Procedure to file a complaint under Consumer Protection Act, 1986

Procedure to file a complaint under Consumer Protection Act, 1986

Introduction

The concept of Consumer protection originated and over the years have been developed with the intention to protect and recognize the rights of every consumer. It was developed as a natural response to maintain rights of consumers. Every consumer is entitled to be protected against exploitation and abuse by any manufacturer or supplier of goods or service providers. The origin of the concept consumer protection in the United States is said to have been initiated and introduced by John F. Kennedy. On March 15 1962, John. Kennedy introduced the concepts like right to safety, right to be informed, right to be heard, right to choose etc. The evolution of consumer protection in India can be seen throughout its history. The Vedas, Dharma Shastras, code of Chanakya all deal with consumer protection in one way or the other. It sought to safeguard the interests of the consumer. Some of the laws relating to consumer protection that came up eventually were the sale of goods act 1930, Indian partnership act 1932, Agricultural produce act 1937, Drugs act 1940, Drugs and Cosmetics act 1940 etc. In 1986, the consumer protection act was passed to provide protection and safeguard interests of the consumers and for that purpose the were provisions made.  Its objectives were to provide better and all -round protection to consumers, provide effective safeguard against different types of exploitation, protect consumers from defective goods, deficiency in services and unfair trade practices, incorporating various provisions for simple, speedy and inexpensive machinery for redressal of consumer grievances etc.  The act applies to all goods and services unless specifically excepted by the central government; and has jurisdiction in private, public and co-operative sectors. It established consumer protection councils at the center , state and district levels. It also entailed and clearly mentioned the 6 rights provided to the consumers which were right to protection, right to be assured, right to be heard, right to seek redressal and right to consumer education.

Consumer protection Act 2019

In the new consumer protection act of 2019, there have been changes regarding  e-commerce transactions,  definition of consumers, protection liability, unfair contracts, central protection councils etc. There has also been inclusions of various other rights such as right to file a complaint from anywhere, right to seek a hearing, right to know why a complaint was rejected etc. As per the act of 1986 a complaint could only be filed at a place where the product was purchased or where the seller of the product had his registered office. But as per the new act  of 2019, a complaint can be filed with any district/state consumer commission from anywhere.

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Consumer Protection Act 1986

The definition of ‘consumer’ is given under section 2(1)(d) of the consumer protection act ,1986. The definition has a wide scope that includes both consumers that avails services and also beneficiaries of such services other than the consumer that avails the service. In the case of state of Karnataka v. Vishwabharathi House building co-op society, the constitutional validity of the consumer protection act 1986 was questioned. It was stated that the act acts as a supplement to the jurisdiction and powers of the civil courts and other statutory authorities and does not in any way supersede its powers.  The court therefore held that the consumer protection act 1986 is constitutionally valid. The act provides for the formation of central, state and district consumer protection councils.

Dispute Redressal Agencies

There are three consumer dispute redressal agencies, namely district forum, state commission, and national commission. The District Forum will have jurisdiction to take up complaints where the valuation of the products or administrations and the remuneration, assuming any, asserted doesn’t surpass rupees twenty lakhs. The State Commission will have the jurisdiction where the worth or pay surpasses twenty lakh however doesn’t surpass rupees one crore and deal with appeals from any of the District Forum from inside the State. The National Commission has the jurisdiction over the issues surpassing one crore rupees and appeals from State Commissions. Chapter 3 section 9 deals with the establishment of consumer redressal agencies and section 10 deals with the composition of the agencies.

The jurisdiction of the agencies are clearly illustrated in section 11. In Ghanshyambhai Patel v. new India assurance co. the court held that in case of matter involving complicated question of law and facts , the matter must be heard by the civil court and not by consumer forum.

Filing of a complaint under Consumer Protection Act, 1986

Section 12 talks about the manner in which complaint shall be made. A complaint regarding goods and services can be filed with the redressal agency by ;

  1. a consumer who is the party to the transaction i.e. a party to whom goods have been sold to or have been promised or agreed to sell. It can also be services provided or agreed to provide.
  2. A complaint can be raised by any recognized consumer association irrespective of the fact that the consumer who is aggrieved is part of the association or not.
  3. It can also be raised by one or more consumers that have similar interests. It can be done so with the permission of the district forum. It can be raised by individuals in a representative capacity also.
  4. It can be filed by the central or state government in their individual capacity or on representing the consumers in general.
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Section 12(2) states that the filing of every complaint has to be made after paying the prescribed amount as fees in the manner in which it is prescribed. It is upon the discretion of the agency to allow the proceedings of the complaint. The acceptance or rejection of the complaint shall be made with a period of 21 days from the date of filling it. An opportunity for the complainant to address and present his issue should be given and only after which the decision with regard to the admissibility of the complaint should be taken.

Procedure after admission of complaint

Section 13 of the act deals with the procedure in which a complaint should proceed after admission. The redressal agency has certain prescribed procedures to follow while proceeding to settle the consumer dispute. In a case where the complaint is regarding any defects in the goods and the defect cannot be determined without conducting tests; the redressal agency has to obtain a sample , seal it and send it to the laboratory for testing. The complainant must pay necessary fees and charges for procedural expenses and other fees incurred for carrying out the necessary analysis. In case of any objection by any of the parties with regard to the findings of the laboratory, they can submit their reasons of objection in writing to the redressal agency. The redressal agency should give appropriate opportunities and chances to the complainants to be heard and must be given opportunities to address their concerns ,after which an appropriate order must be passed by the agency after appropriate analysis of the case.  There is also a time bar within which redressal has to be provided to the parties. The redressal must be given within three months of filing the complaint. In case any of the parties want to seek for an appeal, the hierarchy starts from the district forum, being the lowest level ,  the state commission , then the national commission and finally the Supreme Court. The appeal has to be filed within thirty days of passing the order by any redressal agency. In case of no appeal within thirty days of passing the order; it shall be final. In the case of Sapient Corporation employees provident fund trust v HDFC & Ors., a complaint was filed against HDFC for debiting money into the account of the holder without prior permission of the holder. The national commission found out that the holder was given due notice and their action was in conformity with the statutory regulations. The commission was of the opinion that there is a need to prevent frivolous complaints which lacked seriousness and sufficient grounds and therefore laid down a penalty of rupees twenty five thousand on the complaint under  section 26 of the act.

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Limitation Period

Section 24(A)  deals with the limitation period. The District Forum, the State Commission or the National Commission will not concede a complaint except if it is documented within two years from the date on which the reason for action has emerged. A complaint might be entertained after the predetermined period, if the complainant convinces the District Forum, the State Commission or the National Commission, all things considered, that he had adequate reason for not recording the complaint inside such period. Yet, no such complaint will be engaged except if the National Commission, the State Commission or the District Forum, by and large, records its reason for condoning such delay.

Penaties

Section 27 of the consumer protection act 1986 deals with penalties. If a merchant or an individual against whom a complaint is made or the complainant fails or excludes to conform to any request made by any redressal agency; such trader or individual or complainant will be culpable with detainment for a term at least one month and not over three years or with fine which might be at the very least 2,000 rupees however which might be stretch out to 10,000 rupees or with both( amended in 2002). In  Labh Shanker Jiverambal v. Managing Director, Reliance Industries 1992(2) CPJ 461, the court held that a consumer is excepted from paying any court fee but with an exception that damages cannot be claimed for any amount by the consumer and in order to keep a check on this approach of making exaggerated claims, the commission may be required to pass orders directing such complainants to pay costs.

CONCLUSION

The enactment of the consumer protection laws were designed to provide speedy and just redressal to the consumers. The change in concept of the principle of ‘caveat emptor’ to ‘caveat venditor’ can be clearly seen through this enactment. The consumer protection laws ensure fair trading and exchange of honest information in the market which promotes truthful and just practices. This act brought in mechanisms for speedy redressals and prompt procedures which was widely accepted and appreciated.

Author: Anil George,
Christ University, 2nd year

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