack of consumer awareness, illiteracy, poverty, etc. further led to the exploitation of consumers Awareness of consumer rights varies in different regions in the country. It is very poor especially among the population in rural and far-flung areas of the country. Compared to the developed countries, the levels of consumer awareness in such a vast country with a large population like India is much lower. This is rooted in economic inequality, low levels of literacy and ignorance. Because of this, consumers are not able to assert their rights and on many occasions are exploited by the trade and industry and service providers. Protecting and promoting the welfare of consumers has thus become one of the major concerns. Globalisation and liberalisation of trade and business has resulted in many products and services being available to the consumers. Growth in economy has resulted in increase in the purchasing power of the middle class section, which is the largest segment of the population. This has necessitated giving high priority for the protection of the consumers and promotion of responsible consumer movement in the country. Modern technological growth and complexities of the sellers‟ techniques, existence of a vast army of middlemen and unethical and untruthful advertisements have aggravated the situation of consumer exploitation

 The consumer has to be aware of his rights and play a key role. The success of consumerism is a strong function of consumer awareness and to avoid exploitation consumer must become knowledgeable.

CHAPTER-2

CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT 1986

The moment a person comes into this world, he starts consum­ing. He needs clothes; milk, oil, soap, water, and many more things and these needs keep taking one form or the other all along his life. Thus we all are consumers in the literal sense of the term. When we approach the market as a consumer, we expect value for money, i.e., right quality, right quantity, right prices, information about the mode of use, etc. But there may be instances where a consumer is harassed or cheated.

The Government understood the need to protect consumers from unscrupulous suppliers, and several laws have been made for this purpose. We have the Indian Contract Act, the Sale of Goods Act, the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Act, the Indian Standards Institution (Certification Marks) Act, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, the Stand­ards of Weights and Measures Act, etc. which to some extent protect consumer interests. However, these laws require the con­sumer to initiate action by way of a civil suit involving lengthy legal process which is very expensive and time consuming.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted to provide a sim­pler and quicker access to redressal of consumer grievances. The Act for the first time introduced the concept of ‘consumer’ and conferred express additional rights on him. It is interesting to note that the Act doesn’t seek to protect every consumer within the literal meaning of the term. The protection is meant for the person who fits in the definition of ‘consumer’ given by the Act.

Now we understand that the Consumer Protection Act provides means to protect consumers from getting cheated or harassed by suppli­ers. The question arises how a consumer will seek protection? The answer is the Act has provided a machinery whereby consumers can file their complaints which will be entertained by the Con­sumer Forums with special powers so that action can be taken against erring suppliers and the possible compensation may be awarded to consumer for the hardships he has undergone. No court fee is required to be paid to these forums and there is no need to engage a lawyer to present the case.

 CHAPTER-3

 CONCEPT OF CONSUMER DISPUTE

According to Section 2 (1)(e) of the Act, ‘Consumer Dispute’ means a dispute where the person against whom a complaint has been made, denies or disputes the allegations contained in the complaint.

If the person agrees to the complaint, there is no consumer dispute.

Complainant

According to Section

2 (1) (b) complainant means

  1. a consumer; or
  2. Any voluntary consumer association registered under the Companies Act or under any other law for the time being in force; or
  3. The Central Government or any State Government, who or which makes a complaint
  4. One or more consumers, where there are numerous consumers having the same interest.

 3.1Unfair Trade Practice and Restrictive Trade Practice [Section 2(1)(r) and (nn)].

 We have discussed that a consumer can make a complaint when an unfair or a restrictive trade practice is followed by a trader. What can be termed as an unfair or a restrictive trade prac­tice is another question of law.

 What is an Unfair Trade Practice – The Act says that, “unfair trade practice” means a trade practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply of any goods or for the provison of any service, adopts any unfair method or unfair or deceptive practice including any of the following practices, namely—

(1) The practice of making any statement, whether orally or in writing or by visible representation which—

    (i)   Falsely represents that the goods are of particular standard, quality, quantity, grade, composition, style or model;

    (ii)    Falsely represents that the services are of a particu­lar standard, quality or grade;

   (iii)  Falsely represents any re-built, second-hand, renovated, reconditioned or old   goods as new goods;

   (iv)   Represents that the goods or services have sponsor­ship, approval performance, characteristics, accessories, and uses or benefits which such goods or services do not have;

   (v)  represents that the seller or the supplier has a sponsorship or approval or affiliation which such seller or supplier does not have;

   (vi)  Makes false or misleading statement concerning the need for, or the usefulness of,   any goods or services;

 (vii) Gives to the public any warranty or guarantee of the performance, efficacy or length of life of a product or of any goods that is not based on an adequate or proper test thereof;

(viii)  makes to the public a representation in a form that purports to be a warranty or guarantee of a product or of any goods or services; or a promise to replace, maintain or repair an article or any part thereof or to repeat or continue a service until it has achieved a specified result, if such per ported war­ranty or guarantee or promise is materially misleading or

If there is no reasonable prospect that such warranty, guarantee or promise will be carried out;

  (ix) materially misleads the public concerning the price at which a product or like products or goods or services, have been or are, ordinarily sold or provided, and, for this purpose, a representation as to price shall be deemed to refer to the price at which the product or goods or services has or have been sold by sellers or provided by suppliers generally in the rele­vant market unless it is clearly specified to be the price at which the product has been sold or services have been provided by the person by whom or on whose behalf other representation is made;

   (x)   Gives false or misleading facts disparaging the goods, services or trade of another person.

Note: A statement is said to be made to public when it is—

   (a)   Expressed on an article offered or displayed for sale, or on its wrapper or container; or

   (b)   expressed on anything attached to, inserted in, or accompanying, an article offered or displayed for sale, or on anything on which the article is mounted for display or sale; or

   (c)   contained in or on anything that is sold, sent, deliv­ered, transmitted or in any other manner whatsoever made avail­able to a member of the public, by the person who had caused the statement to be so expressed, made or contained.

(2) Permits the publication of any advertisement whether in any newspaper or otherwise, for the sale or supply at a bargain price, of goods or services that are not intended to be offered for sale or supply at the bargain price, or for a period that is, and in quantities that are, reasonable, having regard to the nature of the market in which the business is carried on, the nature and size of business, and the nature of the advertisement.

Note: “Bargain price” means—

   (a)   A price that is stated in any advertisement to be a bargain price, by reference to an ordinary price or otherwise, or

 (b)   a price that a person who reads, hears or sees the advertisement, would reasonably understand to be bargain price having regard to the prices at which the product advertised or like products are ordinarily sold.

(3) Permits the offering of gifts, prizes or other items with the intention of not providing them as offered or creating impression that something is being given or offered free of charge when it is fully or partly covered by the amount charged in the transac­tion as a whole; or the conduct of any contest, lottery, game of chance or skill, for the purpose of promoting, directly or indi­rectly, the sale, use or supply of any product or any business interest;

(4) Permits the sale or supply of goods intended to be used, or are of a kind likely to be used, by consumers, knowing or having reason to believe that the goods do not comply with the standards prescribed by competent authority relating to performance, compo­sition, contents, design, constructions, finishing

Or packaging as are necessary to prevent or reduce the risk of injury to the person using the goods;

(5) Permits the hoarding or destruction of goods, or refuses to sell the goods or to make them available for sale or to provide any service, if such hoarding or destruction or refusal raises or tends to raise or is intended to raise, the cost of those or other similar goods or services. What is a Restrictive Trade Practice – Section 2(1)(nn) of the Act provides that, “restrictive trade practice” means “any trade practice which requires a consumer to buy, hire or avail of any goods or, as the case may be, services as a condition prece­dent for buying, hiring or availing of other goods or services”.

An analysis of above definition reveals that where sale or pur­chase of a product or service is made conditional on the sale or purchase of one or more other products and services, it amounts to restrictive trade practice.

Technically, this type of arrangement is called ‘tie-up sales’ or ‘tying arrangement’. The effect of such an arrangement is that a purchaser is forced to buy some goods or services which he may not require along with the goods or services which he wants to buy. Thus where a buyer agrees to purchase product ‘X’ upon a condition that he will also purchase product ‘Y’ from the seller, the sale of product ‘Y’ (tied product) is tied to the sale of product ‘X’ (tying product).

The buyer has to forego his free choice between competing products. This results in neutralizing healthy competition in the ‘tied’ market.

Example: A, a gas distributor instead his customers to buy gas stove as a condition to give gas connection. It was held that it was a restrictive trade practice – Re. Anand Gas RTPE 43/1983 (MRTPC).

However, where there is no such precondition and the buyer is free to take either product, no tying arrangement could be alleged even though the seller may offer both the products as a single unit at a composite price.

Example: A is a furniture dealer. He is selling Sofa at Rs. 20,000 and Bed at Rs. 15,000. He has an offer that whoever will buy Sofa and Bed both, he will charge Rs. 30,000 only. Here the choice is open to the customer to buy the products single or composite. This is not a restrictive trade practice.

Note: The term ‘restrictive trade practice’ has a very wide meaning when read in context of the MRTP Act, 1969. However under Consumer Protection Act, 1986, it has been used in a narrower sense.

3.2 Goods and Defect [Section 2(1)(i) and (f)]

 A consumer can make complaint when he come across defective goods. Here it is required to understand what are the items which can be considered as ‘goods’ and what constitutes ‘defect’ under the Act.

 Goods – The Consumer Protection Act does not define the term ‘Goods’ It says that – “goods” means goods as defined in the Sale of Goods Act, 1930.

Section 2(7) of the Sale of Goods Act, 1930, defines ‘goods’ as – “Goods means every kind of movable property other than actionable claims and money; and includes  stock  and  shares,  growing  crops,  grass,  and   things  attached  to  or forming part of the land which are agreed to be severed before sale or under the contract of sale.”

The definition reveals that—

   (a)  Goods must be movable;

   (b) Things attached to or forming part of land which can be severed satisfy the movability criteria;

   (c)  Actionable claim and Money have been specifically excluded from definition of goods.

 Defect – Section 2(1)(f) of the Act provides that, “de­fect” means any fault, imperfection or shortcoming in the quali­ty, quantity, potency, purity or standard which is required to be maintained by or under any law of the time being in force under any contract, express or implied or as is claimed by the trader in any manner whatsoever in relation to any goods.

This is an exhaustive definition. It means that the Act recognises only those defects which are covered by the definition. Any type of defect not mentioned here will not be entertained by Consumer Forums. Moreover the defect has to be in relation to goods only, i.e., if an item does not fall within the definition of ‘Goods’, no defect can be complained therein. However, the coverage of this definition is very wide.

Examples:

  1. A Pressure Cooker burst and caused injury to the user. It was held to be a manufacturing defect – T.T. (P.) Ltd. v. Akhil Bhartiya Grahak Panchayat II [1996] CPJ 239 NC.
  2. Failure to handover registration book along with jeep purchased by complainant is a defect. [Ramesh Chandra v. Commer­cial Tax Officer [1993] 3 CPR 182 (Ori.).

3.3 Service and Deficiency [Section 2(1)(o) and (g)]

 When a service is found deficient by a consumer, he can make a complaint under the Act. Thus the prime requirement is that the matter must fall within the definition of service, and it must entail a deficiency as per the norms given by the Act.

 What can be termed as a service – Section 2(1)(o) of the Act provides that “service” means service of any description which is made available to potential users and includes the provision of facilities in connection with banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, board or loading or both, housing construction, entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information, but does not include the rendering of any service free of charge or under a contract of personal service.

The definition provides a list of eleven sectors to which service may pertain in order to come under the purview of the Act. The list of these sectors is not an exhaustive one. Service may be of any description and pertain to any sector if it satisfies the following criteria:

  1. Service is made available to the potential users, i.e., service not only to the actual users but also to those who are capable of using it.
  2. It should not be free of charge, e.g., the medical service rendered free of charge in Government hospital is not a service under the Act;
  3. It should not be under a contract of personal service.

When we talk about ‘service’ under the Consumer Protection Act, we take it as a regular commercial transaction. Thus the services rendered under the contract of personal service are specifically excluded from the definition.

The expression ‘contract of personal service’ is not defined under the Act. In common parlance, it means – a contract to render service in a private capacity to an individual. For example, where a servant enters into an agreement with a master for em­ployment, or where a landlord agrees to supply water to his tenant, these are the contracts of personal service. The idea is that under a personal service relationship, a person can discon­tinue the service at any time according to his will; he need not approach Consumer Forum to complaint about deficiency in service.

There is a difference between ‘contract of personal service’ and ‘contract for personal service’. In case of ‘contract of personal service’, the service seeker can order or require what is to be done and how it should be done. Like a master can tell his serv­ant to bring goods from a particular place. But in a ‘contract for personal service’, the service seeker can tell only what is to be done. How the work will be done is at the wish of the performer. Like when a person gives a suit to the tailor for stitching, he does not tell him which method he should use to stitch it.

Example : A applied for electricity connection for his flour mill to Rajasthan State Electricity Board. The Board delayed in re­leasing the connection. It was held deficient in performing serv­ice.

Some other sectors/professionals/services which are not specified in the definition of service but which have been considered by the Consumer Forums as service sectors from time to time are listed below:

Advocates, Airlines, Chartered Accountants, Courier, Chit Fund, Education, Gas Cylinder/LPG, Medical services, Postal services, Railways, Investment related services, and Telephone services.

Thus, the test is – whether the person against whom the complaint is made performs a service for consideration which is sought by a potential user.

What is meant by “deficiency” in service – Section 2(1)(g) of the Act provides that, “deficiency” means any fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance which is required to be maintained by or under any law for the time being in force or has been under­taken to be performed by a person in pursuance of a contract or otherwise in relation to any service.

Reading the above definition by breaking it into elements, we get—

   (a)   “Deficiency” means any fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance

           Examples:

  1. A boarded a train. The compartment in which he and his wife travelled was in a bad shape-fans not working, shutters of windows were not working, rexin of the upper berth was badly torn and there were rusty nails which caused some injuries to the wife of A. A made a complaint against the railway department. It was held that the complaint constituted ‘deficiency in service’ and the compensation of Rs. 1500 was awarded to A – General Manager, South Eastern Railway v. Anand Prasad Sinha I [1991] CPJ 10 (12) NC.
  2. Deficiency in service due to circumstances beyond control
  3. In normal course, if the service is found deficient as per the above criteria, it is held deficient and the compensation is awarded. However there may be abnormal circumstances beyond the control of the person performing service. If such circumstances prevent a person from rendering service of the desired quality, nature and the manner, such person should not be penalised for the same.

Example: A undertook to supply water to B for irrigation of crops. Due to power grid failure of the State, A could not get sufficient power to perform the service. Here A cannot be held liable for deficiency in service.However, negligence on the part of performer may not be excused under the cover of circumstances beyond control.

3.4 Hazardous Goods

 The term “Hazardous goods’ has not been defined in the Act. The dictionary meaning of the term is – dangerous or risky. However, the term is used in context of ‘goods’ only, i.e., a person can make a complaint if he is not informed about the hazardous nature of the goods but the same is not true in case of hazardous services.

The rationale behind this provision is to ensure physical safety of the consumers. The law seeks to ensure that those responsible for bringing goods to the market, in particular, suppliers, exporters, importers, retailers and the like should ensure that while in their care these goods are not rendered unsafe through improper handling or storage.

Consumers should be instructed in the proper use of goods and should be informed of the risks involved in intended or normally foreseeable use. Vital safety information should be conveyed to consumers.

Example: A bought an insecticide from B. B did not inform A that touching this insecticide with bare hands can create skin prob­lem. A, while using the insecticide came in contact with it and suffered from skin problem consequently. Here B can be held liable under the Act.

CHAPTER-4

CONCEPT OF CONSUMER DISPUTE REDRESSAL AGENCIES AND CONSUMER COUNCIL

 The Consumer Councils are created to advise and assist the con­sumers in seeking and enforcing their rights. We have Consumer Protection Councils both at Centre level and State level, that is one Central Council and many State Councils.

These councils work towards the promotion and protection of consumers. They make investigations and give publicity to the matters concerning consumer interests, take steps towards furthering consumer education and protecting consumer from exploitation, advice the Government in the matter of policy formulation keeping consumer interest as pivotal concern, etc. Although their suggestions are recommendatory in nature, but they have significant impact in policy making.

While deciding about the composition of these councils, the State keeps in mind that it should have proper representation from all the possible areas affecting consumer interests. Again the rules as to when should these councils meet, what should they aim at, how they conduct their business are framed by the Government with a view to balance the efficacy and practicability of its business.

 Redressal Forums have been established at three different levels

District Forum” by State Government. At least one in each district or in certain cases one District Forum may cover 2 or more districts.

State Commission” by State Government.

National Commission” (National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission)

 Working of Redressal Agencies

With regard to the matter of making a complaint District Forum (section 12). The complaint

Can be filed by

1) The consumer to whom such goods are sold or delivered or agree to be sold or

Delivered or such service provided or agreed to be provided.

2) Any recognized consumer association whether the consumer to whom the goods

Sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or services provided or agreed

To be provided is a member of such association or not.

3) One or more consumers where there are numerous consumers having the same

Interest, with the permission of district forum, or on behalf of, or for the benefit of

All consumers interested or.

4) The Central Government or the State Government as the case may be, either in its

Individual capacity or as a representative of interests of consumers in General

CHAPTER-5

COMPOSITION AND MECHANISM OF REDRESSAL AGENCIES   

 Composition [Section 2 and rule 3]

 Members of the councils are selected from various areas of consumer interest, who are, when possible, leading members of state wide organisations representing segments of the consumer public so as to establish a broadly based and representative consumer council.

The Consumer Protection Act has authorised the Central Government to make rules as to the composition of the Central Council. Accordingly, the Central Government has provided that the Central Council shall consist of the following members not exceeding 150, namely :—

  1. The Minister in-charge of Consumer Affairs in the Central Government who shall be the Chairman of the Central Council;
  2. The Minister of State (where he is not holding inde­pendent charge) or Deputy Minister in-charge of Consumer Affairs in the Central Government who shall be the Vice-Chairman of the Central Council;
  3. The Secretary in-charge of Consumer Affairs in the Central Government who shall be the member-secretary of the Central Council;
  4. The Minister in-charge of Consumer Affairs in States;
  5. Eight Members of Parliament—five from the Lok Sabha and three from the Rajya Sabha;
  6. The Secretary of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes;
  7. Representatives of the Central Government Departments and autonomous organisations concerned with consumer interests—not exceeding twenty;
  8. Representatives of the Consumer Organisations or consumers—not less than thirty-five;
  9. Representatives of women -not less than ten;
  10. Representatives of farmers, trade and industries-not exceeding twenty;
  11. Persons capable of representing consumer interest not specified above-not exceeding fifteen;

5.1 District Forum

This shall consist of:

  1. A person who is, or has been, or is qualified to be a District Judge, its President
  2. two other members shall be persons of ability, integrity and standing and have adequate knowledge or experience or have shown capacity, in dealing with problems relating to economics, law, commerce, accountancy, industry, public affairs or administration, one of whom shall be a woman.

        Appeal against orders of the Dist. Forum

Any person aggrieved by an order made by the District Forum may appeal against such order to the State Commission within a period of 30 days from the date of the order. The State Commission may entertain an appeal after 30 days if it is satisfied that there was sufficient cause for not filing it within that period.

 Sitting of the District Forum – For conducting any proceedings to resolve a consumer dispute, at least two members of the Forum must be there one of whom should be the president.

Where the member, for any reason, is unable to conduct the pro­ceeding till it is completed, the President and the other member shall conduct such proceeding de novo i.e. from the beginning.

5.2 State Commission

It shall consist of –

  1. A person who is or has been a Judge of a High Court , who shall be its President ;
  2. Two other members ( as for District Forum).

Appeals against orders of State Commission

Any person aggrieved by an order made by the State Commission may appeal against such order to the National Commission within a period of 30 days. The National Commission may entertain an appeal after 30 days if it is satisfied that there was sufficient cause for not filing it within that period

Sitting of the State Commission – Every proceeding is required to be conducted by the president of the State Commission and at least one member thereof sitting together.

However, if for any reason the member is unable to conduct the proceeding till it is completed, the president and the other member shall conduct such proceeding afresh.

        5.3 National Commission

        This shall consist of –

  1. A person who is or has been a Judge of the Supreme Court, who shall be its President. (No appointment under this clause shall be made except after consultation with the Chief Justice of India) .
  2. 4 other members (qualifications: As for District Forum /State Commission).

  Sitting of the National Commission – The disputes must be disposed of by at least three   members of the National Commission, one of whom must be the president (or the senior most member authorised to work as president).

Where the member(s) for any reason are unable to conduct the proceeding till it is completed, the president (or the senior most member acting as president) shall conduct the proceeding afresh.

CHAPTER-6

GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL PROCEDURE AND LIMITATION   FOR FILING COMPLAINTS

6.1 Procedure to be followed by the District Forum [Section 13]

The following procedure is equally applicable to the District Forum, State Commission with required modifications and National Commission with additional procedures required by the rules.

 Where laboratory test is required to determine the defect in goods – A consumer is supposed to file as many copies of the complaint as there are number of judges, with all essential information, supporting papers like correspondence, and specify­ing the compensation demanded.

On receipt of such complaint—

   (a)   The District Forum should refer a copy of the complaint to the opposite party directing him to give his version of the case within a period of thirty days which can be extended to forty five days.

           Where the opposite party on receipt of a complaint referred to him denies or disputes the allegations contained in the complaint, or omits or fails to take any action to represent his case within the time given by the District Forum, the District Forum would take the following steps to settle the dispute:

   (b)   The District Forum may require the complainant to deposit specified fees for payment to the appropriate laboratory for carrying out the necessary analysis or test in relation to the goods in question.

   (c)   The District Forum will obtain a sample of the goods, seal it, authenticate it and refer the sample so sealed to the appropriate laboratory for an analysis or test, whichever may be necessary, with a view to finding out whether such goods suffer from any defect.        The District Forum will remit the fees to the appropriate labora­tory to enable it to carry out required analysis or test. The laboratories supposed to report its findings to the District Forum within a period of fifty-five days. This period is extendi­ble by the District Forum.

   (d)   Upon receiving laboratory’s report, its copy will be forwarded by the District Forum to the opposite party alongwith its own remarks.

   (e)   In the event of any party disputing the correctness of the findings, or the methods of analysis or test adopted by the appropriate laboratory, the District Forum shall require the objecting party to submit his objections in writing.

    (f)   The District Forum will give an opportunity of hearing to the objecting party.

   (g)   The District Forum shall issue appropriate order after hearing the parties.

  Where no laboratory test is required to determine the defect in goods or the complaint relates to services

   (a)   On receiving the complaint, the District Forum should refer a copy of the complaint to the opposite party directing him to give his version of the case within a period of thirty days which can be extended to forty five days.

   (b)   The opposite party on receipt of a complaint referred to him may—

            (i)   Admit the complaint

           (ii)   Deny or dispute the allegations contained in the com­plaint, or

           (iii)   Omits or fails to respond within the time given by the District Forum.

   (c)   Where the opposite party admits the allegation, the District Forum should decide   the matter on the basis of the merits of the case and the documents before it.

  Where the opposite party denies or disputes the allega­tions made in the complaint, the District Forum will proceed to settle the dispute on the basis of evidence brought to its notice by both the parties.

  Where the opposite party omits or fails to respond within the time given by the Forum, the District Forum will proceed to settle the dispute on the basis of evidence brought to its notice by the complainant.

  (d)   The District Forum shall issue an appropriate order after hearing the parties and taking into account available evidence.

6.2 Procedure to be followed by the National Commission [Section 22]

Section 22 of the Act provides that the National Commission shall follow such procedure as prescribed by the Central Government. The Consumer Protection Rules, 1987 framed by the Central Government lay down the procedure which is as follows:

(1) A complaint containing the following particulars shall be presented by the complainant in person or by his agent to the National Commission or be sent by registered post, addressed to the National Commission:

   (a)   The name, description and the address of the complain­ant;

   (b)   The name, description and address of the opposite party or parties, as the case may be, so far as they can be ascer­tained;

   (c)   The facts relating to the complaint and when and where it arose;

   (d)   Documents in support of the allegations contained in the complaint;

   (e)   The relief which the complainant claims.

(2) The National Commission shall, in disposal of any complaint before it, as far as possible, follow the procedures laid down section 13 of the Act.

(3) On the date of hearing, it shall be obligatory on the parties or their agents to appear before the National Commission. Where the complainant or his agent fails to appear, the National Commission may either dismiss the complaint for default or decide it on merits. Where the opposite party or its agent fails to appear on the date of hearing the National Commission may decide the complaint ex parte.

(4) The complaint shall be decided as far as possible within a period of three months from the date of notice received by oppo­site party where complaint does not require analysis or testing of commodities and within five months if it requires analysis or testing of commodities.

(5) After the proceedings, the National Commission shall issue the orders accordingly.

  1. Jurisdiction: If the relief claimed in the complaint is less than Rs. 20, 00,000/-, then the complaint must be filed before the District Consumer Forum. If the relief claimed is between Rs. 20, 00,000/- and Rs. 1, 00, 00,000/-, then the complaint must be filed before the State Commission. When the relief claim exceeds Rs. 1, 00, 00,000/- then the complaint must be filed before the National Commission at New Delhi. However, see point 6(j) for more details regarding jurisdiction of the Consumer Courts.
  2. A ‘prescribed fee’ is payable for filing a complaint before the District Forum, State Commission or National Commission as follows:

Upto 1 lakh           – Rs.100/-

1 lakh to 5 lakhs           – Rs.200/-

5 lakhs to 10 lakhs        – Rs.400/-

10 lakhs to 20 lakhs      – Rs.500/-

It can be paid by Demand Draft in favour of “President, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, and Chennai.”

  1. The complainant can present his / her complaint in person or by his / her authorised representative to the District Forum / State Commission. There is no requirement for a lawyer or consumer group to represent the complainant.
  2. The complaint can be sent by Registered Post to the District Forum/ State Commission. A minimum of 5 copies of the complaint have to be filed.  This includes three copies for the Forum [in green (Court) paper] plus one for the Office of the Forum and one for the opposite party. Do remember to keep one copy for yourself.  An additional copy for each additional opposite party has to be filed.  Since the Forum / Commission have the power to pass ex parte orders or dismiss your complaint, please ensure that you carry out regular follow-up after filing the complaint. Every hearing date has to be attended to prevent any damage to the complaint.
  3. The complaint should be signed by you, the complainant. If you are authorising someone to represent you, give him / her signed authorisation letter.  In the event of the death of a complainant, his/her legal heir or representative can continue as a complainant

Time frame within which a complaint can be filed – Section 24A of the Act provides that a consumer dispute can be filed within two years from the date on which the cause of action arises.

Since this provision was inserted in the Act in 1993, before that the Consumer Forums were following the Limitation Act, 1963, which says that a suit can be filed within three years after the cause of action arises.

The point of time when cause of action arises is an important factor in determining the time period available to file a com­plaint. There are no set rules to decide such time. It depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

Examples :

  1. A got his eye operated by B in 1989. He got a certifi­cate of blindness on 18th December, 1989. He was still in hope of gaining his sight and went from second operation in 1992 and was discharged on 21-1-1992. He filed a complaint against B on 11-1-1994. B opposed on the ground that more than 2 years were over after 18-12-1989, thus the complaint is not maintainable. The Commission held that here the cause of action for filing the complaint would arose after the second operation when A lost entire hope of recovery. Thus the suit is maintainable – Mukund Lal Ganguly v. Dr. Abhijit Ghosh III 1995 CPJ 64.
  2. A house was allotted on 1-1-1999. Defects appeared in the house on 10-1-1999. Here the cause of action will arise on 10-1-1999.

It may be noted that these time frames are not absolute limita­tions. If the Consumer Forum is satisfied that there was suffi­cient cause for not filing the complaint within the prescribed period, it can entertain a complaint beyond limitation time. However the Forum must record the reasons for condo nation of delay.

Example: A deposited some jewellery with a bank. Bank lost it. Bank kept giving her false sense of hope to retrieve the jewel­lery, and thus A was put in a state of inaction. Later on when A filed a suit on the Bank, it claimed that the suit was not main­tainable as the limitation time after the cause of action arose has lapsed. The Commission reprimanded the bank and admitted the case – Agnes D’Mello v. Canara Bank [1992] I CPJ 335 (NCDRC).

Relief available against complaint [Sections 14 and 22] – A complainant can seek any one or more of the following relief under the Act:

   (a)   To remove the defect pointed out by the appropriate laboratory from the goods in question;

   (b)   To replace the goods with new goods of similar descrip­tion which shall be free from any defect?

   (c)   To return to the complainant the price, or, as the case may be, the charges paid by the complainant;

   (d)   To pay such amount as may be awarded by it as compensa­tion to the consumer for any loss or injury suffered by the consumer due to the negligence of the opposite party;

   (e)   To remove the defects or deficiencies in the services in question;

    (f)   To discontinue the unfair trade practice or the re­strictive trade practice or not to repeat it;

   (g)   Not to offer the hazardous goods for sale;

   (h)   To withdraw the hazardous goods from being offered for sale;

    (i)   To provide from adequate costs to complainant.

 When a complaint cannot be filed – A complaint on behalf of the public which consists of unidentifiable consumers cannot be filed under the Act.

Example: A complaint was filed on the basis of a newspaper report that passengers travelling by flight No. 1C-401 from Cal­cutta to Delhi on May 13, 1989 were made to stay at the airport and the flight was delayed by 90 minutes causing great inconven­ience to the passengers. It was held that such a general com­plaint cannot be entertained. No passenger who boarded that plane came forward or authorised the complainant to make the complaint – Consumer Education and Research Society, Ahmedabad v. Indian Airlines Corporation, New Delhi (1992) 1 CPJ 38 NC.

A complaint by an individual on behalf of general public is not permitted – Commissioner of Transport v. Y.R. Grover 1994 (1) CPJ 199 NC.

An unregistered association cannot file a complaint under the Act.

Example : The complainant was an association formed in the Gulf and was unregistered in India. It was held that since the peti­tioner was not a voluntary organization registered under any law in force in India, cannot come within clause (d) of section 2(1) of the Act and hence can’t file a complaint – Gulf Trivendrum air Fare Forum v. Chairman & Managing Director, Air India 1991 (2) CPR 129.

A complaint after expiry of limitation period is not permitted. A complaint cannot be filed after the lapse of two years from the date on which the cause of action arise unless the Forum is satisfied about the genuineness of the reason for not filing complaint within the prescribed time.

Example: supplied defective machinery to B on 12-1-1998. B filed a suit against A on 10-3-2001. It was not admitted before the Forum for the reason that the time available to make complaint lapsed.

 CHAPTER-7 

POWERS OF THE REDRESSAL AGENCIES AND ENFORCEMENT OF THE ORDERS

 The Redressal Agencies namely District Forum, State Commission & National Commission have all the powers of Civil courts such as (a) summoning & enforcing of witnesses and examining the witnesses on oath (b) discovery & production of any document or other material as evidence (c) Receiving evidence on affidavit (d) Requisitioning report of test or analysis from concerned council laboratory (e) Issuing commission for examination of witnesses (f) any other matter that may be prescribed by central or state government by rule.

Powers of the Consumer Forums [Sections 13(4), 14(1) and Rule 10]

 For the purpose of adjudicating a consumer dispute, section 13(4) has vested the Consumer Forums with certain powers of a civil court. Apart from these powers, the Central Government has provided some additional powers to them under Rule 10 of the Consumer Protection Rules, 1987. Finally section 14 of the Act has provided them with the power to issues orders.

 Powers akin to those of civil court [Section 13(4)] – The Forums are vested with the Civil Court powers with respect to the following:

   (a)   Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any defendant or witness and examining the witness on oath;

   (b)   Discovery and production of any document or other mate­rial object producible as evidence;

   (c)   Receiving of evidence on affidavits;

   (d)   requisitioning of the report of the concerned analysis or test from the appropriate laboratory or from any other rele­vant source;

   (e)   Issuing of any commission for the examination of any witness; and

   (f)   Any other matter which may be prescribed.

 Additional powers of the consumer forums [Rule 10] – The National Commission, the State Commission and the District Forum have following additional powers:

   (a)   Requiring production of any books, accounts, documents, or commodities from any person, examining and retaining them.

   (b)   Obtaining information required for the purpose of the proceedings from any person.

   (c)   Enter and search any premises and seize from such premises books, papers, documents, commodities required for the purpose of proceedings under the Act.

 Power to issue order [Section 14(1)] – If, after the pro­ceedings, the Forum is satisfied that the complainant suffer from any defect in goods or deficiency in service, it may issue an order to the opposite party directing him to do one or more of the following things, namely :—

(a)   To remove the defect pointed out by the appropriate laboratory from the goods in question;

(b)   To replace the goods with new goods of similar descrip­tion which shall be free from any defect?

(c)   To return to the complainant the price, or, as the case may be, the charges paid by the complainant

(d)   To pay such amount as may be awarded by it as compensa­tion to the consumer for any loss or injury suffered by the consumer due to the negligence of the opposite party;

(e)   To remove the defects or deficiencies in the services in question;

(f)   To discontinue the unfair trade practice or the re­strictive trade practice or not to repeat it;

(g)   Not to offer the hazardous goods for sale;

(h)   To withdraw the hazardous goods from being offered for sale;

(i)   To provide for adequate costs to complainant.

Penalties for non-compliance – Every order made by the District Forum or State   Commission, or the National Commission may be enforced in the same manner as if it were a decree of the court. [Section 25] .All the persons – the trader, or complainant, or the opposite party, are supposed to comply with the orders. When any such person fails or omits to comply with the order, the District Forum, or State Commission, or the National Commission, as the case may be, may punish him with—

–   Imprisonment for a term ranging between one month and three years, or

–   With fine ranging between Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 10,000, or

–   With both.

CONCLUSION

CHAPTER-8

Consumer protection is always a matter of great concern. From the analysis of performance with regard to the disposal rate of cases of various Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies in India, it is found that the agencies at the district level are on the top followed by national level and state level it is observed that district level agencies are working efficiently than the national and state level agencies[v]. There is still need of agencies functioning at state and national level to dispose of the pending cases as early as possible by creating supplementary benches as per the provisions of Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

 Books

  1. The Law of Consumer Protection in India: Justice within Reach by Gurjeet Singh
  2. A Commentary on Consumer Protection Act, 1986 by B.K .Das and S.S .Rao
  3. Consumer Protection Act 1986- Bare Act

 Journal

A Study on Consumer Awareness And Attitude Towards Consumer Protection Measures*Dr.P.Jayasubramanian **Miss A,Vaideke

Internet Sources

http://www.lexisnexis.in/pdfteaser/633836832652968750.pdf http://consumereducation.in/publications/4_consume_protection_act.pd

http://consumeraffairs.nic.in/consumer/?q=node/194f

http://164.100.47.134/intranet/ConsumerProtection.pdf

http://www.ncdrc.nic.in/1_1.html

Edited by Kanchi Kaushik

[i] Gurjeet Singh, “Group Action and the Law: A Case Study of Social Action Litigation & Consumer

Protection in India,” Journal of Consumer Policy, March 1995, p. 25-54.

[ii] 7 Gurjeet Singh, “Role of Media in Consumer Education,” Upabhakta Jagran, Vol. 20, Dec. 1996, p. 45-

[iii] Gurjeet Singh, “The Law of Consumer Protection in India,” Justice within Reach,” New Delhi: Deep

And Deep Publication, 1996.

[iv] 6 B.K. Das & S.S. Rao, A Commentary on Consumer Protection Act, 1986, Allahabad: Sodhi Publication,1999

[v]  Indian General of Applied Science Volume : 1 | Issue : 12 | September 2012

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