The Consumer Protection Act of 1986 was passed in order to preserve consumer rights and advance consumer welfare. To that end, consumer dispute resolution commissions at the national, state, and district levels were formed. In contrast, these Commissionsaim was to enforce the law and offer customers quick, efficient, and cost-effective dispute resolution.
The same could not be said for the previous years, as they succumbed to the inefficiencies and procedural difficulties of regular civil courts. As a result, it was reasonable to assume that the many vacancies, delays in case disposition, and high pendency of cases arising from them had effectively foiled the entire aim of this Act.
The Consumer Protection Act 2019 was introduced by the Central Government to do away with the complicated structure of the previous Act in order to tackle this. This Act established a central regulatory agency to address the regulations of E-Commerce firms. Although improvements were made to meet the concerns of the shifting consumer market, they were ineffective in resolving the problems with the effectiveness and operation of the Consumer Commissions.
A revision to the pecuniary jurisdiction was also made by the 2019 Act, and the following new values were finalised to take consumer complaints into consideration depending on their value:
- The district administrators need 50 lakhs or more
- Greater than 50 lahks and up to 2crore by state commission
- For the National Commission, more than 2 crore
As opposed to the prior restriction of 10 crores, the updated pecuniary jurisdiction now accepts consumer complaints when the value exceeds 2 crores; nevertheless, without time-bound mechanisms for the same, the complaints made by customers seeking justice may be for nothing.
The National Commission is currently handling a number of consumer complaints, revision petitions, and appeals; nevertheless, the consumer is not given a choice but to wait while the case is heard. Now, there are a number of reasons for the aforementioned delay, including the employment of onerous processes, the use of dilatory techniques, and reasons ranging from the government’s failure to fill open positions in the Consumer Forums to the advocates’ complaint of annual adjournments.
Decisions in favour of half of aggrieved consumers
According to the research, “Consumer Commissions across the city exhibit a trend of disposing of cases in favour of the consumers.”
Pendency is a big issue that has become worse over time.”According to the State Commission’s statistics report, 5.50 lakh consumer complaints are now remaining in the entire country, including 4,029 cases that were pending in 2000.
One of the main causes of delays is adjournments. The study team discovered that each case experienced (on average). There were more adjournments throughout the arguments phase. Additionally, if an average gap of three to six weeks separates two processes, it provides insight into how many weeks or months of delays might happen in each case.
Frequent and lengthy adjournments not only deny a consumer’s right to be heard and seek remedy but also undermine the spirit of enactment intended by the government. As a result, consumer commissioners are being asked to guarantee that no adjournment occurs under any circumstances.
The consumer courts must stop taking breaks at the convenience of the attorneys. It has been observed that there are at least 7–8 adjournments in every case, which slows down the decision-making process and gives the parties time to influence the other party, which is intended to undermine the process as a whole. Additionally, when a specific issue involving insurance or finance is brought up, the lack of technical understanding necessitates that the bench rule in accordance with the details of the situation; otherwise, there may be a delay or the result given may not be appropriate.
- Actual representation
The ability of the consumer to represent themselves in person without the assistance of lawyers or other agencies is one of the key elements of these commissions. However, according to the research, the majority of litigants choose to hire counsel. This raises the price of legal services without speeding up case resolution.
- Time- Bound
Without time-bound procedures, pecuniary jurisdiction may be lost, as previously stated. The National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission’s workload is lessened by the shift in pecuniary jurisdiction, while the District Commission’s workload is increased. In terms of technical support, court staff, etc., the District Commissions are frequently known to be under-equipped relative to the other commissions, which may have an impact on the revised legislation’s goal by causing a lower rate of consumer dispute resolution.
The customers are becoming the bait for the delay in such judgements as a result of the legal system’s ineffective functioning. The Supreme Court prolonged the retirement of its members and chairman, which proved futile in light of the preceding scenario at hand.
It’s unfair to the parties involved when the courts continually extend the due dates and the cases pile up. the cost of filing and defending litigation frequently outweighs the amount of compensation that the litigants ask for or are granted. Because of this, when the delay is critical and the plaintiffs cannot afford to pay the counsel’s costs, they give up the compensation sum, defeating the entire purpose of submitting a complaint to the court.
The National Commission or the State Commission is required to follow the procedure outlined in Section 38 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, which states that upon receipt of the complaint, the opposing party is given 30 days, with a 15-day extension granted by the District Forum or Commission, to share their version of a response to the said notice. This necessity of providing the written statement must be completed within the specified time frame of 45 days, which would cancel out the goal of resolving the cases within 3-5 months.
Furthermore, seeking a complaint in consumer court takes both time and money. Previously, matters in consumer courts were decided in three to six months. However, it may now take one to three years. This is one of the reasons why many customers are hesitant to reach the consumer courts or even abandon their case halfway through.
Case law is used to resolve disputes quickly.
In order to ensure that matters are resolved within the allotted time, the Supreme Court proposed five critical measures in the case of Dr J.J. Merchant and Others v. ShrinathChaturvedi AIR 2002. As a consequence, the National Commission and the State Commission were given instructions to act.
- The complaint must be accompanied by evidence, such as papers and affidavits, on which the parties plan to rely.
- Cross-examination of those who have filed affidavits must be conducted by asking the indicated questions, to which answers may be offered on the affidavits.
- Ordinarily, no adjournment shall be permitted unless in circumstances where the speaking order would be issued with grounds for the same.
- The complaint must be supported by any evidence the parties plan to rely on, such as papers and affidavits.
- The people who have filed affidavits must be cross-examined by asking them the specified questions, to which the answers may be included on the affidavits. Ordinarily, no adjournment shall be granted unless a spoken order is issued with a justification.
The high percentages of consumer cases that are pending, because complaints are being handled slowly might make litigants fully lose faith in the legal system, even if their claims are generally of lower value. As a result, ADR must be adopted since it is a less expensive, quicker, and more economical way to resolve disputes. It would be one of the finest techniques to explore for dealing with consumer complaints, which would reduce the pressure on consumer commissions and allow them to resort to an appropriate and effective procedure for dispute settlement. Mediation, as one form of Alternative Dispute Resolution, may be implemented, particularly in cases that have been pending in consumer courts for more than 5 years, and it may prove effective due to its fair, cost-effective, and quick nature when compared to a complaint filed in a consumer court. The provision for it is likewise incorporated in the Act.
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