Consumer protection is a group of laws and organizations designed to ensure the rights of consumers, as well as fair trade, competition, and accurate information in the marketplace. The laws are designed to prevent the businesses that engage in fraud or specified unfair practices from gaining an advantage over competitors. They may also provide additional protection for those most vulnerable in society. Consumer protection laws are a form of government regulation that aim to protect the rights of consumers.
Consumer Protection Act, 1986
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted to provide a simpler and quicker access to redress of consumer grievances. The Act seeks to promote and protects the interest of consumers against deficiencies and defects in goods or services. It also seeks to secure the rights of a consumer against unfair trade practices, which may be practiced by manufacturers and traders.
The set-up of consumer forum is geared to provide relief to both parties, and discourage long litigation. In a process called ‘informal adjudication’, forum officials mediate between the two parties and urge compromise.
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.
This Act has provided machinery whereby consumers can file their complaints which will be heard by the consumer forums with special powers so that action can be taken against erring suppliers and the possible compensation may be awarded to consumer for the hardships he has undergone.
The consumer under this law is not required to deposit huge court fees, which earlier used to deter consumers from approaching the courts. The rigours of court procedures have been replaced with simple procedures as compared to the normal courts, which helps in quicker redressal of grievances. The provisions of the Act are compensatory in nature.
consumer courts provide redress only in cases of products or services for personal use, defects in products used for commercial purposes are not entertained.
Basic rights of consumers include:
- Right to be protected against marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property.
- Right to be informed about the quality, quantity, 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 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 redressal against unfair trade practices.
- Right to consumer education.
Consumer redressal forum
Under the Consumer Protection Act, every district has at least one consumer redressal forum also called a consumer court. Here, consumers can get their grievances heard. Above the district forums are the state commissions. At the top is the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in New Delhi.
A written complaint to the company is taken as proof that the company has been informed. The complaint must be backed by copies of bills, prescriptions and other relevant documents, and should set a deadline for the company to respond. Consumers can also complain through a consumer organisation.
- Claims of less than Rs. 20 lakh should be filed with district forum,
- Claims of Rs.20 lakh – Rs. 1 crore directly with the state commission,
- Claims of more than Rs. 1 crore with the National Commission.
To file the complaint:
- Complaint is to be filed within two years of buying the product or using the service.
- Complaint needs to be in writing. Letters should be sent by registered post, hand-delivered, by email or fax. Don’t forget to take an acknowledgment.
- The complaint should mention the name and address of the person who is complaining and against whom the complaint is being filed. Copies of relevant documents must be enclosed.
Appeal is a legal instrumentality whereby a person not satisfied with the findings of a court has an option to go to a higher court to present his case and seek justice. In the context of consumer forums:
- An appeal can be made with the state commission against the order of the district forum within 30 days of the order which is extendable for further 15 days. (Section 15)
- An appeal can be made with the National Commission against the order of the state commission within 30 days of the order or within such time as the National Commission allows. (Section 19)
- An appeal can be made with the Supreme Court against the order of the National Commission within 30 days of the order or within such time as the Supreme Court allows. (Section 23)
The consumer courts (district court, state commission and National Commission) are given vast powers to enforce their orders. If a defaulter does not appear in court despite notices and reminders, the court may decide the matter in his absence. The forum can sentence the defaulter to a maximum of three years’ imprisonment and impose a fine of Rs. 10,000. Forums can issue warrants to produce defaulters in court. They can use the police and revenue departments to enforce orders.