The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is a landmark legislation that has established a strong grievance redressal system for consumers in India. Long prone to exploitation by manufacturers and traders, consumers in India now have efficacious legal remedies in the event of deficient goods and services being provided to them. To achieve this, the Consumer Protection Act has created a series of courts at the district, state and national level which can adjudicate consumer cases and pass time-bound judgments in the same. Thus, any grievance regarding defect in goods or deficiency in services can be brought before the concerned Consumer Forum in the form of a complaint, which will then proceed to decide the same in accordance with law.
Section 9 of the Consumer Protection Act establishes courts at various levels. It begins with the District Forum at the district-level, followed by State Consumer Commissions at the state-level. Finally, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is established at New Delhi for the entire country. The jurisdiction of each court is defined by pecuniary limits. All consumer cases having monetary claims of Rupees Twenty Lakh can be filed before the District Forum. Claims having value above twenty lakh but less than Rupees One crores can be filed with the State Consumer Commission. Finally, claims having value more than Rupees One Crore are to be filed directly before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at New Delhi.
Sections 15, 19 and 23 of the Act pertain to Appeals. Section 15 states that Appeals against the decision of the District Consumer Forum can be filed in the State Commission. Section 19 provides that Appeals from the State Consumer Commission can be filed before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at New Delhi. Finally, appeals against the judgments passed by the National Commission lie with the Supreme Court of India under Section 23 of the Act.
Any appeal under Sections 15, 19 or 23 has to be filed with 30 days of the order, failing which the order of the concerned forum will become final under Section 24 of the Act.
It is also important to note that there is a limitation period applicable to consumer proceedings. Section 24 of the Consumer Protection Act states that no consumer complaint shall be admitted unless it is filed within a period of two years from the date on which the cause of action first arose.
By establishing specialised courts to settle consumer disputes, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is a major step forward in providing economic justice to the people of India. It has ensured that irresponsible manufacturers and service providers do not perpetuate malpractices at the cost of innocent consumers. By providing consumers with an efficacious legal remedy that is immune to the ‘adjournment culture’ of the civil courts, the Act has gone a long way in providing justice to people who otherwise would have to bear with defective products and deficient services. The Supreme Court has also rendered several landmark judgments which imposed heavy penalty on companies for deficiency in products and services. It can be confidently expected that with the growing awareness among vigilant customers and an active media, the Consumer Protection Act will contribute immensely in enforcing accountability among business, thereby compelling them to place consumer interest alongside or above their private motives.