The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (COPRA) was passed by the Indian parliament and came into force on December 1986. The Act was passed to protect the consumers’ interest as well as to establish state bodies to deal with consumer problems and anything that arises thereof.
Consumer courts were established as Consumer Dispute Resolution Agencies and they deal with consumer disputes, conflicts and grievances. There are judiciary hearings set up by the government to protect the consumer rights.
PURPOSE OF CONSUMER COURT
Its main function is to maintain the fair practices & contracts by sellers. It is a forum where a consumer may file a case against a seller in the case where the consumer feels that he has been cheated or exploited by the seller. The court will only give a verdict in favour of the consumers/customers if they have proof of exploitation, i.e., bills or purchase memos.
If a consumer does not have the proper documents required for filing a case then it would be very difficult for the consumer to win or even file a case.
The point of having a separate forum for consumer disputes is to ensure that such disputes are speedily resolved and are less expensive. The whole process of consumer courts is fairly simple. Self-representation is possible in a consumer court. Right from submitting a complaint to the process of hearing all procedures are kept simple and uncomplicated.
The consumer rights provided by consumer courts in India are:
- Right to Safety: They should be protected against the product that hampers their safety. The protection must be against any product or service which could be hazardous to their health – Mental, Physical or many of the other factors.
- Right to Information: The right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services, as the case may be to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices.
- Right to Choose: The right to free choice of goods and services. A consumer should be convinced of the product he is about to choose and should make a decision by himself. This also means consumer should have a variety of articles to choose from.
- Right to Heard: If a consumer is dissatisfied with the product purchased then they have all the right to file a complaint against it. And the said complaint cannot go unheard, it must be addressed in an appropriate time frame.
- Right to Redressal: The right to seek compensation, whenever consumer rights have been infringed
- Right to Consumer Education: Consumer has the right to know all the information and should be made well aware of the rights and responsibilities of the government.
STRUCTURE OF THE CONSUMER COURTS
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 provides for the composition of each of the courts:
- District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum:
Each district forum is to consist of;
a person who is, or has been, or is qualified to be a District Judge, who shall be its President;
two other members, who shall be persons of ability, integrity and standing, and have adequate knowledge or experience of, 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.
- State Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum:
Each State Commission shall consist of –
a person who is or has been a Judge of a High Court, appointed by the State Government, who shall be its President :
Provided that no appointment under this clause shall be made except after consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court;
two other members, who shall be persons of ability, integrity and standing and have adequate knowledge or experience of, 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 :
Provided that every appointment made under this clause shall be made by the State Government on the recommendation of a selection committee consisting of the following, namely:- (i) President of the State Commission – Chairman, (ii) Secretary of the Law Department of the State – Member, (iii) Secretary, in-charge of Department dealing with consumer affairs in the State – Member.
- National Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum:
The National Commission shall consist of –
a person who is or has been a Judge of the Supreme Court, to be appointed by the Central Government, who shall be its President :
Provided that no appointment under this clause shall be made except after consultation with the Chief Justice of India;
four other members who shall be persons of ability, integrity and standing and have adequate knowledge or experience of, 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 :
Provided that every appointment made under this clause shall be made by the Central Government on the recommendation of a selection committee consisting of the following, namely:-
A person who is a Judge of the Supreme Court to be nominated by the Chief Justice of India – Chairman,
The Secretary in the Department of Legal Affairs in the Government of India – Member,
Secretary of the Department dealing with consumer affairs in the Government of India – Member.
The jurisdictions of the courts are based on the hierarchy of the courts;
- Pecuniary Jurisdiction:
Pecuniary jurisdiction tries to address whether a court of law can try cases and suits of the monetary value/amount of the case or suit in question.
The District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum has the pecuniary jurisdiction of up to an amount that does not exceed 20 lakhs.
The State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission has the pecuniary jurisdiction where the claim exceeds 20 lakhs but does not exceed 1 crore rupees.
The Nation Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission has the pecuniary jurisdiction where the claim exceeds the amount of 1 crore rupees.
- Territorial Jurisdiction:
Territorial jurisdiction refers to power of the court to inquire and proceed with the trial of matter that is presented before it.
Territorial jurisdiction is to be taken into consideration after establishing pecuniary jurisdiction. A complaint may be filed in the court that is within those local limits where;
When the opposite party voluntarily resides in or works in those local limits.
Where the cause of action arises from.
To determine where the cause of action arises you can apply the same laws applicable to contract law.
Territorial jurisdiction when a transaction was done online.
Transactions done online effectively negates territorial jurisdiction. In this case, territorial jurisdiction is in any of the multiple places the cause of action arises, which also includes where the appellant resides.
- Appellate Jurisdiction:
Appellate jurisdiction is the power of an appellate court to review, amend and overrule decisions of a trial court or other lower tribunal.
If a consumer is not satisfied by the decision made by the district forum they may make an appeal to the state commission.
If the consumer is aggrieved by the decision made by the state commission they may appeal to the national commission.
If a consumer is not satisfied by the decision made by the national commission they may approach the Supreme Court for an appeal.
PROCESS TO FILE A COMPLAINT
- Send a notice to the construction company/ developer, before filing a formal complaint. It is important for the consumer to give notice to the opposite party regarding the deficiency in service or unfair practice. This is to see if the other party is willing to offer the compensation to make the good the loss suffered by the consumer. If the developer refuses or neglects the notice, the you can approach the consumer court.
- Submit a formal complaint under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It is not necessary to hire a lawyer for filing the suit. Fill this complaint form and submit it to the commission. On a plain paper, mention the details of the complainant and the opposite party. Otherwise, you can consult consumer grievance redressal forums which also help consumers in filing and forming petition at nominal charges. One such non-governmental organisation is International Consumer Rights Protection Council. The consumer should file the complaint in the district forum which has under its jurisdiction the other party’s residence or office of profit or the area where the project is located.
- You have to submit the fee through a demand draft. The consumer forum follows difference jurisdiction to entertain complaint:
If the claim is for less than Rs 20 lakh, the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum will hear the plea.
If the claim is for more than Rs 20 lakh but less than Rs 1 crore, the State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission will entertain the complaint.
If the claim is more than Rs 1 crore, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission will attend to the plea.
THE RELIEFS AVAILABLE TO CONSUMERS FROM CONSUMER FORA
- Removal of defects from the goods;
- Replacement of the goods;
- Refund of the price paid;
- Removal of defects or deficiencies in the services;
- Award of compensation for the loss or injury suffered;
- Discontinue and not to repeat unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practice;
- To withdraw hazardous goods from being offered for sale;
- To cease manufacture of hazardous goods and desist from offering services which are hazardous in nature;
- If the loss or injury has been suffered by a large number of consumers who are not identifiable conveniently, to pay such sum (not less than 5% of the value of such defective goods or services provided) which shall be determined by the forum;
- To issue corrective advertisement to neutralize the effect of misleading.
- To provide adequate costs to parties.