Consumer Rights in India

The consumer constitutes the initiation of every economic activity and the role of a consumer is highly valuable since ancient times. Even in the Old Testament, a form of consumer protection can be seen and the Code of Hammurabi also provides consumer protection but in a perspective of mercantile. In recent times the movement for the protection or defence of consumers was found in the country of the United States where the unfair trade practices and the monopolistic trade practices were being committed to a large extent. Till the 18th Century, the consumers themselves verified the goods which were being purchased by them and in cases of gross negligence the seller was held liable, this led to the first phase of consumerism however it was the third phase of consumerism which brought a huge impact.

The third phase of consumerism took place in the 1950s in which the world witnessed the participation of European nations. Denmark and Great Britain were the first nations in the present era where the governments had introduced the ‘Council of Consumers’ with the help of which the consumers were able to freely express themselves and share their grievances against the traders. The concept of consumer protection was properly shaped and reintroduced on the date of 15th March 1962 by the 35th President of U.S.A namely John Fitzgerald Kennedy, he provided four basic rights of consumers which were the right to choose, right to safety, right to be heard, right to be informed.

Consumer Protection & Laws in India

In India there were traditional laws followed, these laws were established by the kings who ruled India. During the British era, these laws were replaced and the English Common Law was followed which proved to be beneficial as these laws were uniformly applicable to the entire nation and the people were not on the discretion of different kings in different regions. Upon attaining independence India adopted an Anglo-Saxon justice administration system, it was in the year 1950 when India had created and adopted its own Constitution which was the basis on which multiple other laws were made some of which is the prevention of food adulteration act 1954, the essential commodities act 1955, the monopolistic restrictive trade practices act 1969 etc. One of these acts was passed in the year 1986 named as the Consumer Protection Act 1986 it was enacted by the parliament of India on the date of December 24th in the year 1986. The consumer protection act 1986 was enacted to protect the consumers in India from the malpractices and the unfair trade practices done by the traders and the businessmen. The consumer protection act brought had a lot of features such as: –

  1. It applies to all services, goods and unfair trade practices unless the central government has exempted it.
  2. It covered all aspects such as the public, private and co-operative sectors i.e. all the sectors are coming under this act.
  3. It provided machinery for consumers to enforce their rights in the district, state and national level.
  4. It introduced the quasi-judicial machinery of three tiers to deal with the consumer’s grievances and disputes.
  5. It gave the proper definition of a consumer and explained what the unfair trade practices in India are.

Definition of a Consumer

Sec 2(d) of the consumer protection act 1986 provides the definition of a consumer. According to this section, consumer means any person who has bought any goods or availed any service for an amount which either has been paid, promised to be paid, partly paid or promised under any deferred payment system. It also includes the user of goods or any person who buys goods or makes a promise to pay for goods and includes any beneficiary of such services other than the person who avails or hires for those services. It is to be noted however that this definition does not include any person who obtains goods or services for resale and commercial purposes.

Rights of a Consumer in India

The parliament has provided the consumer protection act 1986 to safeguard, redress the grievances and educate the consumers in India about their rights. Some of the rights provided in the act are as follows: –

  1. Safety: – One of the most important things which this act has highlighted is the right to be protected from the goods and services which are hazardous to a consumer’s life and property.
  2. Information: – As per the consumer protection act the consumer has the right to acquire the information as to the quality, standard, purity of the goods and services to protect himself from unfair trade practices.
  3. Choice Consumers also have the power to exercise their right to choose. The consumer is allowed to choose any of the products, goods and services according to his likings
  4. Right to be heard: If a consumer has faced the wrath of unfair trade practices he has the right to be heard before the appropriate authority. Thus the consumer protection act has provided the consumer to raise his voice in case his rights have been violated
  5. Representation Right: The consumers have a right to be represented himself either by himself or by their choice of a legal practitioner.
  6. Redressal Rights: The consumers have the necessary right to seek redressal in cases against the trade practices which are unfair.

Procedure for Filing a Consumer Complaint in India

  • Firstly, a consumer is required to draft a complaint in the prescribed manner. The complaint must contain all the details and facts along with the cause of action for filing the complaint and should be in the time frame (limitation) as provided by the consumer protection act1986.
  • Secondly, a consumer is required to file copies of the supporting documents along with the complaint such as the receipts, bills, agreements, cash memo etc. A list of documents is to be attached along with the complaints to specify the exact number and type of documents to be relied upon. The ‘Vakalatnama’ (authority provided to lawyers) shall also be provided with your signature to signify you have appointed a legal practitioner to represent you.
  • Thirdly, the consumer also has to provide 3 copies to the complaint along with the other enclosures one for the court and the others for the opposite parties. The copies may vary depending upon the number of non-complainants in the case.
  • Fourthly, the complaint with the enclosures is to be filed in the office of the registrar of the consumer court along with the prescribed fees. The registrar would then provide you with a date when the complaint would be presented before the judges for admission.
  • Lastly, it is to be noted that if the consumer courts find your complaint to be without sufficient grounds or frivolous, it would dismiss your complaint, record the reasons for dismissal in writing and impose costs over you which can be up to 10,000 Rs. Hence it is advised not to lodge vexatious complaints.

Fee table for Consumer Cases

Sr.No Value of services/goods or claimed compensation (Rupees) Fee Payable (Rupees)
  District Forum  
1. People below the poverty line who hold Antyodaya Anna Yojna Cards Nil
2. Claims below 1 lakh Rupees 100
3. 1 lakh to 5 lakhs 200
4. 5 lakhs to 10 lakhs 400
5. 10 lakhs to 20 lakhs 500
6. 20 lakhs to 50 lakhs 2000
7. 50 lakhs to 1 crore 4000
8. 1 crore and above 5000

Limitations of the Consumer Protection act 1986

Section 24A of the consumer protection act 1986 provides for the period of limitation in filing consumer cases. According to Section 24A (1) the national commission, state commission and the district forum are not to admit any complaints which have been filed after the expiry of two years since the date on which the cause of action arose. However, section24A (2) provides for an exception about those cases which can be admitted despite the limitation period being expired in such cases the consumers are required to mention the reason as to why the delay was caused and if the court is satisfied it may allow such a complaint to be admitted.

Consumer Courts in India

The consumer courts in India are constituted under the consumer protection act 1986 itself. Their main purpose is to adjudicate and settle the disputes between the consumers and the traders along with solving the other types grievances of consumers. The act provides a three-tier system for consumer protection they are as follows: –

  1. District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum (DCDRF) which has the territorial jurisdiction on a district level and the pecuniary jurisdiction of 20 lakhs i.e. it can entertain claims up to 20 lakhs. The district forum consists of two members and a president. The person who is to be president should be either a district judge or a person who has been or is qualified to be a district judge. The other two members should be persons having adequate knowledge of the law, economics, accountancy, public affairs etc. It is to be noted that one of the two members shall be a woman.
  2. State Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum (SCDRF): The SCDRF would operate on a state level and would entertain disputes where the amount of dispute exceeds 20 lakhs but does not exceed Rs. 1 crore. The SCDRF also entertains appeals from DCDRF. The state commission shall consist of one person who is or has been or is qualified to be a judge of a high court and two other members who should be persons having adequate knowledge of the law, economics, accountancy, public affairs etc. It is to be noted that one of the two members shall be a woman. It is, however, to be noted that no appointment of the president can be done unless it is done with the consultation of the chief justice of the high court of that state.
  3. National Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum (NCDRF): The NCDRF is the highest in the hierarchy of the consumer court. It entertains those matters which exceed Rest. 1 crore. The NCDRF also entertains the appeals from the SCDRF and if a person is not satisfied with the decision of the NCDRF he still has one more option of appeal i.e. approaching the supreme court. The NCDRF shall consist of a president i.e. a person who is eligible or has been the judge of the supreme court and two other members who should be persons having adequate knowledge of the law, economics, accountancy, public affairs etc. It is to be noted that one of the two members shall be a woman. It is, however, to be noted that no appointment of the president can be done unless it is done with the consultation of the chief justice of the supreme court.

Penalties Under the Consumer Protection Act

If the complainant or the person against whom he has complaint fails to comply with any order of the consumer courts he would be punishable with a jail term of not less than 1 month but which can be extendable up to 3 years or fine which can be up to 10 thousand rupees.

Consumer Protection Act of 2019

Mr Ram Vilas Paswan who is currently the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution had introduced this new consumer protection bill in the Lok Sabha on the date of 8th July 2019. The bill was passed by the parliament on the date of 6th August 2019, has received the assent of the president and published in the official gazette on the date of 9th August 2019. The act would come into force from such dates as the central government would notify. This new consumer protection act aims to introduce new methods for governing the rights of the consumers and to improvise over the three-decade-old consumer protection act. But as of now unless the central government notifies the existing consumer protection act 1986 is still in force.