In this blog post, Sreeraj K.V., a student of Government Law College, Ernakulam, Kerala writes about the importance of the redressal machinery under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The post discusses the importance of the Act, the functions of the grievance redressal commissions at various levels including their jurisdiction and powers.
Consumers play a key role in maintaining the economy of India. Each and every person constitutes a consumer because each one of us is engaged in some form of exchange of goods or services through money as a medium. Gradually, there arise many kinds of disputes among the consumers as well as consumers and the sellers. In this context, it has to be stated that there lies a need for a statute which regulates the friction between the consumers and the sellers. For this purpose, Consumer Protection Act was enacted in the year 1986 to look after the various rights and duties of the consumers during the time of purchasing a product and even after that. The Act plays an important role in the fields where there arises an incidence of exchange of goods or services between two persons where money acts as a medium. The Act also provides certain guidelines as to what measures must be complied with during the time of such exchange, what are the various rights available to both the buyer and seller etc. It also provides certain provisions regarding the need and formulation of various ‘Consumer Redressal Centres’ both at the central as well as states level.
The Act lays down certain provisions regarding the definition of consumer, various consumer protection councils, and provisions in connection with various consumer redressal agencies in India as well as other miscellaneous provisions. Among this, provisions relating to consumer redressal agencies demand a lot of attention in the present Indian scenario. Many people are still not aware that there are such agencies working in favor of consumers in every district. Due to this reason, many of them are not getting proper solutions for their problems as consumers. Chapter III of the Act provides for the implementation of redressal agencies. Section 9 of the Act provides for ‘establishment of consumer dispute redressal agencies’ which include:
- A District forum established by the State Government in each district of the State by its notification.
- A State Commission established by the State Government in each state by its notification and
- A National Commission established by Central Government by notification 
Each District Forum shall consist of a person who is or has been qualified as a District judge, as the President. There must be two other persons who are not less than thirty-five years of age and also possesses a degree from a recognized university. The persons must have adequate knowledge in the field of economics, commerce, industry, public affairs, and administration. The district forum must have the jurisdiction to entertain such complaints where the value of goods or services and the compensation, does not exceed Rs. twenty lakhs. The need for district forums for consumer redressal is that majority of the people who face any consumer rights violation are unable to file a complaint in a state or national forum because such f have to look at matters concerning various other district forums which result in a large number of pending cases. District forums are also enabled with a faster way of dispensing consumer redressal as the amount of claim is pretty less than that of State/National redressal forums which enables normal people to seek a solution for their problems.
Each State Commission shall consist of a person who is or has been a judge of High Court as its president. The Commission also consists of not less than two members, who are above thirty-five years of age and also possesses a degree from a recognized university. The persons must have adequate knowledge in the field of economics, commerce, industry, public affairs, and administration. The Act also states that not less than fifty percent of the members shall be from amongst the persons having a judicial background. The State Commission has a jurisdiction to entertain cases where the value of goods or services or the compensation claimed, if any, exceeds the number of Rs. twenty lakhs but does not exceed Rs. one crore. It also entertains appeals against any District Forum within the state and also looks after any pending disputes or cases decided by any of the District forums in which the forums have exercised a jurisdiction not vested in them by the law, or has been exercised illegally or with any material irregularity.
The National Commission shall consist of a person, who is or has been a judge of the Supreme Court, to be appointed by the Central Government, shall be the President, provided that no appointment shall be made except after the consultation with the Chief Justice of India. The commission shall consist of not less than four members of its executive committee who shall not be less than thirty-five years of age and must be graduates from a recognized university. They must also be specialized in the areas of commerce, economics, and administration. The jurisdiction of the commission shall extend to any case where the compensation amount might exceed Rs. one crore and the Commission shall also entertain appeals against State Commissions. The Commission also has the power to check any pending disputes or cases decided by any of the State Commissions where the State Commission has exercised a jurisdiction not vested in it by law or it has been exercised illegally or with any material irregularity.
Power of redressal forums
There are various powers for all of the redressal forums with regards to its jurisdiction. Some of them include:
- Examining, enforcing as well as summoning the witness on oath;
- Discovering and producing any material evidence;
- Receiving evidence on affidavit;
- Requesting for report or test analysis from the concerned authorities and laboratories;
- Issuing commission for examining the witness;
- Enforcing any other powers prescribed by the Central or State Government.
The District, State or National Forum for consumer grievance redressal will not entertain a case which is filed two years after the occurrence of the case unless the party/parties can condone themselves regarding the reasons behind the delay of filing within the specified period. Such a provision was formulated to increase the accuracy of the function of such forums and also for delivering fast redressal solutions to the parties.
From various landmark judgments by the Supreme Court in connection with cases affecting consumer rights, it will be clear that there is an increase in the number of cases involving consumer protection when compared to the past. It indicates that people are now aware of their various rights as consumers. The Act not only covers the rights of the consumers but also provides certain duties for them too. It has been stated that it is the duty of a consumer to ask clearly about various characteristics and features of the product which he/she wishes to buy. The Act does not entertain certain malicious acts such as black marketing and selling a good above the prescribed rate of MRP. The doctrine of ‘caveat venditor’ (let the seller beware) has been changed into ‘caveat emptor’ (let the purchaser beware) so that the purchaser will also be aware of various features, merits and demerits of the good as well as protection of their rights themselves. There is still an emerging need of various other redressal machineries in this field due to the increased number of pending cases as well as for implementing alternative means in the field of consumer protection. The Act may be amended in such a way that it includes certain dispute redressal mechanisms like ‘Alternative Disputes Resolution’ as a core function of the said redressal agencies dealing with consumer rights.
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