The Consumer Protection Act

The Consumer Protection Act seeks to provide better protection of the interests of consumers. It aims to provide a speedy and simple redressal to consumer grievances. The Consumer Protection Act offers for the setting up of three-tier quasi-judicial machinery.

This machinery has been empowered to give relief of a specific nature and to award compensation to consumers. The Consumer Protection Act applies both to goods and services. It protects not only buyer but user in the case of goods and any beneficiary in case of services.

Several laws had been passed to protect consumers. The Contract Act, 1872, The Sale of Goods Act, 1930, The Agricultural Produce/Trading and Marking Act, 1937, The Drugs and Cosmetics Act,

1940, The Essential Commodities Act, 1955, The Preventions of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969, The Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1976, etc., are examples of these laws.

It was; however, felt that there was need for a specific law for consumer protection. Therefore, The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was passed.

OBJECTS

The Consumer Protection Act seeks to provide better protection of the interests of consumers. It aims to provide a speedy and simple redressal to consumer grievances. The Consumer Protection Act offers for the setting up of three-tier quasi-judicial machinery.

This machinery has been empowered to give relief of a specific nature and to award compensation to consumers. The Consumer Protection Act applies both to goods and services. It protects not only buyer but user in the case of goods and any beneficiary in case of services.

SALIENT FEATURES OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986

  1. Social Welfare Law : It is a highly progressive piece of social welfare legislation. It is acclaimed as the Magna Carta of Indian consumers. This is a unique law which directly pertains to consumers in the market place and seeks to redress complaints arising there from.
  2. Comprehensive Provisions and Effective Safeguards: Its provisions are very comprehensive. It provides effective safeguards to the consumers against various types of exploitation and unfair trade practices. In fact, it provides more effective protection to consumers than any other law in India.
  3. Special Consumer Courts: The Consumer Protection Act has created special consumer courts for enforcement of the rights of consumers.
  4. Three-Tier Grievance Redressal Machinery: The Consumer Protection Act provides for a threetier consumer grievance redressal machinery — District Forums at the base, the State Commission at the middle level and the National Commission at the apex level. The redressal machinery is quasijudicial in nature.
  5. Simple and Inexpensive : There are no complicated or elaborate procedures or other technicalities. The redressal machinery is merely to observe the principles of natural justice. No court fee any other charge is to be paid by the complainant. It is not mandatory to employ any advocate. The complainant can write his grievance- on a simple paper along with the name and address of the opposite party against whom the complaint is made.

Thus, the consumer protection Act provides a simple, convenient and inexpensive redressal of consumer grievances.

  1. Covers Goods and Services : The Consumer Protection Act covers both goods and services rendered for consideration by any person or organization including public sector undertakings and Government agencies. However, services rendered free of charge or under any contract of personal service are excluded. All suppliers of goods and services in private, public and cooperative sectors are covered under the Act.
  2. Time Frame : The Consumer Protection Act lays down time limits for the disposal of cases so as to provide speedy redressal of grievances.
  3. Class Action : The Consumer Protection Act allows filing of class action complaints on behalf of groups of consumers having common interest.
  4. Check on Unfair Trade Practices : The Consumer Protection Act also covers complaints relating to unfair trade practices. Thus, a consumer can protect against food adulteration, short weighting and overcharging, directly to the District Forums. The consumer can pick up a food sample from a shop, get it analyzed by a chemist and file a complaint on that basis.
  5. Check on Overcharging : The Consumer Protection Act also provides for complaints against charging in excess of the price of a product fixed by a law or rule and/or displayed on the packaged commodities.

THE BASIC FEATURES OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986

The Constitution of India, which is divided into different parts, has two very important parts . Part III Fundamental Rights and Part IV Directive Principles of State Policy. These two parts denote two important features of our constitution. The former denotes the existing and enforceable legal rights and the latter denotes the targeted social and economic goals which our founding fathers desired, our successive  governments to achieve.

That in pursuance of achieving one such goal, Consumer Protection Act came into force in the year 1986. That as per the preamble of the Act it was brought to provide for the better protection of the interests of consumers and for settlement of consumers’ disputes.

Although there were remedies in other laws like Contract Act, Sales of Goods Act, Torts, IPC and procedure prescribed in C.P.C. and Cr.P.C., the purpose o f enactment of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was to provide specialized redressal to the consumer grievances.

That the Act provides for the Central Consumer Protection Council, State Consumer Protection Council and three tiers of the Consumer Redressal Authorities i.e. District Consumer Forum, State Consumer Commission and the National Consumer Commission.

The Councils were assigned with the job to promote and protect interest of the consumers at the Central and State levels and the redressal authorities  were established to provide speedy and simple remedy to consumer disputes through a quasi-judicial machinery.

That the proceedings before the District Consumer Forum, State Consumer Commission or the National Consumer Commission are deemed to be judicial proceedings. Further the District Consumer Forum is deemed to be a Civil Court headed by a person qualified to be a District Judge.

The territorial jurisdiction of the District Forum is the entire district and the current enhanced monetary jurisdiction is the dispute up to Rupees twenty lakhs.

That the State Consumer Commission has two jurisdictions i.e. original which is the territory of the entire state beyond Rupees twenty lakhs up to Rupees one crore and the Appellate Jurisdiction i.e. to hear the appeals against the judgments and orders of the District forums.

That the National Consumer Commission has two jurisdictions i.e. original which is the territory of the whole of India beyond Rupees one crore up to infinity and the Appellate Jurisdiction i.e. to hear the appeals against the judgments and orders of the State Consumer Commission.

That by the establishment of the specialized mechanism by the Act it was ensured that the ‘consumer’ can file a ‘complaint’ in case of any unfair trade practice,  defect in goods, deficiency in services or excess-pricing. Thus making it necessary to first understand the connotations of these words and/or phrases in the context of the Act.

Firstly, the consumer is defined by the Act as a person who buys or uses any goods or hires any services for money paid or promised.

Secondly, the complaint  means any allegation in writing made by the consumer against any unfair trade practice, defect in goods, deficiency in services or excess pricing.

One more thing note worthy is that the complaint can be lodged by consumer, registered consumer association, Central Government or State Government. Therefore the complaint can be lodged by not only the consumer himself but also by others, in representative capacity.

It is pertinent to note that consumer means any person who consumes the goods or services. Therefore making all human beings as consumers as long as they live. It is the consumer who is the center of the entire business and industry.

He needs to be protected from malpractices and exploitative deeds of market operators like the producer, supplier, whole-seller, dealer and retailer.

Interestingly, even the producer, supplier, whole-seller, dealer and retailer are somewhere also consumers when they are in their own personal life  consuming the goods or services.

Another important aspect to be noted is that the Act came into force with the objective to protect and promote the interest of the consumers in addition to the existing provisions for the same objective in other laws and statutes not in abrogation of the same.

That means that even after the promulgation of the Act other laws and statutes continue to be in force for the protection of the consumers’ interest.

That since inception in the year 1986 till now there has been a lot of changes and development in the law as well as the redressed system. The legal concepts have been enlarged and elaborated by wonderful judicial precedents.

Amendments have been brought to make it more effective. Though a lot is yet to be achieved, at least the steps in right direction had been taken has come a long way and is growing fast.

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By Hassham

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