Everyone is a Consumer in today’s world. With being a consumer there are certain rights that come with it. The seller and the manufacturer have some rules and regulations to follow and if the consumer’s rights are not upheld, the consumer has the right to approach a special set of courts called Consumer Courts. With flexible procedure, speedy justice and specialisation as its advantages, these courts have turned to be a huge success. This paper analyses the procedure laid down under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and gives a guide through the required paperwork, court fee and limitations and towards the end of the paper highlights reliefs that are available to the consumer.
Where to go if the refrigerator you bought 2 months ago is giving more problems than an older one and the manufacturing company has refused to entertain your claims? What should a person do who has just bought a new car finds out that the car he just bought has manufacturing defects?
The answer that shall come in anyone’s mind is that the person needs to approach the Court. But here little distinction needs to be drawn that matters like these where a consumer has purchased some good for self- consumption are dealt by not a regular court but a special court called a consumer court where the judges specialise in the matters and speedy justice can be done to the aggrieved consumers.
The current legislation in this regard is the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 passed with a view to protect the interest of the consumers though establishing various councils forums and councils at various level for the redressal of the consumer disputes. The Parliament with a view to ease the consumer grievance redressal system and ensuring timely and effective disposal of complaints has also recently passed the Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 on 6th August 2019. The Act shall come into force as and when the Central Government may so notify.
Who has the right to approach a Consumer Court?
According to Section 29 (i) (d) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, Consumer is a person who purchases a product or avails a service for his own use or to use to earn his livelihood by means of self-employment. Another essential ingredient of the definition is that some consideration shall be paid for the product and the product shall not be free of cost. The Act does not cover the goods purchased commercial purposes or re-sale.
Which Consumer Court to Approach?
Under the Act of 1986, the Consumer Courts exist at three levels which deal with different jurisdictions both territorial and pecuniary.
- District Forum – The Act provides for that each district shall have a District Forum where the bench consists of three members, out of whom one member shall be a Former District Judge or qualified to be a District Judge and one member shall be a woman. The District Forum entertains the complaints of the entire district where the value of the claim is below 20 lacs.
- State Commission – The Act provides for that each State shall have a State Commission where the bench consists of three members, out of which one member is a former High Court Judge and another shall be a woman. The Commission in its original jurisdiction shall entertain the claims above Rs. 20 lacs to Rs. 1 Crore. Appeals against the judgment of the District Forum are also filed in the State Commission.
- National Commission – The Act provides that there shall be a National Commission at the National level with its seat at New Delhi where the bench consists of a President who is a former Supreme Court Judge and not less than four members including one woman. The Commission has the authority to handle claims above Rs. 1 crore and also takes appeals from the State Commission.
When can a Consumer approach a Consumer Court?
The Consumer can approach the right court according to the territorial and pecuniary jurisdiction of the court and the according to the value of the goods or the services. A complaint can be made if :-
- There is loss to the consumer due to unfair or restrictive trade practice by the seller or manufacturer.
- If the product sold to the consumer is defective in nature.
- If the service availed suffers from any deficiency.
- If the seller has charged a price over and above of the stipulated price that he/she is not legally allowed to charge for the goods and services.
- If the seller has sold the goods which are hazardous or dangerous to life of the general public.
- If the goods are not delivered in the time frame as stipulated in the terms of the contract in cases of property.
Where to Start from & What to do?
The basic intent of the act is to protect the consumers from unfair trade practices by sellers and manufacturers. That is why the provisions of the Act are very consumer-friendly and even a compliant written on a sheet of paper can be considered valid and action can be taken accordingly. Furthermore, the complainant does not compulsorily engage a lawyer to argue the case in court and the complainant himself can go to court and argue the case. Further, if the declaration needs to be given, it need not to be along with stamp duty. The court fees is also significantly lower to promote consumer welfare throughout.
The procedure to file the compliant is simple and the complaint needs to contain the particulars of the dispute along with the deficiency or defect in the product/service and the relief claimed by the court backed by the documents which make the case. There needs to be 3 copies in the case of District Forum or State Commission and 4 copies in the case of National Commission.
The required details are :-
- Name & Address of the Complainant
- Name & Address of the Opposite Party/Parties
- Date of the Goods Purchased or services availed.
- Details of the Consideration Paid
- Details of the Goods Purchased or Services Availed
- Relief Sought under the Act
- Signature of the Complainant
Along with the required documents, a certain amount has to be paid as court fee. If the case has to be filed in the District Consumer Forum, and the value of the goods is less Rs 1 lac, then the fee is Rs. 100 for a normal citizen and nothing shall be charged from a person having the Antyodaya Anna Yojana card. For cases involving upto Rs. 5 lacs the court fee is Rs 200, upto Rs 10 lac the court fee is Rs 400 and upto Rs. 20 lac the case fee is Rs 500.
For the State Commission, if the value of the goods is above Rs. 20 lacs and upto Rs. 50 lacs, the court fee shall be Rs 2000 and if the value of the goods is upto Rs. 1 crore, the court fee shall be Rs 4000. For National Commission the court fee shall be Rs 5000 and there shall be no fee in case of any appeal in the State and the National Commission.
The complaint has to be filed within 2 years from the date on which the cause of action has arisen. The delay in the filing of the complaint can be condoned by the commission if the complainant has sufficient reasons to convivence the bench.
The appeals against the order of the District Forum shall be filed with the State Commission within 30 days after the judgment is delivered. Similarly, there exists a 30 day limit on the appeal before the National Commission against the order of the State Commission.
What are the Reliefs Available?
The Consumer Court as discussed earlier is consumer-friendly in every possible way and try to make sure their rights as consumers are upheld. The court has the authority to :-
- Order removal of defects or replacement of goods
- Refund of the price paid
- Award compensation for the loss or injury
- Cease manufacture of hazardous goods
- Issue corrective advertisement to neutralize the effect of misleading advertisement
- Provide with exemplary costs according to the nature of the case
- Award interest in case of any delay in payment
A common man is afraid of the Court but at the same time some things are inescapable and such is the case of consumer court. A common man is likely to get into some kind of trouble as a consumer and then the role of the consumer courts comes into the picture. With the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 in place and a whole new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 in the pipeline, the interests and rights of the consumer have assumed nothing but a higher pedestal. With the simple procedure and flexible rules, the consumer court is not much of a hassle which is present in the normal function of the civil and criminal courts. Speedy Justice and specialisation of the judges is another added benefit which shall instil a confidence in the mind of a consumer or a potential consumer that even if something goes wrong, justice shall be done.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Which court should be approached in case of cheating/fraud by seller?
- What are Consumer Courts? How are they different from Regular Courts?
- Which Consumer Court to Approach in case of any dispute?
- Does a person necessarily have to engage a lawyer in Consumer Court?
- What is the Procedure to make a Complaint?