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Time to reinvent consumer courts

Less than 25% of cases are resolved within the mandated period of 90 days
Last Updated : 18 April 2022, 18:50 IST
Last Updated : 18 April 2022, 18:50 IST

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We need no better proof to show that India’s consumer movement has been losing media and also public interest since few years. There was little or no coverage this year of World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) celebration on March 15. One of the reasons for such an unfortunate development was the spectacular failure of consumer courts.

Over the years consumer courts have become veritable civil courts. They often recommend seeking legal help. Adjournments are given on the fly and that too without imposing penalty as required. Less than 25% of cases are resolved within the mandated period of 90 days. Still, while celebrating WCRDs or National Consumer Days, their presidents talk eloquently about how simple, easy and quick it is to get judgments.

Last year, Mysuru District Consumer Redressal Commission (Consumer Court) B Narayanappa stated that a consumer can simply submit a complaint on a plain paper. When he was questioned why the commission cannot give judgment in one sitting without any adjournment, his answer clearly showed how the consumer courts have become civil courts.

Judges who are used to the elaborate process cannot change overnight unless they are given special training on the basic philosophy of CPA. Above all, they should imbibe the basic principle of the consumer to be treated like a king while purchasing goods and services and at government offices, officials should treat people as their “masters and not as servants”. Although we got independence 75 years ago, the colonial mentality is still prevailing in government offices and also in consumer courts. A recent example of a complainant seeking help in the Mysuru Consumer Court proves how they are consumer-unfriendly and go against the spirit of CPA.

A consumer had purchased a tour package from a travel agency and the travel agency failed to comply with the contractual terms. For example, the quality of hotels was less than promised with poor quality food (the consumer had to seek medical help), sightseeing was cancelled at the last minute, etc. Consumer finally had to curtail the trip and return.

When he went to the consumer court to submit the complaint, he was first asked to contact a lawyer. The complainant told the staff that he has been advised by a consumer activist that there is no need for a lawyer. He was then asked to bring five copies of the complaint and two stamped envelopes. The next day when the complainant went to submit the complaint, he was advised again that he should make use of free legal help so that complaint is filed properly as per some set format. Again when the staff was reminded of the public statement by her president that a complaint filed on a plain paper will be accepted, what is the necessity of following the formats? Finally, the complaint was accepted.

It is useful to quote a recent judgment to show how Supreme Court of India has concern and interest in assisting the consumers while our own consumer court upholds “formality” reflecting colonial mentality. Just last month, the SC imposed a fine on states which have failed to fill vacancies in consumer courts and also failed to provide needed infrastructure. While passing the judgment it observed that the “scope of the Consumer Protection Act is to redress the small aspect of daily life lives of the consumers”. Unfortunately, such sentiments of the SC are not shown by consumer courts.

Let me end by giving my own example of seeking redressal against an electrical contractor and KSRTC in 1990. In the former contractor had failed to provide the promised services and in the latter, KSRTC had failed to take me to my destination by giving a lame excuse. In both the cases, I filed the case on plain paper just giving the deficiency in service and did not have to follow any set rules and formalities. Also, there was no adjournment though the respondent was not present in the case of KSRTC. It is rather sad that when the Consumer Courts came into existence, getting redressal as implied by SC to help the common man was indeed simple, and today they have become veritable civil courts.

Part of the blame has to be accepted by us, the people. To enjoy the fruits of democracy we need to be ever vigilant. We need to get involved by joining consumer protection NGOs and finally be prepared to undertake satyagraha if needed.

(Bhamy V Shenoy, Founding Working President of Mysuru Grahakara Parishat)

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Published 18 April 2022, 18:18 IST

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