The field of consumer rights is a burgeoning field of both study as well as legislation in India. Through the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, as well as the Consumer Protection Act of 2019, consumer redressal agencies were established to safeguard consumer rights.
These were intended to develop courtrooms that could function without lawyers, but attorney consultations remain an important part of any courtroom proceeding. Since direct purchases do not usually come with clauses that provide protection, like employment contracts, specialized courtrooms with special procedures became necessary to address consumer grievances.
What is the Consumer Protection Act?
- The original Consumer Protection Act in India was passed by the Parliament in 1986, and it came into force in July 1987. Consumer protection defines a consumer as “someone who purchases goods or who avails or hires services.”
- In 2019, the 1986 Act was repealed and the Consumer Protection Act of 2019 was passed, which included updated provisions and procedures that aimed at broadening the scope of consumer rights in India.
- Both Consumer Protection Acts intended to safeguard the fundamental right of consumers and ensure better living conditions by improving the quality of goods and services.
- The object of these laws in India was to provide better and more effective protection against any kind of exploitation to consumers, such as defective products, inefficient services, and unethical, immoral, or illegal trade practices, and give them a simple and inexpensive procedure for attaining relief against such grievances.
What is consumer protection?
Consumer protection refers to protecting the interest and rights of consumers in an economy. In other words, it refers to the procedures created and implemented for the safety of consumers from immoral, deceitful, or unprofessional conduct by businesses and to provide them speedy redressal for their grievances.
What are the consumer redressal agencies?
The consumer redressal agencies that were set up were created in three tiers. They are as follows:
- District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission: These are small-scale consumer redressal agencies that are present in every district of every State. These consumer redressal agencies deal with cases of values up to Rs. 20 lakhs.
- State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission: These are medium-scale consumer redressal agencies. These consumer redressal agencies deal with cases of values up to Rs. 1 crore.
- National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission: These are large-scale consumer redressal agencies. These consumer redressal agencies deal with cases of values over Rs. 1 crore. They also serve an appellate function.
How do consumer redressal agencies function?
- After a consumer files a consumer complaint, the consumer redressal agencies have 21 days to decide whether or not to admit the complaint. The value of the complaint decides which of the consumer redressal agencies responds to it.
- If the complaint is not admitted, it has to be rejected with a speaking order. This means that the consumer redressal agencies have to give specific reasons as to why it was rejected.
- If the complaint is admitted, the opposing party is informed of the complaint within 21 days of the admittance.
- After the opposing party receives the complaint, they have to respond to it within 30 days. This period is extendable by 15 days at the request of the respondent.
- Next, if the goods provided require laboratory examination, they are submitted to an external laboratory for analysis. This process takes 45 days at most, although this period is extendable as well.
- Once the report is submitted by the laboratory, copies of the report are given to both parties. If there is no laboratory report involved, the report will be submitted on the basis of other evidence.
- The respondent can object to the laboratory report and ask for it to be performed by a different laboratory, but this happens very rarely.
- After the report is submitted, the consumer redressal agencies are expected to take action within 3 months of the report being submitted. This period is extended to 5 months in case of a laboratory report being necessary.
- Now, the consumer redressal agencies can pass an adjournment of the matter and hear the case at a later date, but this generally does not happen. If the case is adjourned, it must be through a speaking order.
- The reason for this is that consumer redressal agencies are supposed to provide expeditious relief, and adjournments would go against this goal.
- The consumer redressal agencies can also provide interim relief to sustain the rights of the parties while the redressal process goes on.
- The powers given to the consumer redressal agencies are quite expansive and are comparable to those of a civil court.
- The consumer redressal agencies can review their own decisions, as well as the decision of an agency that is on a lower tier than them.
- This review is allowed if there is an error apparent on the face of the record, either of its own motion or on an application made by any of the parties within thirty days of such order.
How to file a consumer complaint
The Consumer Protection Act 2019 allows consumers to complain directly to the relevant forum to resolve their issues as quickly as possible without having to involve expensive lawyers.
- Complaints can be filed if there is a deficiency in service or a defect in the goods delivered.
- Services include all kinds of activities, such as healthcare, food, and transportation services.
- The Consumer Protection Act 1986, as well as its 2019 update, lay an emphasis on alternative dispute resolution methods. Before initiating legal action, attempt to negotiate with the service provider on your own.
- If this fails, inform the service provider of your intent to take legal action, stating the cause of action and a reasonable amount for compensation.
- If there is no response to this, you can file a consumer complaint at Consumer Commission Online Application Portal. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission can access these complaints and seeks to resolve them within three months.
- Under the Consumer Protection Act 2019, the Commission will attempt to find alternative methods for solving the complaint, apart from courtroom proceedings. This would include negotiation and mediation sessions.
- If these fail, the Commission will initiate traditional adversarial litigation proceedings in specialized consumer courts.
The establishment of consumer redressal agencies was a big step toward securing rights for consumers all across the country. Under the present framework, a lawyer is not necessary to fight your case in a Consumer Court. However, attorney consultations are always recommended in such situations.