Introduction

        Consumer Protection Act 1986

  • The act was passed in order to impart better protection of the interests of consumers and to make allocations for the establishment of consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumers' disputes and for matters associated with the same.
  • The Act plays a crucial role in developing contingency plans with an aim to establish various consumer councils to ensure that consumers’ disputes are settled systematically for the best possible resolution of matters associated with them.
  • The government of India provided following rights to all the consumers under the Consumer Protection Act:
    • Right to Safety
    • Right to Information
    • Right to Choice
    • Right to be Heard or Right to Representation
    • Right to Seek Redressal
    • Right to Consumer Education
  • Under the Consumer Protection Act, every district has at least one consumer redressal forum also known as consumer court, where, consumers can get their grievances heard. As per the hierarchy, at the top is the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in New Delhi followed by the state commissions and then the consumer courts.
    Responsibilities of Consumers
  • Consumer protection is not only about rights of consumers but also about the responsibilities of the consumers. Some of them are given as follows:
  • Dealing with Advertisements – Advertisements have become a part and parcel of a consumer’s life even if they try they cannot avoid them.Consumers need to be cautious of deceptive advertisements that may lure them to buy goods that are not what they are claimed to be.
  • Buying Quality Certified Products – There are lot of products which are certified by recognised agencies as safe to consume and good in quality. For example the Indian Standard Institute (ISI) conducts quality testing of many consumer goods. If found proper the product is labelled with ISI mark on it.For many food products the quality assurance is certified by seal called AGMARK. Consumers should choose products with ISI mark and AGMARK. A very important thing before purchasing food products or medicines etc. is that the consumer must see the expiry date.
  • Demanding Bill of the Purchase – Every consumer must demand the bill after purchase of goods and services. The bill is the proof of purchase and can be used to seek justice if the consumer feels cheated after buying the commodity. Through the bill the consumer also ensures that the government receives tax on the product because it is mandatory for the seller to mention
    the tax amount on the bill. Such act of the consumer makes him/her a responsible citizen of the country.
  • Being a Green Consumer – A consumer must consume those products which do not cause damage to our environment. People should use biodegradable products which can easily mix with soil and water after they are disposed off.

The Need for Consumer Protection in India

  • The manufacturers and suppliers of goods or services often exploit consumers by adopting a number of unfair and restrictive trade practices. They often merge and also form tacit cartels to raise prices for maximising their profits at the expense of
    consumers. Thus they need protection from unfair and restrictive trade practices of producers and suppliers of goods or services.
  • Misleading advertising is another means by which the producers deceive the consumers. Often the manufacturers and suppliers indulge in persuasive advertisement to compete away customers from their rivals. Such persuasive advertisements do not serve useful social purpose and lead to deception of consumers. The cost of advertisement is added to the cost of production and this leads to very high prices being charged from the consumers.

There are legislation to protect misleading advertisements such as:

  • Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969.
  • Competition Act 2003.
  • The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954.
  • The Food Safety and Standards Act,2006.
  • Legal Metrology (Packages Commodities )Rules 2011.
  • Legal Metrology Act, 2009.
  • The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 etc. but the point where these legislations fail is that they are not comprehensive  the provisions are not implemented properly.
Fair Trade Practices Companies should follow in India

Fair Trade Practices means a trade practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply of any goods or for the provision of any service, adopts fair method or fair or honest practice including any of the following practices, namely
The practice of making any statement, whether orally or in writing or by visible
representation which:

  • Correctly and accurately represents that the goods are of a particular standard,
    quality, quantity, grade, composition, style or model;
  • Accurately represents that the services are of a particular standard, quality or grade;
  • Does not represent any re-built, second-hand, renovated, reconditioned or old goods
    as new goods;
  • Represent the rightful sponsorship, approval, performance, characteristics, accessories, uses or benefits of the goods or services.
  • Represent the rightful sponsorship or approval or affiliation which such seller or supplier does not have;
  • Correct representation concerning the need for, or the usefulness of, any goods or
    services;
  • Gives to the public any warranty or guarantee of the performance, efficacy or length of life of a product or of any goods based on an adequate or proper test thereof;
  • Provided that where a defence is raised to the effect that such warranty or guarantee is based on adequate or proper test, the burden of proof of such defence shall not lie on the person raising such defence;
  • Makes to the public a representation in a form that provides correct details about:
    • The warranty or guarantee of a product or of any goods or services; or
    • The promise to replace, maintain or repair an article or any part thereof or to repeat or continue a service until it has achieved a specified result.
  • Not materially mislead the public concerning the price at which a product or like products or goods or services, have been or are, ordinarily sold or provided.
  • Do not give false or misleading facts disparaging the goods, services or trade of another person.
  • Permits(the offering of gifts, prizes or other items with the intention of not providing them as offered or creating impression that something is being given or offered free of charge when it is fully or partly covered by the amount charged in the transaction as a whole) the publication of any advertisement whether in any newspaper or otherwise, for the sale or supply at a bargain price, of goods or services that are genuinely intended to be offered for sale or supply at the bargain price(a price that is stated in any advertisement to be a bargain price, by reference to an ordinary price or otherwise), or for a period that is, and in quantities that are, reasonable, having regard to the nature of the market in which the business is carried on, the nature and
    size of business, and the nature of the advertisement.
  • Permits the sale or supply of only those goods intended to be used, or are of a kind likely to be used, by consumers, knowing or having reason to believe that the goods do comply with the standards prescribed by competent authority relating to performance, composition, contents, design, constructions, finishing or packaging as are necessary to prevent or reduce the risk of injury to the person using the goods;
  • Does not permit the hoarding or destruction of goods, nor refuses to sell the goods or to make them available for sale or to provide any service.
  • Does not manufacture spurious goods or offer such goods for sale nor adopt deceptive practices in the provision of services.
Commercial practices: Aggressive practices

Make sure your practices are not aggressive by ensuring you don’t:

  • Impair the average consumer’s freedom of choice through coercion, harassment or undue influence, including:
    • Using threatening or abusive language or behaviour examples.
  • Exploiting the misfortune or circumstance of the consumer.
  • Providing a non-contractual barrier put in place for the consumer to exercise their contractual rights (i.e. termination) such as having to make contact in a particular manner not set out in the contract, which is particularly difficult.
  • Making any threat to take action which cannot legally be taken
  • Harassment and coercion are not defined expressly but will extend to pressure, whether physical or non-physical. Undue influence amounts to the exploitation of a relatively strong bargaining position so that pressure is exerted in a way that
    constrains the consumer’s ability to make an informed decision. The aggressive practice must affect the consumer’s decision-making process.

Procedure to file a Consumer Complaint in India

  • The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 has set out some of the few essentials that need to be followed by a consumer before filing a complaint which are as follows:
  • First of all one should be a consumer to file complaint. Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act, defines the term ‘consumer’.
  • Complaint is a statement made in writing to the National Commission, the State Commission or the District Forum by a person competent to file it, containing th allegations in detail, and with a view to obtain relief provided under the Act. This definition is included in Section 2(1) (c).
  • Secondly, as per the Section 24A it is important that a consumer complaint can be filed within two years from the date on which cause of action arises.
  • The third most important thing we also need to ensure one more thing before filing a complaint that the case falls within the jurisdiction of a particular District/ State Commission.
  • In order to support your complaint evidently a list of all the mentioned proofs,invoices, bills, documents etc.

The consumer needs to comply with the following procedures as mentioned in the Section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act.

STEP 1:

Preparing a complaint petition

  • The first step involved in filing a case in the Consumer Court is preparing a complaint petition. The petition carries all the details of the case. Below is a checklist outlining the finer aspects of preparing a complaint petition:
    • The complaint has to be definite and precise. It shouldn’t include generalized
      statement.
    • All facts, proofs, documents, receipts, cards etc. related to the complaint should be kept in proper order. One is required to submit them at the time of hearing of the case. Once the Complaint Petition is ready, it is essential to make 3 copies of the same along with photocopies of all the relevant proofs, supplemented with an affidavit.
    • Copies of the Complaint Petition and the proofs will also have to be served upon all the parties involved, besides the three copies being filed.
  • Lastly, it must be ensured that the case falls within the jurisdiction of a particular District Forum/State Commission by checking if the opposite party resides or carried on business or has a branch office within the limits of the jurisdiction.

Who can file a complaint?
Only a person who is termed as a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 can file a complaint. Hence the following persons can file a complaint

  • A consumer
  • Any voluntary consumer association registered under the Companies Act 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.
  • In case of death of a consumer, his legal heir or representative.
  • Apart from the above mentioned persons, the following persons can also be considered as consumers and file complaint –
    • Beneficiary of goods / services
    • Husband of the consumer
    • Relative of consumer
    • Insurance company

When a complaint cannot be filed?

  • A complaint on behalf of the public which consists of unidentifiable consumers cannot be filed under the Consumer Protection Act.
  • An unregistered association cannot file a complaint under the Act.
  • A complaint after expiry of limitation period is not permitted.
  • A complaint cannot be filed after the lapse of two years from the date on which the cause of action arise unless the Forum is satisfied about the genuineness of the reason for not filing complaint within the prescribed time.

STEP 2:

Jurisdiction of consumer court
There are three distinct levels of Consumer Courts that have been set-up to help consumer’s file their case:

  • The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum – (SECTION 11 OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986).The consumer complaints/ cases in disputes that involved a consideration value up to Rs 20 Lakhs are accepted.
    In order to question the decision of the District Forum, an Appeal can be filed in the State Commission.
  • The State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission – (SECTION 17 OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986).The Consumer Complaints/cases in disputes that involved a consideration amount ranging between Rs.
    2 Million to Rs. 10 Million are accepted. Through an Appeal the Decision of the State Commission can be questioned in the National Commission if the aggrieved party is not satisfied.
  • The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission – (SECTION 21 OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986). The Consumer complaints/cases in disputes involving consideration ranging beyond Rs.10 Million are accepted. By filing an Appeal in the Supreme Court, the decision of the National commission if any of the parties is not satisfied can be
    questioned.

STEP 3:

  • DEPOSITING THE STATUTORY FEE
    The fees is decided according to the respective Forum where the complaint is filed.

STEP 4:

  • FILING FOR APPEALS AND REVISIONS
    Provisions have been made in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 to file Appeal/Revisions to higher level Commission(s) and to the Honourable SupremeCourt of India, if one is not satisfied with the verdicts of the respective Court(s) below:
  • State Commission- (SECTION 15 OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT,1986):For filing an Appeal in the State Commission a Statutory Deposit at the rate of 50% of the awarded amount, or Rs 25000/- whichever is less has to be deposited.
  • National Commission – (SECTION 19 OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986): Similarly for the Appeals that are to be filed to the National Commission, that is the Statutory Deposit of the 50% of the awarded amount or Rs 35000 whichever is less has to be deposited.
  • Supreme Court -An appeal / revision can be filed as against the final order passed by National Commission in the Honourable Supreme Court of India.(SECTION 23 OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986)

STEP 5:

  • An affidavit along with the complaints also needs to be filed to ensure that the facts stated are true and correct.
  • According to the Act, it is not necessary for the Complainant to engage an Advocate; the complaint can be filed in person or by any authorized representative.
  • Relief available against the Complaint
    The following reliefs can be sought by the complainant (Sec.14) –

    • To remove the defect pointed but by the appropriate laboratory from the goods in question;
    • To replace the goods with new goods of similar description which is 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 in goods or deficiencies in the services in question;
    • To discontinue the unfair trade practice or the restrictive trade practice or not to repeat them;
    • Not to offer the hazardous goods for sale;
    • To withdraw the hazardous goods from being offered for sale;
    • To cease manufacture of hazardous goods and to desist from offering services which are hazardous in nature;
    • To pay such sum as may be determined by it, if it is of the opinion that loss or injury has been suffered by a large number of consumers who are not identifiable conveniently, provided that the minimum amount of sum so payable should not be less than five per cent of the value of such defective goods sold or services provided, as the case may be, to such consumers.The amount so obtained should be credited in favour of such person and utilized in such manner as may be prescribed.
  • To issue corrective advertisement to neutralize the effect of misleading advertisement at the cost of the opposite party responsible for issuing such misleading advertisement.