From real estate frauds including delay in possession and unsatisfactory utilities and services provided by the builder to agreement disputes between seller and buyer to poor medical care (medical negligence) to schools/ colleges arbitrarily demanding extra fee to receiving broken product from an online portal to not being able to claim insurance are few of the many examples where a consumer is dissatisfied and aggrieved with a service he is provided or a good he has purchased. Therefore, to minimize this dissatisfaction and resentment of a consumer, a remarkable law called the Consumer Protection Act was introduced in 1986 to exclusively address as well as redress consumer complaints by the Ministry of Law and Justice of the Government of India.
However, with passage of time and progressive industrial development throughout led to the influx of multiple consumer goods and services into the Indian market to cater to the needs of every consumer with a variety of services such as real estate, insurance, transport, medical, banking, financing, entertainment, etc. got easily accessible to consumers. Therefore, in order to safeguard consumers from exploitation, unfair trade practices and protection from adulterated substandard goods and services a fresh new Act called the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 has now been implemented with certain significant reforms to strengthen interests of consumers and to institute regulatory authority for expedient and effective administration and settlement of consumer disputes in India.
Who is a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019?
Under the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 a consumer is someone who:
- purchases any product/ good/ commodity for a consideration which has been promised or paid or partly promised and partly paid, or under any system of delayed payment and includes any user of such goods other than the person who buys such goods for consideration promised or paid or partly promised or partly paid, or under any system of delayed payment, when such use is made with the approval of such person, but does not include a person who obtains such goods for resale or for any commercial purpose; or
- hires or obtains any service for a consideration which has been promised, paid or partly promised or partly paid, or under any system of delayed payment and includes any beneficiary of such service other than the person who hires or obtains of the services for consideration promised, paid or partly promised or partly paid, or under any system of delayed payment, when these services are made use of with the approval of the 1st mentioned person, but does not include a person who makes use of this service for any commercial purpose.
When can a consumer complaint be filed?
A consumer complaint can be filed when the consumer has been aggrieved from:
- An unfair trade practice or
- a restrictive trade practice that has been adopted by a trader or
- when the goods purchased by the consumer or agreed to be purchased suffer from 1 or more defects;
- The services obtained suffer from deficiency;
- When the trader has charged more than the net price of the goods/ services as prescribed by the government agencies.
- When goods are hazardous to life and safety of any consumer
- When goods are being sold to public in contravention of the provisions of any law
- When a trader does not display information regarding the contents, manner and effect of use of the goods he is selling.
Now, the first step towards the fight against unfair trade practices and towards getting compensation against the same is to send a Legal Notice to the trader (opposite party) a chance to compensate for the loss suffered by the consumer by either entirely replacing the product/ services or by entirely returning the complete value of the product/ services purchased. However, in case the accused trader rejects to acknowledge the said legal notice then the consumer has all the right to approach a Consumer Court to be compensated by law.
Who can file a consumer complaint?
Under law the following people can file a consumer complaint:
- a consumer (as defined earlier); or
- a Voluntary Consumer Association (VCA) registered under the Companies Act, 1956/ 2013 or under any such law for the time being in force, or
- any State Government or
- the Central Government or
- when there are numerous (more than 1) consumers having the same interest then all the consumers.
However, no complaint can be filed in case of a complaint on behalf of public consisting of unidentifiable consumers or a complaint filed by an unregistered association.
What are the key highlights of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019?
The following are the key highlights:
- Addition of â˜Product Liabilityâ which is a provision to caution manufacturers as well as service providers from delivering faulty products or substandard services.
- The inclusion of e-commerce within the ambit of the new amended law.
- Institution of the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA).
- Simpler â˜Dispute Resolutionâ procedure with considerable increase in pecuniary jurisdiction of the Consumer Protection Commissions.
- Commencement of new additional grounds to register consumer complaints and levying of higher penalties to monitor and check deceptive advertisements as well as adulteration of goods and products.
What is the limitation period in filing a consumer complaint?
It is advisable to file a complaint at the earliest so that there is less delay in obtaining compensation, however, it must not be filed later than 2 years from the date from which the cause of action arose.
Majority of the times Courts do not entertain any delayed complaints, however, in extraordinary cases where the complainant has bona fide evidence to prove that there was sufficient cause for delay in filing the complaint, then the court may permit the complaint.
What is the complete procedure to file a consumer complaint?
The primary step towards any kind of civil litigation (consumer dispute) is to send a legal notice to the accused party (real estate company/ developer/ trader/ manufacturer, etc) prior to filing a formal complaint in a court.
It is critical for every aggrieved consumer to send a legal notice to the accused party relating to deficiency in services and/ or unfair practice in running the business/ selling of faulty goods and products, etc.
A legal notice is sent to identify if the accused party is willing to admit its fault and offer to pay compensation against the unnecessary loss suffered by the consumer.
If the accused does not send a reply to the legal notice or simply neglects or refuses to act on the demands made in the notice by the aggrieved consumer within a period of 30 days, then the aggrieved consumer has the complete right to approach an appropriate consumer commission/ court .
Now, once the accused fails to reply to the legal notice, the following step for the consumer (complainant) is to first identify the jurisdiction of the Forum where the complaint has to be filed.
The complainant must take into consideration both the pecuniary as well as the territorial jurisdiction of the tribunal.
1. Pecuniary Jurisdiction of Consumer Commissions
District Commission : up to INR 10 million
State Commission : INR 10 million to INR 100 million
National Commission : above INR 100 million
(1 million equals Rs. 10 lakh)
2. Territorial Jurisdiction of Consumer Commissions
A consumer complaint must be introduced in a District Commission or a State or a National Commission within the local limits of whose jurisdiction,-
- The accused party resides or manages its business or has a subsidiary office or privately works for gain, or
- In case there are more than 1 accused parties, then the jurisdiction can be where any 1 of the accused parties reside, or manages its business or has a subsidiary office, or privately works for gain,
- The Cause of Action (CoA) arose.
According to the law, a standard fee is to be paid along with the consumer complaint before the District Commissions, State Commissions as well as the National Commission wherever the case may be applicable.
The complainant with or without the help of a lawyer has to diligently draft the consumer complaint which must state all the relevant facts and evidence. The complaint must bear signatures of the complainant.
Additionally, in case the complainant authorises some other person to file the complaint then the complaint must be accompanied with a valid authorization letter from the complainant.
The complaint must furnish the name, address and description of the complainant as well as the name, address and description of the accused party or parties against whom relief has been claimed in the court.
The complainant must attach all the supporting documents with the complaint which must include the following:
- copy of the invoice of the goods/ products/ commodities/ services purchased by the complainant from the accused,
- documents pertaining to warranty and guarantee, and
- copy of the written complaint and
- the legal notice sent to the trader (accused) demanding him to rectify the goods he sold or to compensate for the same.
In the complaint, the complainant must explicitly mention and describe the compensation costs. Along with the compensation cost, the consumer has the right to request for the refund of the goods and services, cost against damages to products, cost of litigation that the complainant had to bear unnecessarily, and some additional amount of interest. The complainant must provide a detailed breakdown of the amount that is sought to be compensated under different separate heads.
The complainant in the complaint must explicitly mention as to what relief/ compensation is the complainant seeking from the accused party.
As mentioned earlier, the law provides the complainant with a limitation period of only 2 years from the date the cause of action arose. And therefore, in cases where there has been delay in filing the complaint, it is solely the responsibility of the complainant to explain and satisfy the Tribunal for such a delay. The said delay can only be condoned off by the Tribunal is satisfied that the reason for such a delay was rational and not mala fide.
Besides this, the complainant has to furnish an affidavit along with the complaint explaining that the facts stated and the evidence provided in the complaint are entirely true and correct according to him.
A consumer complaint can be presented by the
- complainant in person or
- by her/ his authorised representative without hiring a lawyer or
- by her/ his lawyer
The complainant can send the complaint by registered post. The postal receipts of the same must be saved for future references. Apart from this, a minimum of 5 copies of the complaint have to be filed in the forum and additional copies for each accused party.
What different remedies must be sought in the complaint?
An aggrieved consumer must look to seek the following remedies under the Consumer Protection Act:
- to completely remove the deficiency from the goods that has been pointed out in the complaint by the appropriate laboratory;
- to completely replace the defective goods with fresh unflawed goods of similar description to the complainant;
- to return the complainant the entire price, or, as the case may be, the entire charges borne and suffered by the complainant;
- to payback/ return such an amount which must be awarded by it as compensation to the consumer for any loss or injury suffered by him that is due to the negligence of the accused party;
- to completely remove the defects and/ or deficiencies from the services provided to the complainant;
- to completely shut down and discontinue with the unfair trade practice/ s or the restrictive trade practice/ s and/ or not to repeat it ever again;
- to not offer the hazardous goods for sale to consumers;
- to completely withdraw selling or offering to sell such hazardous goods to consumers;
- to provide adequate costs to the complainant.
What is the procedure of â˜Appealâ in a consumer case against an order of the court?
Under Indianlaw, anappealis a remedial procedure where cases are reviewed in which parties to the dispute request for a formal replacement to an official order of a court. Every appeal functions as both a procedure to correct and rectify error as well as a procedure to appropriately clarify and interpret the law in discussion.
As per the hierarchy of the forums and courts, an appeal from the order of the District Forum goes to the State Commission, an appeal against the order of the State Commission goes to the National Commission and an appeal against the order of the National Commission goes to the Supreme Court.
Under the law, every appeal must be filed within a time period of 30 days from the date of the order that is to be challenged. Every appeal has to be accompanied by the certified copy of the order of the court.
This limitation period of 30 days is not counted from the date of the order to be challenged but from the date of the order when it was communicated to the appellant (party seeking an appeal).
What are the penalties against non- compliance of a court order?
Any individual/ party to the case who neglects or refuses to comply with the order of either the District Forum, or State Commission, or the National Commission, as the case may be, shall be liable to punishment with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 1 month but the same may get extended to 3 years, or with a penalty which shall not be less than Rs. 2,000/- but the same may also get extended to Rs. 10,000/-, or with both.
What is the procedure of payment of fee before the District Commission?
Every consumer complaint filed under the Consumer Protection Act shall be supplemented by a fee in the form of a crossed Demand Draft which is to be drawn on a nationalized bank or through a crossed Indian Postal Order to be drawn in favour of the Registrar of the State Commission and payable at the respective place where either the State Commission or the National Commission is located.
What are Consumer Protection Councils?
The Consumer Protection Act has empowered the Central Government to establish Consumer Protection Councils at both the state and central levels with the fundamental aim to spread consumer awareness in India and promote and protect the consumers. These consumer councils have been established to assist and advice the consumers in an effort to seek and enforce their rights.
The objective of such consumer councils are to promote as well as protect the rights of consumers like:
- the right to consumer education (educating consumers towards understanding the Latin phrase âœcaveat emptorâ which translates to âœbuyer bewareâ)
- the right to be protected against marketing of goods and services that are hazardous to both life and property of a consumer
- the right to be informed about the correct quality, quantity, purity, potency, standard and cost of the goods and services to safeguard consumers against unfair trade practices
- the consumerâs right to be assured and reassured, wherever possible, with entrance to numerous other goods and services at economical prices;
- the consumerâs right to be heard and further be guaranteed that interests of the consumers will accept due consideration at appropriate consumer commissions
- the consumerâs right to aspire rectification against restrictive trade practices, unfair trade practices as well as immoral exploitation of consumers in the market.
What is the Central Consumer Protection Council (CCPC)?
One of the major change that was brought in by the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 entitles the Central Government to institute a Central Consumer Protection Council which shall consist of the Minister in charge of the Consumer Affairs in the Central Government as the Chairman and such number of other non- official and official members to represent consumer interests as may be stipulated.
Under the Consumer Protection Council Rules of 1987, the number of members of the Central Council is limited to 150 members which includes the Central Minister in charge of Consumer Affairs as its Chairman.
The term of the Council is 3 years. In addition to this, the Central Government to supervise the execution of the suggestions of the Central Council.
Besides this, the Central Government can also set up a standing working group from amongst the 150 participating members of the Central Council under the Chairmanship of the Member Secretary of the Council.
The Central Council shall meet as and when essential, but at least 1 of the meetings of the Central Council shall be held at a time and place to be decided by the Chairman whenever he deems fit.