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Consumer Protection Guide
Got the short end of the stick, been had by the shopkeeper/service provider, short-charged? Don’t get mad, get even. Get to use the Consumer Protection Act and put the fear of a scorned consumer into them — its payback time you bad guys. Ahem! Did we get carried away there. But truth is: Nowadays, consumer courts take an active stance and redress grievances pretty fast. So it’s not the story where your case languishes for several years before it’s finally gets resolved if at all that happens. Even if you hire a lawyer, it is better to know what your rights are and how to proceed with the litigation. Getting duped by a lawyer for lack of easily available and understandable knowledge on consumer protection would be most ironical, huh! So, here’s reading out your rights.


Legal Eagle
There are just a few definitions that you have to get acquainted with before you learn the nitty-gritty on where to file a claim, how to file a claim among other things. Being legal definitions they can be dry and trying to one’s knowledge, but nothing that a few honest attempts at mastering cannot achieve.

(i) "Goods" — the maal. According to the Sale of Goods Act, 1930, "goods" means every kind of movable property other than actionable claims  and money. It includes stock and shares, growing crops (yes, even grass), and the like.

(ii) "Service" — They are services of any description and include facilities like banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of electrical or other energy, boarding/lodging, construction, entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news or other information. However, it does not include the rendering of any service free of charge or under a contract of personal service

(iii) "Restrictive trade practice" — Trade practice which requires a consumer to buy, hire or avail of any goods or services as a condition precedent for buying, hiring or availing of other goods or services.

(iv) "Defect" — Any fault, imperfection or shortcoming in the quality, quantity, potency, purity or standard required to be maintained by or under any law or under any contract express or implied or as is claimed by the trader.

(v) "Deficiency" — Any fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance required to be maintained by or under any law or has been undertaken to be performed by a person in pursuance of a contract in relation to any service.

(vi)"Unfair trade practice" — A more vile form of the restrictive trade practice. It is 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 any unfair method or unfair or deceptive practice including any of the following practices:

(a) false or misleading representation,
(b) bargain price
(c) offering of gifts, prize, contest etc.
(d) non compliance of product safety standard.

(e) hoarding or destruction of goods.

Having mastered the keywords that pop-up invariably in this lingo, we move onto what all is covered under the Consumer Protection Act.

Extent and Coverage of the Act:
How sweeping are the powers of the Act, do they cover all that’s conceivable? Well,
  • The Act applies to all goods and services unless specifically exempted by the Central Government.
  • It covers all the sectors whether private, public or cooperative.

which sort of covers every good service and sector more or less.

The Rights and Wrongs
As a consumer what sort of rights are you privilege to? Here goes:
  • Right to be protected against the marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property.
  • Right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods or services so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices
  • Right to be assured , wherever possible , access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices;
  • Right to be heard and to be assured that consumers' interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums;
  • Right to seek redress against unfair trade practices unscrupulous exploitation of consumers
  • Right to consumer education

Structure
A similar hierarchy for redressing grievances as exists in the sphere of civil and criminal law, exists in consumer law as well. A three- tier quasi-judicial machinery is functioning at the National, State and District levels.

*National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission - known as "National Commission".

*Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions known as "State Commission"

*Consumer Disputes Redressal Forums- known as "District Forum.

After figuring out where and why, we come to the who, what and how of the Act. Queries on who is a consumer, how do I file an appeal are detailed here.

Who is a Consumer?
Funnily there is a dichotomy between the definition of a "consumer" of "goods" and "services":
For the purpose of "goods", a consumer stands for the below mentioned:
(i) One who buys or agrees to buy any goods for a consideration, which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised or under any system of deferred payment;

(ii) It includes any user of such goods other than the person who actually buys goods and such use is made with the approval of the purchaser.

(iii) If the consumer is a purchaser of a bad as opposed to a good, that’s too bad! Caught you? Just checking to confirm that you haven’t dozed off while reading this all-important but somnolent section . Blast some music, or better still take a nap and attack the section with renewed vigour.

Hmm getting back on track, a person is not a consumer if he purchases goods for commercial or resale purposes. However, the word "commercial" does not include use by consumer of goods bought and used by him exclusively for the purpose of earning his livelihood, by means of self-employment.

For the purpose of "services", a "consumer" means a person falls into the following categories:

(i) One who hires or avails of any service or services for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised or under any system of deferred payment;

It includes any beneficiary of such service other than the one who actually hires or avails of the service for consideration and such services are availed with the approval of such person.

What constitutes a complaint?
Feeling lousy about the service in a hotel, a product bought from a retailer? Under the Act, a complaint means any allegation in writing made by a complainant in regard to one or more of the following:-
  • Any unfair trade practice as defined in the Act or restrictive trade practices like tie-up sales adopted by any trader.
  • One or more defects in goods. The goods hazardous to life and safety, when used, are being offered for sale to public in contravention of provisions of any law for the time being in force.
  • Deficiencies in services.
  • A trader charging excess of price as opposed to that:

(i) Fixed by or under law for the time being in force; or

(ii) displayed on goods; or

(iii)Displayed on any packet containing such good


Where to file a complaint

Depending upon the compensation and the cost of the good/ service the consumer has to file his appeal in different forums:

  • If the cost of goods or services and compensation asked for is up to Rs 5 lakh, then the complaint can be filed in the District Forum where the cause of action has arisen or where the opposite party resides. A complaint can also be filed at a place where the branch office of the opposite party is located.
  • If the cost of goods or services and compensation asked for, is more than Rs 5 lakh, but less than Rs 20 lakh then the complaint can be filed before the State Commission notified by the State Government or Union Territory Concerned.
  • If the cost of goods or services and compensation asked for exceed Rs 20 lakh then the complaint can be filed before the National Commission at New Delhi.


How to file a complaint
Pay attention to the details given here! If you mess up, your appeal will make it straight to the trash bin at the forum/commission.
  • There is no fee for filing a complaint before the District Forum, the State Commission orthe National Commission. There should be 3 to 5 copies of the complaint on plain paper.
  • The complainant or his authorized agent can present the complaint in person.
  • The complaint can be sent by post to the appropriate Forum / Commission.
  • A complaint should contain the following information:-

(a) The name, description and the address of the complainant.
(b) The name, description and address of the opposite party or parties, as the case may be, as far as they can be ascertained;
(c) The facts relating to complaint and when and where it arose;
(d) Documents, if any, in support of the allegations contained in the complaint.
(e) The relief which the complainant is seeking.

  • The complaint should be signed by the complainant or his authorized agent.
  • The complaint is to be filed within two years from the date on which cause of action has arisen.
  • Appeal against the decision of a District Forum can be filed before the State Commission within a period of thirty days. Appeal against the decision of a State Commission can be filed before the National Commission within thirty days. Appeal against the orders of the National Commission can be filed before the Supreme Court within a period of thirty days.
  • Procedure for filing the appeal is the same as that of complaint, except the application should be accompanied by the orders of the District/State Commission as the case may be and grounds for filing the appeal should be specified.

Heard horror stories of civil and criminal cases dragging on for years for an end? If there any doubts on whether its worth the time and energy, approaching the consumer courts for upholding your rights, you do come across a roadblock. Justice is slow in happening but in relative terms faster than in civil and criminal cases:

  • The National Commission, State Commission and District Forums are required to decide complaints, within a period of three months from the date of notice received by the opposite party where complaint does not require analysis or testing of the commodities and within five months if it requires analysis or testing of commodities.
  • The National Commission and State Commissions are required to decide the appeal as far as possible, within 90 days from the first date of hearing.

Unfortunately, the National Commission is still deciding matters filed in 1995-96. Other State Commissions currently take around a year or two in deciding matters. The Maharashtra State Commission, for instance, is presently dealing with matters filed in 1997-98. The District Forums will take around six months to a year.


What should the complaint state or include?
Attention to detail always pays. Having all these details in the complaint statement will go a long way in making your case watertight. So here’s what you gotta have to help your case along:

Names and addresses of all the concerned parties
Facts of the case
Sequence of events
Cause of action
Nature of grievance
Compensation expected (do you want just the defect removed, good replaced, price refunded or compensated for mental torture or any medical injury as a result of the defective good or service)
Photocopies of all the original documents (which could also be bills or receipts)
An averment that no other court or forum has been approached for the same cause of action
An affidavit supporting the complaint and the facts

 

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