12,13March:: Role of Consumer Dispute Redressal System in India: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities
National Seminar on “Role of Consumer Dispute Redressal System in India: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities” - 12-13 March 2010, New Delhi, India
The challenges faced by the consumers both in the market and the Consumer Redressal Fora all over the country are to be seen to be believed. In spite of excellent Consumer Protection Act of 1986 in place, the consumers are facing an uphill task to protect their rights provided under the said Act. By and large, the civil society and the NGO sector are also not in a position to combat the increasing menace of consumer rights violation in the market and other places, head on. Law enforcement agencies are also failing to effectively enforce the laws of the land as expected. It seems, in the era of global new free market scenario in India, fleecing is their birth right to exploit the unsuspecting consumers belonging to all sections of society, especially the vulnerable sections. It is in this context that we request you to kindly put down your thought in a paper form so that we can incorporate the selected ones in an edited volume to be brought out later. Enclosed please find a concept note for you perusal and early action. You may write and present a paper related to the broad themes/ sub-themes identified in this concept note. So you have choices galore.
Knowing your interest and expertise in the field of protection of consumer rights we are pleased to invite you to participate in the seminar and help us collectively combat the menace of the violations of consumer rights as well as to find a way out to streamline the Consumer Redressal Fora, and if necessary a court-annexed ADR system by actively involving the NGOs and help protect the consumer rights in right earnest. It will definitely make a difference to the present scenario. As we all are aware that under the global free market era consumer rights are likely to be violated and undermined more by the business of all hues unless along with generation of awareness among the masses, and the legal tooth strengthened with civil society’s involvement, particularly the committed NGO sector, the massive task of consumer rights protection may not be easy. The court-annexed consumer-friendly ADR system without formal and/or bureaucratic control can possibly make a big difference and can generate a new hope. Active participation of NGOs in this area will usher in a new era to check the pathetic conditions of consumers in the market as well as inthe quasi-judicial justice delivery system as we experience today. Let us come together to share our agonies, thought and a possible and suitable way out.
The seminar will be held in the Conference Hall, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-110067 on 12-13th March 2010. Keynote Address will be given by none other than the consumer activist Justice J. D. Kapoor who has contributed immensely to strengthen consumer movement in this country with his many historic judgements while he was the President of Delhi State Consumer Commission. One of the key speaker/paper presenters is Mr. Patrick von Braunmuhl, Sr. Advisor, GTZ ASEM Project, New Delhi. Friends, this is an important opportunity and your sincere inputs will go a long way in protection and strengthening of consumer rights in this country with active participation. Let us make it successful jointly sharing the responsibility in protecting the consumer rights in this new era of unbridled global free market environment in India.
There is no Registration fee to participate in it. Local hospitality during the seminar will be extended. We will try to accommodate out station paper writer/presenters in our limited university guest house provided you respond early and submit the title and abstract (within 200 words) of the paper by 10th February and the full paper (within 15-20 pages double-spaced in MS Word in a hard copy (if possible along with a CD) by 28 February 2010. You may arrange your TA/DA from your own organisation. An early acceptance of the invitation and confirmation will help us immensely to arrange the logistics as well as preparation of speakers’ list well in advance, for smooth conduct of the seminar. Kindly respond quickly.
Thanking you and with regards,
Prof. M.C. Paul
Recognizing ‘consumer welfare’ as a part of government responsibility, the government of Indiahas rightly enacted the Consumer Rights Protection Act in 1986 to protect consumers from all types of fraud and deceit in the free market situation. It has also created a separate Department of Consumer Affairs both in the Centre and the States to exclusively focus on ensuring the protection of consumer rights as enshrined in the said Act. The Act has been regarded as the most progressive, comprehensive and unique piece of legislation ever made "which has set in motion a revolution in the fields of consumer rights, the parallel of which has not been seen anywhere else in the world."
The special feature of the Act is to provide speedy and inexpensive redress mechanism to consumer disputes/ grievances following simple court procedures unlike in civil/ criminal courts. It is supposed to provide relief to the aggrieved consumers and award suitable compensation to the victims of markets; and thereby not only ensure protection of their rights against any form of unfair deals, deficiency in services, discriminatory pricing and promotion of unsafe/ harmful goods and services through deceptive/misleading advertisements etc. but also to strengthen consumer movement in the country.
The three-tier quasi-judicial machinery is located at each District, State and National levels named as District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forums, State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission and National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission respectively. We have about 604 District Forums, 35 State Commissions with a National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC), an apex body was constituted in 1988 with its office at New Delhi, and it is headed by a sitting Retired Judge of Supreme Court; and other members are chosen by the Government in consultation with its Chairperson. Similarly, the State Consumer Commission is headed by a sitting retired High Court Judge with at least 3 Members; in the case of District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum it is headed by District Court Judge. Invariably out of three members one must be a woman in all the three-tier mechanism.
The aggrieved/ victimized consumers may file a written complaint before the District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum, State Consumer Commission National Commission based on the prescribed limit of quantum claimed as compensation by the complainant in relation to either a product or service, but it does not include rendering of any service free of cost or under a contract of personal service. Proceedings are summary in nature and endeavour should be made to grant relief to the parties in the quickest possible time frame of 90-150 days keeping in mind the pro-consumer spirit of the Act. If a consumer is not satisfied by the decision of the District Forum, s/he can challenge the same before the State Consumer Commission, and similarly against the order of State Consumer Commission to the National Consumer Commission. In order to attain the objects of the Consumer Protection Act, the National Commission has also been conferred with the powers of administrative control over all the State Commissions by calling for periodical returns regarding the institution, disposal and pendency of cases. National Commission is empowered to issue instructions regarding adoption of uniform procedure in the hearing of the matters; supply of prior service of copies of documents produced by one party to the opposite parties; speedy grant of copies of documents; and generally over-seeing the functioning of the State Commissions or the District Forums to ensure that the objects and purposes of the Act are best served without in any way interfering with their quasi-judicial freedom.
However, it is reported that the Consumer Dispute Redressal system is not in a position to perform its role in a way that may satisfy the aggrieved consumers due to several of its inherent limitations and weaknesses. It other words, these quasi-judicial fora are facing many challenges with the ever increasing complaints filed. There are many other issues and challenges that need urgent attention to make this novel pro-consumer institutions set up under the C.P. Act to work to its best. For example, a large number of District Consumer Fora has vacancies which are not filled-up expeditiously in order to dispose off increasing number of cases. Moreover, several Consumer Fora has backlog in clearing cases within the stipulated time frame of 90-150 days and it take years to dispose of complaints; many times miscarriage of judgments are also reported due to inadequate knowledge base of various clauses of C.P. Act of 1986 and it spirit among the functionaries of Consumer Fora. The aim of the CP Act was fundamentally to ensure simple-procedure based speedy justice delivery to the aggrieved consumers but in reality, by and large, it is found to be otherwise. It is also a fact that the consumer right awareness is at its low in our country unlike in developed nations. In spite of that, as reflected in statistics of the government, that the cases filed in the consumer forums are increasing every year and these are filed in right earnest with a genuine hope that the aggrieved consumers would get prompt justice; but alas, on many occasions it becomes a mirage as proper delivery of justice evades them. Cases are piled up and the delivery of justice is delayed so much that the judicial process is chocked; and during the process many complainants suffer frustration. It is here I believe the complainants suffer the double-victimization syndrome, that is, first in the hands of market forces, and second time, in the hands of quasi-judiciary system. Often, as said, due to inadequate training and orientation in consumer laws/consumer jurisprudence very often the functionaries of Consumer Courts like Presidents and members habitually fall upon on the rule book of civil/Criminal court procedures in matters related to consumer complaints. It is a fact that needs urgent attention to save the consumers who approach consumer forums and file their complaints with lot of hopes to get their grievances redressed. Many times, the appointment of lawyers are insisted to hear the cases.
Another weakness of the Consumer Dispute Redressal system is that the courts do not have the powers to investigate unfair trade practices and provide an efficient deterrent to rogue traders to refrain from them. In this respect if there is a need for an additional institution to act against unfair trade practices in the collective interest of consumers (perhaps similar to the Office of Fair Trading in the UK or the Federal Trade Commission in the US). Therefore, many of the questions need collective discourse, discussion and debate to find viable solution to deal with ever increasing consumer rights violations in the market.
Keeping in view some of the issues and challenges as well as the consumers’ plight in regards to protection of consumer rights in India can we think of some court-annexed Alternative Dispute Redressal (ADR) mechanism? It is a question that needs serious debate and discussions. Since the consumer rights are coming under increasing attack by the marketers of all hues in the era of unbridled global free-market situation we may have to think of some alternative and consumer-friendly mechanism that is simple, non-threatening. It is in this context, court-annexed ADR mechanism may render faster delivery of justice to the aggrieved consumers. If it is court-annexed then it will have a legal punch. Her I feel the role of civil society and community will be sine quo non to bring a much desired change to make a difference to the aggrieved consumers. It may act a harbinger of change. A few committed NGOs may act as facilitator and/or play supportive role in the justice delivery system through the ADR mechanism, and thereby help act as pressure group to bring back some sanity in the exploitative behaviour of the business and the market.
We all have a stake to strengthen and protect consumer rights whether it is the government, or the Consumer Dispute Redressal Fora, organizations representing trade, industry and service providers, voluntary /Non-government consumer organizations, the regulatory authorities for goods and services, the law-makers and those in charge of implementation of the laws of the land.
It is in this context that we at Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) propose to hold a National Seminar on “Role of Consumer Dispute Redressal System: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities” on 12-13th March 2010. the following are the issues to be highlighted:
· To discuss various issues and challenges of Consumer Dispute Redressal System to protect consumer rights in India;
· To identify and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Consumer Dispute Redressal System; why it is failing to perform its role as enshrined in the Consumer Rights Protection Act of 1986.
· Whether any Alternative Dispute Redressal (ADR) system can be an option to help facilitate the quasi-judicial Consumer Dispute Redressal Forums for expeditious delivery of justice to the aggrieved consumers whose numbers are ever increasing due to violations of consumer rights in the markets. Whether it should be placed within the legal system that is, Court-annexed so that it has a punch to take head-on the violators of consumer rights otherwise the violators may take the verdict lightly and go away, etc.
· What role the selected NGOs, who have expertise and commitment, may play in the ADR system; and how they may be brought into this pro-consumer justice delivery facilitation or support system?
· Whether there is any need for separate Consumer jurisprudence since most of the functionaries like the Presidents and other Members of Consumer Courts are either not well-versed or adequately trained and they may need proficiency in consumer jurisprudence /Consumer laws of the land and abroad. In most cases the functionaries having a background in Civil/ Criminal Courts are appointed to head the Consumer Forums to adjudicate the consumer complaints. It may happen so that in most cases they lost sights of the spirit of pro-consumer C.P. Act of 1986 while dealing with the ever-rising consumer complaints. Some may habitually believe and follow the complex civil court-based procedures as they probably cannot easily leave behind the baggage of past experience. It is here we feel there is a high need that they are adequately oriented and re-trained to perform their role better and properly as per C.P. Act. It will only then a new hope among the consumers may be generated and it will send a right message to the violators of consumer rights in the market as well.
· Whether there is a need for additional legislation to ensure that unfair trade practices can be reduced in the collective interest of consumers. These are some of the issues and challenges we feel like highlighting for discussion and interaction to collectively find a solution to minimize the agony of consumers of global era of modern free market.
Prof. M.C. Paul
Jawaharlal Nehru University