This article is written by Soumya Shefali Chandrakar, a first-year law student of Hidayatullah National Law University.
Table of contents:
· Who is a consumer?
· Who can file a complaint?
· Where to file a complaint?
· How to decide jurisdiction?
· When can complaint be made?
· How to file a complaint?
· Steps/procedure to file a complaint in consumer fora?
· What are the remedies/reliefs available to consumer?
· When can an appeal be made?
· What is the time limit for filing the complaint?
· Is there any provision to challenge forum’s order in HC?
· How to lodge a consumer complaint online?
India is the fastest growing and the fifth largest economy in the world and hence, has one of the biggest consumer markets. With the increase in purchasing capacity and choices of products in the market, consumers are now more aware and conscious of their rights. Whether it be shopping complex, showrooms or a grocery store, oftentimes consumers are asked to pay or are being charged for carry bags. Which is clearly an unfair means to compel a customer to pay for a paper bag which is a clear deficiency in service as it was the store’s duty to provide a free bag to the customer who had purchased their product. Similarly, many a times consumers have numerous grievances however, they do not know how and where to file their complaints. Here is a description of how you can file a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
Firstly, we need to understand who is a consumer?
According to the Consumer Protection Act, A consumer is an individual who buys any product/goods or avails any service for a consideration, either for his personal use or to earn his livelihood by means of self-employment. Also, a beneficiary of such goods/services with the approval of the person who bought that product or who employed the service would be considered as a consumer.
The consideration (in exchange of) may be: Paid, Promised, or partly paid and partly promised.
Who can file a complaint?
· Any consumer;
· Any voluntary consumer association;
· Central Government or any State Government;
· One or more consumers, where there are numerous consumers having same interest;
· In case of death of a consumer, his legal heir or representative.
Where to file a complaint?
According the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, A complaint can be filed in:
· District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum (DCDRF): If the value of the claim is up to twenty lakhs.
· State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (SCDRC): If the value of the claim exceeds twenty lakhs but is within one crore.
· National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) If the value of the claim exceeds one crore.
Each of these forums has to provide the resolution within thirty days failing to which the consumer can escalate the complaint to the next commission.
How to decide jurisdiction?
A complaint shall be instituted in a Consumer Forum within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the opposite party resides or carries on business or has a branch office or personally works for gain, or where the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises.
When can complaint be made?
A complaint may be made in writing under the following circumstances:
· If there is a Loss or damage caused to the consumer due to unfair or restrictive trade practice of a trader or service provider;
· If the article purchased by a consumer is defective;
· If the services availed of by a consumer suffer from any deficiency;
· If a trader or service provider, as the case may be, has charged for the goods or for the service mentioned in the complaint a price in excess of the stipulated price;
· If the goods or services, which will be hazardous to life and safety, when used, are being offered for sale to the public.
How to file a complaint?
· The complaint can be simply filed on a plain paper.
· Stamp paper is not necessary for declaration.
· It should contain the details of the complainant and the opposite party.
· Complaint can be registered, in person, by the complainant or through his authorized agent or by post addressed to the Redressal Agency.
· It is not compulsory to engage a lawyer to file a case.
· The fees charged are very nominal according to the value of the claim.
Steps/Procedure to file a complaint in Consumer Fora?
Step one- Drafting the complaint: A complaint needs to be drafted precisely. It shall contain all the facts like date, amount etc. and proofs (bills, receipts, documents if any).
It should contain all the details which could be required i.e., Name and complete address of the complainant and the opposite party.
Details of complaint, whether it is against Unfair Trade Practice / supply of defective goods / deficiency in service provided / collection of excess prices, should explicitly be mentioned in the complaint petition. Relief sought for under this Act and the complaint should be signed by the complainant or his authorized agent.
Step two- After the drafting is done, the complainant has to determine as to which court the complaint should be filed i.e., District, State, National, depending upon the value of the consideration.
Step three- After deciding the jurisdiction, the complainant needs to deposit the statutory fees for filing the complaint.
Step four- If either party is not satisfied with the verdict of these forums, they have an option to apply for a revision to the honorable Supreme Court of India.
What are the remedies/reliefs available to consumers?
The remedies or relief depends upon the grievances of the consumer. However, some of the probable remedies could be:
Replacement of goods;
Removal of defects or insufficiency from the product/goods or service availed;
Restoration or refund of the price paid;
Compensation for the damage or injury suffered;
Restrain hazardous products from being offered to sale.
When can an appeal be made?
· An appeal petition against the order issued by the District Forum can be filled before the State Commission within 30 days from the date of receipt of order.
· An appeal petition against the order issued by the State Commission can be filled before the National Commission within 30 days from the date of receipt of order.
· An appeal petition against the order issued by the National Commission can be filled before the Supreme Court of India within 30 days from the date of receipt of order.
What is the time limit for filing the complaint?The complaint has to be filed within two years from the date on which the cause of action arises. However, a complaint may also be filed after two years, if the complainant satisfies the District Forum that he/she has sufficient reasons for not filing the complaint within such a period.
In any case, if you want to know more regarding the same, talk to a whistleblower lawyer dc to get more information.
Is there any provision to challenge Consumer forum’s order in High Court?
The Supreme Court of India in the case of Cicilly Kallarackal gave a landmark judgement. It ruled out that the High Courts cannot entertain writ petitions against the orders of Consumer Forums. According to it, the Consumer Protection Act, already has a precise and speedy mechanism for making an appeal. And clearly it will make the complainant party frustrate and exhausted. Also, the consumers will find it costly to contest the case in HC.
How to lodge a consumer complaint online?
The Government of India, Department of Consumer Affairs and Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & public Distribution, runs an online portal called INGRAM (Integrated grievance Redressal Mechanism), which is a National Consumer Helpline (NHC) and it has been launched by the Department of Consumer Affairs. There are several ways in which one can register grievance;
· The complainant can call or drop a message to register their grievance;
· Or can register online;
· or through the NHC app or Consumer app or through the UMANG app.
Visit the link https://consumerhelpline.gov.in/ for filing grievances online.
EA Digest. Consumer protect law. Easy advocacy. https://easyadvocacy.com/EADigest/Procedure-Of-Filing-A-Complaint-Under-Consumer-Protection-Act-1986.
Manjeet Sehgal. Bata fined Rs 9000 for asking customer to pay Rs 3 for carry bag. India today. https://www.msn.com/en-in/money/topstories/bata-fined-rs-9000-for-asking-customer-to-pay-rs-3-for-carry-bag/ar-BBVVu4S?li=AAgfYGb
Jehangir B Gai. April 29, 2013. Can’t challenge consumer forum orders in HC: Supreme Court. The Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Cant-challenge-consumer-forum-orders-in-HC-Supreme-Court/articleshow/19774406.cms?from=mdr