Industrial development in the field of manufactured goods has led to the influx of various consumer goods into the Indian market to cater to the needs of the consumers and a variety of services such as banking, financing, insurance, transport, housing construction, entertainment have been made available to the consumers.
In order to protect the consumers from exploitation and to save them from adulterated and substandard goods and deficient services the Consumer Protection Act came into force on 15th April, 1986 and it applies to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Who is a Consumer
The definition of consumer under the Consumer Protection Act would include:
- A person who has bought goods for consideration,
- Any person other than the buyer who uses the goods with the approval of the buyer,
- A person who hires any services for consideration1,
- Any other person who uses the services with the approval of the hirer of services’
- Beneficiary of services.
Any person who obtains the goods for resale or commercial purposes is not a consumer. But a person buying goods for self employment is a consumer.
Who can file a complaint
Following persons can file a complaint under the Act:
- a consumer; or
- any voluntary consumer association registered under the Companies Act, 1956 or under any other law for the time being in force, or
- the Central Government or any State Government,
- one or more consumers, where there are numerous consumers having the same interest.
A complaint on behalf of the public which consists of unidentifiable consumers cannot be filed under the Act. An unregistered association cannot file a complaint under the Act.
A complaint must contain any of the following allegations:
- An unfair trade practice or a restrictive trade practice has been adopted by any trader;
- The goods bought by him or agreed to be bought by him suffer from one or more defects;
- The services hired or availed of suffer from deficiency in any respect;
- A trader has charged for the goods mentioned in the complaint a price in excess of the price fixed by or under any law for the time being in force or displayed on the goods or any package containing such goods.
- Goods which will be hazardous to life and safety when used are being offered for sale to the public in contravention of the provisions of any law for the time being in force requiring traders to display information in regard to the contents, manner and effect of use of such goods.
Limitation Period for filing Complaint
A complaint should be filed at the earliest but not later than two years from the date on which the cause of action arose. However the Court may entertain the complaint after a period of 2 years if the complainant is able to satisfy the court that there was sufficient cause for the delay.
A consumer can seek for the following remedies under the Act:
- to remove the defect pointed out by the appropriate laboratory from the goods in question;
- to replace the goods with new goods of similar description which shall be free from any defect;
- to return to the complainant the price, or, as the case may be, the charges paid by the complainant;
- to pay such amount as may be awarded by it as compensation to the consumer for any loss or injury suffered by the consumer due to the negligence of the opposite party;
- to remove the defects or deficiencies in the services in question;
- to discontinue the unfair trade practice or the restrictive trade practice or not to repeat it;
- not to offer the hazardous goods for sale;
- to withdraw the hazardous goods from being offered for sale;
- to provide from adequate costs to complainant.
Consumer Protection Councils
The Consumer Councils have been created to advise and assist the consumers in seeking and enforcing their rights. In India, there are Consumer Councils both at Center level and State level. The State Government shall establish a District Consumer Protection Council for every district. These councils work towards the promotion and protection of consumers. They make investigations and give publicity to the matters concerning consumer interests, take steps towards furthering consumer education and protecting consumer from exploitation, advice the Government in the matter of policy formulation keeping consumer interest as pivotal concern, etc. Although their suggestions are re commendatory in nature, but they have significant impact in policy making.
Objects of the Consumer Council
The objects of the Central Council shall be to promote and protect the following rights of the consumers:
- The right to be protected against the marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property;
- The right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services, as the case may be so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices;
- The right to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices;
- The right to be heard and to be assured that consumer's interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums;
- The right to seek readdress against unfair trade practices or restrictive trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; and
- The right to consumer education.
Consumer Protection Forums
The Consumer Protection Act provides three tier machinery for redressal of consumer grievances:
- District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forums
At the lowest level are the District Forums and these are established in each District and have jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of goods or services and the compensation if any, claimed does not exceed Rs.20, 00, 00 (Twenty Lakhs) and a complaint can be filed in a District Forum within the local limits of which:
- the opposite party resides or
- carries on his business or works for gain or
- where the cause of action arises.
- State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
The State Consumer Disputes Redress Commission is established in each state and these have jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of goods or services and the compensation if any, claimed exceeds rupees twenty lakhs but does not exceed rupees one crore.
- National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services and compensation if any claimed exceeds rupees one crore.
An Appeal from the order of the District Forum lies to the State Commission, against the order of the State Commission to the National Commission and against the order of the National Commission to the Supreme Court.
All appeals are to be filed within 30 days of the order appealed against and are to be accompanied by a certified copy of the order.
Period of 30 days is counted not from the date of order but from the date when the order is communicated to the appellant.
Penalties for non-compliance
Any person who fails or omits to comply with the order of the District Forum, or State Commission, or the National Commission, as the case may be, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one month but which may extend to three years, or with fine which shall not be less than two thousands rupees but which may extend to ten thousand rupees, or with both.
Fee for making complaints before District Forum
Every complaint filed under the Act shall be accompanied by a fee in the form of crossed Demand Draft drawn on a nationalized bank or through a crossed Indian Postal Order drawn in favor of the Registrar of the State Commission and payable at the respective place where the State Commission or the National Commission is situated.