Age  of the consumer cases in Consumer Courts:  A  question mark on the functioning of consumer forums in India

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“JAGO GRAHAK JAGO” has been the old slogan used for awakening the Indian consumer in the era of consumerism where the consumer is perceived as ‘King”. Markets are turning to be heterogeneous with the ongoing philosophy of“JO DIKHTA HAI WO BIKTA HAI”. But, the dynamic and hectic pace of consumerism has axed the mindsets and souls of the consumer in almost every State of India. The age of the Indian Consumer cases in Indian Consumer Courts have crossed its limit and the consumer mindsets are bubbling with dying fatigue where their dreams are shattered and hearts comes out with emotional burst with agony clearly seen in their eyes while revealing their own struggling court story.

The much-awaited and enforced Indian Consumer Protection Act, 2019 with amended provisions i.e. online resolution of disputes and mediation would have resulted in the speedy disposal of the consumer cases with an average of 85% disposal rate as per the current data but still long pendency of the consumer cases is a question mark leading delayed justice for ages with an average of 8 years to 12 years as against the provisions of pronouncing justice within a framework of 3-5 months as CPA-2019. There are still 4029 pending cases filed before 2000 out of a total of 5.50 Lakh pending cases in the country in 3-tier summary trial 629 district commission, 35 State Commission with NCDRC (National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission) as the apex hon’ble consumer courts in India.

The pending preposition of the Indian consumer cases is highly skewed in Maharastra, Delhi, UP, Rajasthan, and Tamilnadu but in other states also except North-East is operational on a similar footing. Unlike the civil courts, the consumer courts are quasi-judicial authorities that follow simple, summary procedures for quick disposal of complaints. The Presidents and Members of the District Forum constitute the backbone of the Forum. They play a major role in enhancing the faith of the consumers in the redressal mechanism.

As per data Published in Annual Report, Department of Consumer Affairs 2017-18,  5th July 2018, there were vacancies of one President and 7 members at the State Commission. In the case of District Forums, there were 89 posts of Presidents and 331 members of the District Forum lying vacant. For the law to be effective there should be no posts in the District Forums and State Commission lying vacant otherwise consumers lose faith in the system (Misra 2017). In order to ensure expeditious disposal of complaints, Section 13 (3A) of the Consumer Protection Act provides for disposal of cases within 90 days where no analysis or lab testing of the products is required. Where testing of products has required the disposal of the case can be done in 150 days. In reality, cases run for many years and this clause is often breached. Adjournments according to the CPA amendment in 2002 should be allowed in exceptional circumstances and if given the court should record the reasons for it in writing and justify it

The question of ageing of consumer cases with long pendency is in progression in India due to irrelevant reasons with no base i.e. absence of Quorum as per CPA, absence of respondent lawyers, undefined adjournments, the unwanted resolution passed by the BAR Associations of the respective states, irrelevancy in assigning long dates, the ineffectiveness of the admin & support staff of the Consumer forum and dishonesty to some extent. In addition to this, excess time taken for admissibility of the cases, delay condones time, and non-availability of the members for completing the forum are staunch and seem as a willful and deliberate happening which scratches the consumer soul and evict every ounce of blood with water filled eyes narrating the story of Justice delayed with no option other than to live on the whims & fancy of the delayed Judicial proceeding.

The contemplating thought waves of my heart and eye-witnessed preposition of the state commission at Uttarakhand have gripped my mind and soul which feel to have an amicable solution to the existing problem of aging of the pending consumer cases so that it can be permanently drained out from the judicial system and provide a satiety point for consumer satisfaction. Can this onus of proving speedy justice be assigned to the Hon’ble National Legal Service Authority, New Delhi or to the hon’ble State Legal Service Authority to Justify and dispose of the cases through Lok Adalats or NGO’s / Voluntary associations to take up the call of addressing the aforementioned leakages existing in the advocacy of justice?

The media is also required to play an active and responsible role in awakening and addressing such delayed cases through a mainstream proposition. The Bar Association of the respective states has also to play a disciplined role in creating the work ethics base among the lawyers, especially in case of the consumers who are innocent and become victimized. Because the definition of “Defective Goods” & “Deficiency in service” is very broad and it also counts for such dreams which are unique and becomes a question of survival of a consumer i.e. in case of malpractices adopted by the builders in the sale of Flats/Houses. It becomes a lifetime proposition for a consumer who spends all his hard-earned money for searching shelter in the form of a dream home for himself. More than this, the Charitable institution and the NGO in collaboration with the state agencies should come forward for the capacity-building process, negotiations, and for launching consumer campaigns for the victimized consumers.   

The writer is a Professor of Economics, Head of the School of Social Sciences & Humanities, Raffles University, Neemrana. Rajasthan

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