The ‘Consumer’ who is referred to as the king is usually the ‘victim’ of market malpractices giving rise to need for laws to protect the rights of consumers. In 1986, the Indian Parliament passed the landmark Consumer Protection Act which is a milestone in the history of socio-economic legislations and is directed towards achieving public welfare by enabling the consumer to participate directly in the market. The Act provides for a three tiered Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies. These are: The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum in the District, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at the state level and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at the national level. The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration does not exceed one crore rupees. The jurisdiction of State Commissions shall be complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration, exceeds rupees one crore, but does not exceed rupees ten crore; and that of the National Commission will be complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration exceeds rupees ten crore. Therefore, depending on the value of consideration the consumer can file a complaint directly in the State Commission or the National Commission. Additionally, any appeal against the order of the District Commission shall lie to the State Commission within a period of 45 days and an appeal against the order of State Commission shall lie to the National Commission within 30 days. Pursuant to this, an aggrieved consumer can directly appeal to the Supreme Court within a period of 30 days.
Coming to how a complaint can be filed we need to understand Section 35 of the Consumer Protection Act – “A complaint, in relation to any goods sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or any service provided or agreed to be provided, may be filed with a District Commission by – (a) the consumer, – (i) to whom such goods are sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or such service is provided or agreed to be provided;
or (ii) who alleges unfair trade practice in respect of such goods or service;
(b) any recognised consumer association, whether the consumer to whom such goods are sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or such service is provided or agreed to be provided, or who alleges unfair trade practice in respect of such goods or service, is a member of such association or not;
(c) one or more consumers, where there are numerous consumers having the same interest, with the permission of the District Commission, on behalf of, or for the benefit of, all consumers so interested; or
(d) the Central Government, the Central Authority or the State Government, as the case may be: Provided that the complaint under this sub-section may be filed electronically in such manner as may be prescribed.
Explanation. — For the purposes of this sub-section, “recognised consumer association” means any voluntary consumer association registered under any law for the time being in force.
(2) Every complaint filed under sub-section (1) shall be accompanied with such fee and payable in such manner, including electronic form, as may be prescribed.”
Section 38 requires that a copy of the complaint be given to the opposite party within a period of 21 days asking for his version of the case.
The process for filing an online complaint is:
- Visit site of Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India (consumerhelpline.gov.in).
- Sign up by providing the details followed by entering in the list provided there.
- The brands can be selected there or can be entered.
- Any grievance received either through online registration or call center is entered in the portal and a unique docket number is generated and given.
Grievances received are sent to the concerned company / agency / regulator / ombudsman, as the case maybe, for speedy redress.
Action taken is updated on real time basis by the concerned agency. As a follow up action, these agencies are reminded at stipulated interval.
- If the grievance could not be redressed to the full satisfaction, a consumer has choice to approach the appropriate consumer court.
- A time of 2 months is the limit for resolving such online complaint.
There exist other privately owned websites such as Online Legal India through which consumers can file their online complaint. These websites send notice to the seller on behalf of the consumer and along with providing the consumer with the legal assistance. A nominal fee has to be paid while registering such online complaints. In addition to this, the documents regarding purchase are supposed to be uploaded. There are apps launched by the government like the NCH via which the consumers can file complaints.
The consumers can also physically approach the Consumer Forums, i.e., without relying on the internet.
The steps to be followed are:
- Intimation: The aggrieved party sends a notice to the service provider who sold the product. This notice lets the receiver know of the customer’s intention to take action for receiving substandard or defective goods by filing a complaint.
This is an attempt between the parties to come to a settlement without approaching official authorities.
- Drafting the Complaint: If the seller or service provider is not ready to offer compensation, a formal complaint is lodged under the Consumer Protection Act. This process doesn’t necessarily need a lawyer and can be dealt by the aggrieved party themselves.
The following details must be mentioned:
Name, address and description of both the parties; Cause of action; approximate date, time and place; Relevant causes behind the action; The compensation or remedy claimed by the consumer; Signature of the complainant or authorized lawyer.
- Attaching the Required Documents: Materialistic evidence and documents are required to support one’s complaint before it is produced in the court.
These include- Copy of bill; delivery receipt; packaging; record of online booking; Warranty/Guarantee cards; Copy of the written complaint and notice.
- Appropriate Commission: The consumer needs to choose the proper forum to file the complaint according to pecuniary jurisdiction, i.e., the total value of a product or service availed. The compensation amount that has been decided upon needs to be mentioned.
- Paying the Court Fee: A certain amount of money is required to be paid along with the complaint. This fee depends on the type of the forum, the value of the product bought and the compensation sought.
- Submitting an Affidavit: While filing the case it is necessary to submit an affidavit to the court. It is the proof that the facts described by the complainant are true to the best of their knowledge.
Complaints can either be filed by the consumers themselves or through an advocate in the appropriate forum. It must be noted here that against the order of a lower consumer court the appeal lies in the higher consumer court and against the order of national forum appeal lies in the Supreme Court.
The various remedies which can be sought by the Consumer Courts are:
- Refund of the product price paid by the customer and additional compensation for any damage if claimed.
- Removal of defects which is proven to exist after testing the material. The judge may order the defendants to remove or fix the damages.
- Compensation for mental or physical damage suffered while owning or using the product.
- Imposing a ban on life threatening goods and recalling them from the market.
- Order of discontinuation of restrictive trade practices. The authority can impose a permanent or conditional ban on the unfair service.
- Repayment of the cost of the product and litigation claimed by the aggrieved party.
The importance of the Consumer Forum can be understood from the case of Cicily Kallarackal V/S Vehicle Factory that “Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that a high court cannot entertain a writ petition against the orders of the consumer fora, for which the law prescribes a statutory channel of appeal. The Court observed that a proper channel for appeals is prescribed under the Consumer Protection Act. When the legislature provides a statutory mechanism for appeals to a higher court or tribunal, it would not be proper to permit the parties to bypass such statutory remedy provided by law and instead approach the HC in its writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. ¢ Accordingly, it directed the High Courts to exercise caution while entertain writ petitions. It further directed that this order should be circulated to all the high courts and brought to the notice of all the HC judges.” In this case the Court has stated that the High Courts must not entertain appeal from the Consumer Forum.
What should you do if you encounter problems after purchasing and/or using a product or service?
- Find out who is responsible for the problem.
- Collect the name and address of the dealer/seller and the manufacturer.
- Document your complaint – write a letter of complaint to the Shop Manager / Dealer / Manufacturer / Service Provider clearly stating –
the nature of your problem; Evidence of having purchased goods or services to be provided; Relief claimed – repair / replacement / refund / compensation; and a deadline for replying.
- Send the letter via registered post with due acknowledgement.
- Always insist on a written reply from the opposite party.
- Where applicable, after expiry of deadline you must notify the concerned authorities / government department.
- Immediately initiate action to protect your rights.
- You can always contact a local consumer group for help, if necessary.
- If you have taken legal action, publicize the result, so that others gain awareness from your experience.
The author would like to share a personal experience. “My family of 4 people bought a refrigerator from a reputed company. After about 4 months the refrigerator showed some problems of water leakage. We complained via the company helpline and they sent someone to resolve the issue. What the problem really was, as described by the engineer, was a manufacturing defect. We wrote several letters to the company asking them to replace the refrigerator with a new one which went unnoticed for a long time. After that, we told them that we are aware of our rights and will approach the consumer forum if they do not respond. Only after this did they replace our refrigerator along with issuing an apology letter.”
The author would like to conclude by saying that it is crucial to know about our rights and duties. The tagline of “Jago Grahak Jago” rightfully states this.
 The Parliament passed the Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 on 06.08.2019 to replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (“1986 Act”)
 Section 28
 Section 42
 Section 53
 Section 35
 Cicily Kallarackal V/S Vehicle Factory (2012) 8 SCC 524