CONSUMER RIGHTS IN INDIAN CONTEXT
CONSUMER RIGHTS IN INDIA
Ever since Ralph Nader in his part breaking book ‘UNSAFE AT ALL SPEED’, people have become aware of consumer rights. The consumer movement which made its foray in India resulted in the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
PURPOSE OF THE ACT
This was an act which was intended to protect the customer from marketing of goods and services of inferior quality and which are likely to be hazardous. Apart from this, the act envisaged that the consumer is aware of the quality, quantity, purity and price of the goods. In the event of dissatisfaction to the consumer, he has a right to be heard and receive due consideration failing which he can seek redressal by approaching the concerned forum. This act also implied the right of the consumer to be educated thereby highlighting the consumer orientation that is expected of all manufacturers.
Apart from certain specified exemptions listed by the Central Government, the consumer protection act is applicable to all goods and services produced by private, public and co-operative sectors. Any consumer or a registered association of consumers can seek redressal from consumer courts established all over the country. These consumer courts have a three tier setup. At the lowest level, is the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum which is established in every district. The next higher level is the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. This is also referred to as ‘State Commission’. At the top of the hierarchy is the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
TYPE OF COMPLAINTS
Any consumer who has valid complaints can approach the above appropriate redressal machinery. Complaints can be relating to false representation, selling of second hand goods as new ones, giving warranty about performance of a product without proper testing, misleading the public about the price, conducting fake contests, defective goods, poor service, over pricing etc.. All these are grounds for filing a complaint.
WHERE TO FILE THE CASE
Any aggrieved consumer can file a complaint in the district forum if the cost of goods or services and the compensation sought is up to Rs.500, 000. This however is applicable only in the district where the forum has jurisdiction. The consumer can however file a complaint against the party in a district where its branch office is located. For goods and services above Rs 500,000 but less than Rs 2000,000 the complaint should be filed in the State Commission and for those above 2000,000 in the National Commission.
HOW TO FILE THE CASE
What makes consumer courts different from other ones is the ease with which cases can be filed and adjudicated. For complaints before a forum or a commission no fee is charged and even stamp paper is not needed. The complaint can be submitted in plain paper devoid of legalese. But the application should furnish details about the name and address of the complainant; name and description of the opposite party, details regarding the complaint, supporting documents and the relief that is sought. All such complaints should be filed within two years of the cause of action. Any delay will be condoned by the forum or commission if it satisfied by the genuine cause of the delay. This complaint can either be sent by registered post or delivered by an authorized agent on behalf of the complainant. The service of a lawyer is not necessary.
The forum after scrutinizing and deliberating upon the case may provide the following type of reliefs:
1. Replacement of Goods
2. Refund of price paid
3. Compensation for loss or injury
4. Award for adequate costs
5. Instructions to the opposite party to discontinue unfair trade practices or offering of hazardous goods.
Frivolous complaints may not only result in the dismissal of the complaint, but fined up to Rs.10, 000 to compensate the opposite party.
Non-complaisance of penalties by the opposite party can also result in imprisonment from a minimum of 1 month to 3 years with a fine of Rs.2000 to 10,000. The punishment however depends upon the gravity of the case. Sometimes both imprisonment and fine may be awarded if the forum feels it is necessary.
In all such cases a forum/commission has to give its verdict within 3 months from the date on which the notice is received. This may however go up to 5 months if any analytical test of commodities has to be made. The state and national commissions which consider their appeals has to dispense the case within 90 days from the date of hearing. In all such cases the complainant should keep the receipt of the payments made and other proofs relating to quality assurance etc.
Consumer Protection Act is an empowering act which was first applied only to manufactured goods and select services. But with the growing consumer awareness, many areas which did not come under its ambit are now covered by the Consumer Protection Act. One example of this is the Health service industry. Consumer Protection Act has contributed a lot to empower the citizen and improve the quality of life.