Consumer Disputes Redressal Fora

 

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is a citizen-oriented social legislation intended to protect the large body of consumers from exploitation. It enables people to secure speedy and inexpensive redressal of their grievances. With the enactment of this law, consumers are in a position to declare "sellers be aware" whereas previously the consumers were at the receiving end and warned "buyers beware".

The Act postulates establishment of the Central and the State Consumer Protection Councils for spreading consumer awareness. To provide cheap, speedy and simple redressal to consumer disputes, quasi-judicial machinery is set up at each District, State and National levels called District Forum, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission respectively. At present, there are 569 District Forums, 33 State Commissions with the apex body as the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) at Janpath Bhawan, A Wing, 5th Floor, Janpath, New Delhi. The District Fora are headed by the person who is or has been eligible to be appointed as a District Judge and the State Commissions are headed by a person who is or has been a Judge of a High Court. The National Commission was constituted in 1988. It is headed by a sitting or retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India, presently Mr. Justice D.P. Wadhwa, former Judge of the Supreme Court as President. It has three Members, viz. Mr. Justice J.K. Mehra, Smt. Rajyalakshmi Rao and Sri B.K. Taimni.

The provisions of this Act cover 'Products' as well as 'Services'. The products are those which are manufactured or produced and sold to consumers through wholesalers and retailers. The services are in the nature of transport, telephones, electricity, constructions, banking, insurance, medical treatment etc. The services, by and large, also include those provided by professionals such as doctors, engineers, architects, lawyers etc.

A written complaint can be filed before the District Consumer Forum (up to Rs. 5 lakhs), State Commission (up to Rs. 20 Lakhs), National Commission (above Rs. 20 Lakhs) in relation to a product or in respect of a service, but does not include rendering of any service free of cost or under a contract of personal service. The service can be of any description. In the complaint / appeal / petition submitted under the Act, a consumer is not required to pay any court fees or even process fee.

Proceedings are summary in nature and endeavour is made to grant relief to the parties in the quickest possible time (90 or 150 days with not more than one adjournment as far as possible) keeping in mind the spirit of the Act. If a consumer is not satisfied by the decision of the District Forum, he can challenge it before the State Commission. Against the order of the State Commission a consumer can come to the National Commission.

In order to attain the objects of the Consumer Protection Act, the National Commission has also been conferred the powers of administrative control over all the State Commission by calling for periodical returns regarding the institution, disposal and pendency of cases. The National Commission is empowered to issue instructions regarding, (1) adoption of uniform procedure in the hearing of matters; (2) prior service of copies of documents produced by one party to the opposite parties; (3) speedy grant of copies of documents; and (4) generally over-seeing the functioning of the State Commission or the District Fora to ensure that the objects and purpose of the Act are best served without in any way interfering with their quasi-judicial freedom.

The Registry of the State Commission is on the ground floor of Bhabani Bhawan, Alipur, Kolkata–700 027. For any enquiry from the Registry of the State Commission, one can contact on telephone Nos.  4794916 and 4790378 (Fax). The filing timings are from 10.00 A.M. to 5.00 P.M. Functioning of all the Fora is consumer friendly, and a consumer can file complaint and address arguments in person without engaging a lawyer.

         At present there is 1 State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in Kolkata, 20 District Fora and 1 Circuit Bench at Alipurduar in Jalpaiguri District.

         The district Fora of Bankura and Dakshin Dinajpur are running part-time with the District Judges and their staff. The work of Bankura part-time forum is under suspension over the last one year due to agitation by the employees of the District Judge demanding enhancement of remuneration. The matter is pending with the Finance Department. To run the District Fora of Siliguri, Bankura and Dakshin Dinajpur with regular staff of their own, a proposal was under consideration of the Finance Department. Recently the Finance Department have agreed to the appointment of President & Non-Judicial Members for those Fora. As for Group-‘C’ and Group 'D' staff for those Fora, the Finance Department have advised arranging this from the newly created Directorate of CA&FBP. As very few such staff may be arranged from the Directorate, fresh proposal for recruitment of the minimum Group 'C' and 'D' staff has been sent to Finance Department.

         Regarding accommodation of the District Forum of Dakshin Dinajpur at Balurghat a suitable accommodation has been finalised and will be taken possession of very shortly. Search for accommodation in Bankura is on. For Siliguri, the premises of Kshudiram Bipanan Kendra at Pradhan Nagar, has been taken on long-term lease where the Forum along with local offices of the Dte. of CA&FBP and Legal Metrology have been shifted.

         It has been decided to set up a district forum in the newly created district of Purba Medinipur and another forum in Kolkata to cope with the increasing load of consumer cases. For appointment of Presidents and Members in the existing and the new Fora, advertisements in  leading dailies had been published, interviews held and panels prepared. 3 appointments from the new panel have been made. The procedure for appointment to the post of non-judicial Members is also nearing completion.

            In some Fora, namely, Kolkata Unit–I, 24-Parganas (N), 24-Parganas (S), Murshidabad the performance is quite satisfactory while in most of the rest the number of cases filed and disposed of is strikingly insignificant. Considering the workload in the State Commission and nearby Fora, 2 CWOs in each of those offices and 1 CWO each in the rest of the Fora have been deputed to help in day to day work.

         The cases filed / disposed / pending have been shown in the statement at Annex  VII.

         Some landmark judgements in the State Commission and different District Fora on applications from aggrieved consumers have been incorporated in Annex  VIII.