Although the government advertisement says Jago Grahak Jago, when it comes to taking up the fight before a consumer court, the buyer finds it difficult to spend time and money. However, according to Rajyalakshmi Rao, former Member Judge of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), consumer forums is the best place for consumers to approach in order to resolve their issues like deficiency in services provided, fraud or unfair trade practices.
Speaking at a Seminar on Consumer Rights Cases organized by Moneylife Foundation on 28 March 2015, she said, “Doors of consumer forums are open to all genuine consumers. An enlightened consumer is the king. When you know your rights and when you have all the evidence, you can call the shots.”
Ms Rao is the only person who worked at all the three levels of consumer grievances redressal mechanism – on the District forum, the State Commission and the National Commission. She has spent over 17 years on the Bench since the enactment of the Consumer Rights Protection Act.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is a legislation that lays down the rights of the consumers, with the objective to promote and protect the rights of the consumers. The provisions of this Act cover both ‘goods’ and ‘services’ provided to the consumer. However, many consumers are still unaware of their rights, and that they have a platform where they can file a complaint and demand what is rightfully theirs.
It is important for the consumer to address any problem with a service provider with prompt action. This is especially important considering that the admissibility of a consumer complaint in court has a lapse period, and the consumer may be left in the cold if he enters litigation too late.
Even today, many consumers do not realise that the doors to these institutions are open to them in case they have been wronged in the delivery or performance of goods or services. For instance, harassment by recovery agents or banks for repayment of loans, medical negligence by a doctor or even unavailability of water in long distance public transport can be taken up with the consumer courts. (One family did approach District Forum after they found the toilets in Rajdhani Express to be dirty and without water supply. The court ruled in their favour and the Railways had to compensate the family)
“Everyone needs to fight for justice. We are not looking for disputing consumers, but you could write a registered letter to whoever has wronged you. Mention that you have the right to take this to court. Say, if they do not rectify the issue, you will have no option but to approach the consumer court. It’s that simple… These people cannot fight everyone,” Ms. Rao said.
The speech was followed by a discussion and audience interaction with Ms Rao, moderated by Consumer Activist Jehangir Gai, who has been involved with consumer organisations since 1984. Mr Gai highlighted some of the key issues related to consumer rights’ awareness and the struggles that a consumer has to face in the process of fighting for his rights, as some of these litigations take years to come to a conclusion.
“Buyers are often unaware of their rights as a consumer and bad products or services are thought of as unavoidable. Even if they decide to approach the consumer court, many of them lose their zist to fight as the case may take one to three years and sometimes they simply give up midway. In addition, several times, consumers are found to have no proper evidence or documents to support their cases,” he said.
Mr Gai said, a buyer who wishes to approach the consumer court, needs to build his evidence. Like, he must note down the complaint number (docket) and time, job number and job cards as well as copies of correspondence with the concerned product seller/manufacturer or service provider. Even if you do not need to approach a consumer court, it is always better to preserve all the bills, payment receipts, warranty cards and servicing records, he added.
Later, Ms Rao responded to some questions posed by members of the audience.
The key function of the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is to provide quick and affordable redressal of consumer disputes. These are quasi-judicial bodies that have been set up at District, State as well as National Level. Currently, there are over 600 district fora, 35 State Commissions and the NCDRC in Delhi at the apex. If a consumer is not satisfied by the decision of a District Forum, he can appeal to the State Commission. In case even they are unable to resolve his problem, he can resort to the National Commission.
Usually, District Fora deal with disputes of up to Rs20 lakh, State Commissions with disputes of between Rs20 lakh to Rs1 crore (and any appeals from the District Forum), while the National Commission deals with all disputes above Rs1 crore and any appeals from the State Commission. One need not necessarily approach these Courts through a lawyer.
Some of the important points to note while filing consumer cases are –
– One cannot overemphasise the importance of evidence. Hence, keep all related documents, receipts, bills, correspondence, complaint reference numbers, etc. safe.
– If you decide to file a complaint, it is preferable that your complaint is brief, clear and precise.
– In your complaint, you would also need to state how the case falls within the jurisdiction of the forum / commission – whether the opposite party resides or works within the jurisdiction of the forum or whether the cause of grievance arose within the forum’s jurisdiction.
– You also have the right to claim the cost of your complaint from the opposite party. Hence, include that amount in your complaint.
– It is also important that you take up whatever issues you have with the service provider, and later with the court if you choose to, promptly. This is because the admissibility of a consumer complaint in court has a lapse period.