Image source: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/spend/heres-how-consumers-will-benefit-under-the-new-consumer-protection-act/articleshow/70711304.cms

This article has been written by Sai Manoj Reddy. L pursuing the Certificate Course in Advanced Civil Litigation: Practice, Procedure and Drafting from LawSikho. This article has been edited by Zigishu Singh (Associate, Lawsikho) and Smriti Katiyar (Associate, Lawsikho).

Introduction

Almost every law student has heard and read about the case of Donoghue v. Stevenson. It was a very interesting judgment, not just because of the compensation awarded to the petitioner, but also the year in which the judgment was passed. The judgment was passed in 1932 and fixing the liability on the manufacturer during that time was quite interesting.

With the rapid growth in the business and manufacturing, there began strict competition among various competitors to gain the market share and often the companies resorted to unfair trade practices. The consumers were at a disadvantage due to the lack of knowledge about their rights and legal mechanisms to resolve their grievances and prevent exploitations. 

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (from here on referred to as “1986 Act”) was passed with the main objective of protecting the rights of consumers and to resolve their grievances by providing a proper legal resolution in a speedy manner. The 1986 Act, came into force on 1st, July, 1986 and the concept of consumerism was introduced in India. The 1986 Act was an outcome of the widespread consumer protection movement all over the world and also the report of the Secretary-General on Consumer Protection dated 27th May 1983, the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which recommended all the countries to build, reinforce and implement a coherent consumer protection policy, taking into consideration the guidelines that were set. The preamble of the 1986 Act states that it is an Act “to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers…..” The use of the word ‘protection’ clearly shows the intentions of the legislators behind bringing this Act into force.

In this article, I will try to explain the changes made in the procedure related to the execution/enforcement of the orders passed by the consumer commissions/courts. Further I will explain the problems in the enforcement of these orders. 

Execution proceedings under Consumer Protection Act, 1986

Consumer Dispute Redressal Commissions (from here on referred to as “Consumer Commissions”) were established in 1988 under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. These commissions are quasi-judicial bodies. They were established to provide speedy and accessible resolution of consumer grievances and disputes against malpractices, unfair trade practices, defective goods etc. The main aim of this commission was to reduce the burden on the traditional court systems which were already burdened and very slow in delivering justice due to lengthy procedures at every stage. 

Section 25 of the 1986 Act deals with the concept of ‘enforcement of orders of district forum, the state commission or the national commission’. According to Section 25 the consumer forum/commission was given power to attach the property of the person who is not complying with the order. Following that  if the order is not complied with within three months, then the forum/commission has the power to auction such property and award the compensation to the complainant out of the proceeds of such auction. The complainant can also file an application before the forum/commission and the forum/commission can also issue a certificate to the district collector to recover the amount due in the same manner as arrears of the land revenue.

This procedure is better explained by a chart below created by VIDHI Centre for Legal Research.

https://vidhilegalpolicy.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/chart.png

Execution proceedings under Consumer Protection Act, 2019

In the 2019 Act the enforcement of the orders passed by the District, State or National consumer dispute redressal commissions is dealt with under Section 71. According to Section 71 of the 2019 Act, every order made by the District, State or National commission shall be enforced in the same manner as that of a decree of a civil court in accordance with Order 21 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. 

This means the orders of the District, State or National commission are to be treated as the decree passed by a civil court and has to be enforced in the same manner. An execution application can be filed by the complainant as the award holder and the order can be executed using the traditional court procedures. 

Issues with the execution procedure under 1986 as well as the 2019 Act

As seen above, the procedure of execution of orders under the 1986 Act relies heavily on the assistance of the District Administration like the District Collector and other concerned officers. This is because there are no provisions under the 1986 Act or the rules framed there under for an officer to exercise executive powers, unlike in the civil courts where a bailiff is empowered to make sure decisions of the court are obeyed. This means that the orders consumer forums/commissions are toothless and heavily dependent on the District Administration for their execution. The complainant may get a favourable order from the commission in a time-bound manner but the execution of such an order is a difficult and time-consuming process as the District Administration is already burdened by various other functions and often neglects this additional job put on them. This is one of the main issues with the execution of orders under the 1986 Act. The order holder is unable to enjoy the fruits of the order.

The 2019 Act, which repeals the 1986 Act, aims to expand the scope of grievances consumers can complain against and to ease the process of filing complaints before different commissions at the District, State and National levels. However, even the 2019 Act fails to achieve better execution of orders by the Consumer Commission. The 2019 Act still hasn’t provided any rules for the appointment of staff/officers for execution or enforcement of orders passed by the Commissions which makes no development from the 1986 Act. The only bright side of the 2019 Act is that the power of consumer commissions has increased slightly . The Commissions now have the power to detain the person in civil prisons who are not complying with the orders and also attach their immovable property, agricultural crops etc. Even though the order of a Commission is treated as a decree of the civil court the Commissions still have to rely heavily on the District Administration and the procedures of traditional court systems in the execution of the orders. 

Increasing complexities in procedures of consumer litigation and making it more like traditional court practice could reduce the accessibility of Consumer Commissions, defeating the whole purpose for which these Commissions are set up. 

Changes to be made to the current system

VIDHI Center for Legal Policy is conducting an ongoing study on the efficiency of the District Consumer Disputes Commissions in Bengaluru and the Karnataka State Consumer Disputes Commission and the results as of July 2018 are as follows:

  • 3 out of 5 District Commissions in the Bengaluru Urban District were unable to dispose off even 50 percent of the execution applications filed before them in 2013.
  • Between the years 2013-17 the number of execution applications filed before the District as well as the State Commissions in Karnataka increased by 287%.

To tackle the problems in the current system of execution of orders passed by the Consumer Commissions and to make the process more streamlined the following changes need to be made:

  • There should be a simplified procedure to execute the orders passed by the Commissions with lesser dependency and interactions with the District Administration.
  • Specific rules have to be formulated under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 to streamline the process of execution.
  • The Governments at the state as well as central level have to provide for the appointment of staff/officers at every Commission. Duty and powers should be given to such Officers in the execution of the orders in a time bound manner.
  • The capacity and infrastructure needs to be enhanced for the Commissions at all levels especially at the District level and urban areas where most of the consumer complaints are piled up.

Conclusion

The intention of the law makers in enacting laws for consumer protection is good and is highly appreciated, but there needs to be a proper system and mechanisms that need to be put in place in such laws to protect the rights of consumers and resolve their disputes in a speedy manner. As we have seen above, the main problem with the current system is not the resolution of grievances and disputes and passing orders, but it lies in the execution of such orders and allowing the aggrieved consumer to enjoy the fruits of the orders passed in their favour. Increasing complexities in procedures of consumer litigation and making it more like traditional court practice could reduce the accessibility of Consumer Commissions to the consumers, defeating the whole purpose for which these Commissions are set up. 

If the Governments at State and Central level make necessary changes to the current system by giving more powers to the Consumer Commissions, appoint officers for the execution of orders and give them enough powers to streamline the process of execution by making it time-bound, then there is a good chance that the consumers’ rights will be protected and the consumer laws will serve their purpose. 

References


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