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The consumer protection laws aim to safeguard interest of consumers it protects them from being cheated and victimized by sub standard goods. Evolution of consumer protection laws has changed the prevailing common law rule caveat emptor which means buyer beware to caveat venditor.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (hereinafter referred as COPRA) was the first general consumer protection law enforced in India covering all kinds of goods and services. The Act came into force on December 24 1986 which is also observed as National Consumers Right day in India. The Act contains 31 Sections consisted in 4 Chapters. The first Chapter deals with the ‘Preliminary’ provisions relating to definitions etc. Chapter two deals with ‘Consumer Protection Councils’. Chapter three deals with ‘Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies’ which are the forums established to resolve the grievances of the complainant and provide remedy as per the findings of the forum. Chapter four deals with ‘Miscellaneous’ provisions.
Who is a consumer?
Section 2(1)(d) of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 defines consumer. In a nutshell this section states that consumer is a person who,-
- buys any goods in exchange (mostly money) of something which he pays at the time of buying or promises to pay at some particular time in future. It also includes any other person who uses such goods with the permission of the person who buys it. But it does not include any person who gets such goods by way of resale or for any commercial purpose.
- hires or avails of any service in exchange (mostly money) of something which he pays at the time of buying or promises to pay at some particular time in future. It also includes any other person who gets benefits of such services with the approval of the person who buys it. But it does not include any person who avails such goods for any commercial purpose.
Who can be a complainant?
According to section 2(1)(b) of the Act complainant means a person who makes a complainant. He can be a consumer of goods or services; or any volunteer consumer association; or the Central Govt. or any State Government; or where there are many consumers having the same interest then one or more or all of them; or the legal representative of a consumer who is dead now.
What is a complaint and what can be complained of?
According to section 2(1)(c) complaint means any allegations made in writing by a complainant. These allegations may be regarding-
- the use of any unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practice y trader or service provider.
- the goods he bought or has agreed to buy suffer from some defect.
- the services hired or availed by him suffer from some deficiency.
- the charging of excess prices for the goods or for the services by the trader or the service provider.
- The sale of goods or offering of services which are or can be hazardous to life and safety of the public.
Consumer Protection Councils
The Act provides for the establishment of Consumer Protection Councils at National, State and district level to increase consumer awareness and develop a culture of consumerism.
According to Section 6 of the Act the objects of the Councils is to promote and protect the consumer rights which includes-
- the right to be protected against marketing of goods and services which are hazardous to life and property;
- The 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;
- the right to be assured, wherever possible, access to variety of goods and services at competitive prices;
- the right to be heard and to be assured that consumers interests will receive due consideration at appropriate forums;
- the right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices; and
- the right to consumer education
Where can be a complaint be made?
Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies
The Act provides for the establishment of consumer redressal agencies which are also known as consumer courts or consumer forums. These are established at district, state and national level. These are the agencies where one can file his complaint and get a relief depending upon the jurisdiction of these agencies.
The District Forum has the jurisdiction to entertain cases where the value of the goods or services and the compensation is not more than rupees 20 lakhs. The State Commission is empowered to entertain the cases where the value of the goods or services and the compensation is more than 20 lakh rupees but not more than rupees 1 crore. And also the appeals against the orders of any District Forum within the state can be filed in State Commission. The National Commission is empowered to take the cases where the value of the goods or services and the compensation is more than rupees 1 crore. And also the appeals against the orders of any State Commission can be filed in the National Commission. An appeal lies against the order of the National Council only when it has given such order in exercise of its original jurisdiction.
Limitation for filing a complaint
The complaint to a District Forum, State Commission or a National Commission be made within two years of the occurrence of consumer grievance. A complaint may be entertained after a period of two years in a redressal agency if the consumer gives for his failure to file a complaint.
What information a complaint should contain?
A complaint should contain-
- Name and complete address of both the parties to the dispute i.e. the consumer and the trader or the service provider;
- Date on which the purchase was made or the service was availed or started to be availed;
- The consideration paid;
- Quantity of goods or nature of service;
- The copies of bills, receipts and any other important document related to the goods purchased or the service availed.
According to section 12(2) every complaint shall also be accompanied with the amount of fee payable in the manner directed.
How a complaint is made?
A complaint is made at a place within the local limits of which the opposite party, each of the parties or any of the parties, in case of more than one party resides or carries on business or has a branch office or personally works for gain or at a place where cause of action, wholly or partly arises.
What are the remedies which can be provided by redressal agencies on finding the case of the complainant to be true?
The redressal agencies can issue an order to the opposite party directing the-
- Removal of defects from the goods by appropriate laboratory;
- Replacement of the goods with new goods which are similar to the old one and are free from any defect;
- Refund of the price paid by the complainant;
- Award of compensation to the consumer for any loss or injury suffered due to the negligence of the opposite party;
- Removal of defects in goods and deficiencies in services which are complained of;
- Discontinuance of the unfair trade practice or the restrictive trade practice and not repeating them;
- Stoppage on the offering of hazardous goods for sale;
- Payment of such amount which is adequate to be paid to the large number of consumers not identifiable conveniently and have suffered some loss or injury.
Thus as seen above the Consumer Protection Act,1986 has brought a revolution in the world of consumer rights by providing provisions for adequate redressal to their grievances. In inclusion to providing relief to the consumer, it also provides for consumer education and consumer awareness.