Consumer court

From Justice Definitions Project

What is a Consumer Court?

Consumer courts are special-purpose courts, established to redress the grievances of the consumers, given the power imbalance between manufacturers, service providers and consumers. They were conceived of as an alternative to the time-consuming procedures followed in civil courts.[1]

They were established under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.[2] The Act provided for the establishment of three fora comprising the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.[3]

The remedies provided under the Act are in addition to and not in derogation of remedies under other laws.[4]

The Official Definition of Consumer Court

Consumer courts are defined with reference to the subject-matter of the disputes they adjudicate.

The Act defines 'consumer dispute' as a dispute where the person against whom a complaint has been made, denies or disputes the allegations contained in the complaint.[5] A 'consumer' for the purposes of the act is any person who “buys any goods or services for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any user or beneficiary of such goods or services other than the person who buys such goods or hires the services for consideration paid or promised or partly paid or partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment, when such use is made with the approval of such person, but does not include a person who obtains such goods or avails such services for resale or any commercial purpose.”[6]

Complaints involving highly disputed questions of facts or cases involving tortious acts or criminality like fraud or cheating, cannot be decided by the consumer courts.[7] However, with the passing of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, there are certain wrongs for which criminal penalties have been laid down.[8]  

Types of Consumer Courts

According to the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, there are three types of consumer courts.

District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission

Pecuniary Jurisdiction

The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at the district level is established by the state government in each district by the state. It has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services and the compensation, if any, claimed does not exceed Rs 1 crore.[9] An objection as to pecuniary jurisdiction has to be taken at the District Commission itself, not the appellate stage.[10]

Territorial Jurisdiction

A complaint may be filed in that District Commission within the local limits of whose jurisdiction

(1) the opposite party or where there are more than one party, each of the opposite parties resides or carries on business or has a branch office or works personally for gain, at the time of the institution of the complaint; or

(2) any of the opposite parties, where there are more than one, resides or carries on business or has a branch office or personally works for gain at the time of the institution of the complaint; or

(3) where cause of action either wholly or in part arises; or

(4) where the complainant resides or personally works for gain.[11]

State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission

The State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is established at the state level by the state government of each state.[12] It ordinarily functions at the state capital but may perform its functions at such other places as the state government may in consultation with the state commission notify in the Official Gazette.[13]

Pecuniary Jurisdiction

As per Section 47 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, the forum has jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration is between Rs. 1 crore and Rs. 10 core. It is also required to deal with cases which arise as a result of appeals against the orders of any District Commission within the state.

Territorial Jurisdiction

A complaint shall be instituted in a State Commission within the limits of whose jurisdiction -

  1. the opposite party or each of the opposite parties, where there are more than one, at the time of the institution of the complaint, resides or carries on business or has a branch office or personally works for gain; or
  2. any of the opposite parties, where there are more than one, at the time of the institution of the complaint, resides, or carries on business or has a branch office or personally works for gain, provided in such case, the permission of the State Commission is given; or
  3. the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises; or
  4. the complainant resides or personally works for gain.[14]

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has been established in the National Capital Region by the Central Government. 

It has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services paid as consideration exceeds Rs. 10  crore. Any person aggrieved by an order passed by the State Commission can appeal to the National Commission, and the latter binds the parties unless a further appeal is made to the Supreme Court.

Appearance in Official Databases

CONFONET

CONFONET(Computerization and Computer Networking of Consumer Fora in Country) is an internet-based case monitoring database for enabling access to information and automating the workflow of the consumer forums in the country. Its case monitoring system gives the users a single-window solution for automation of all the activities undertaken by the Consumer Commissions at all three levels. The registration of complaints, recording of the proceedings of the court, issue of notices, record-keeping, recording of judgements, generation of cause lists, and generation of statistical reports are carried out with the help of this software.

Screenshot of the homepage .png

The diagram below shows the various kinds of services provided by the Case Monitoring System and the officials/persons responsible for providing the same. By offering the following features, the Case Monitoring System has automated the responsibilities of Consumer Commissions:

  1. An automatically created cause list
  2. Access to case status
  3. A brief summary of the case history
  4. The ability to quickly search using the case number, complainant, respondent, etc.
  5. Use a free text search to find judgements
  6. Following a single master entry, automatic notification creation
  7. Creation of various statistical reports.[15]


Case Monitoring System Flowchart.png

Official Website of the Department of Consumer Affairs (GoI)

This official database is managed by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Government of India. It provides information which enables consumers to make informed choices.[16] The site states all the updated rules and regulations so that consumers are well informed about their rights. It also shows a price monitoring system which lists the price of goods in the market. These prices are then analyzed by the Price Monitoring Division which then gives advance feedback for taking preventive measures to help policy interventions at the the appropriate times to prevent undesired shortfall in the availability of essential commodities. The homepage of the website also connects the users to other online consumer databases which provide data relating to consumer affairs.

Official Website of NCDRC (National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission)

The following information is available on its website:

  1. Establishment of Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA)
  2. Consumer Protection Act, 2019
  3. Rules 2020 made under Consumer Protection, 2019
  4. Regulations 2020 made under Consumer Protection Act, 2019
  5. General Information - Procedure for filing of cases before National Commission
  6. Statistics regarding filing, disposal and pendency of cases
  7. Notices
  8. Link sites - Department of Consumer Affairs/Supreme Court./High Courts.
  9. Addresses of State Commissions and District Commissions, etc.
  10. Important orders of NCDRC.[17]

E-Daakhil

E-Daakhil is an initiative undertaken by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India under the Consumer Protection Act 2019. Its portal has a provision for online filing of consumer complaints in the Consumer Forums and online payment of fees for filing a complaint.[18]

Up until now, the facility of eDaakhil has been launched in 23 States/UTs for respective State Commission and District Commissions and it has also been launched for NCDRC on 7th September 2020. Any consumer/advocate can register themselves on the E-Daakhil software with proper authentication through OTP sent on their registered mobile. Thereafter, the process for filing of complaint can be proceeded with.

Screenshot (26).png


E-Daakhil has also been integrated with the Common Service Center to make its services accessible to residents of remote and rural parts of the country.[19]

The users can file reply and rejoinder only for the cases which are filed from the E-Daakhil portal. For previously filed cases or cases filed through offline mode, it is not provisioned yet.

Screenshot (33)..png

Research that engages with Consumer Courts

Re-Imagining Consumer Forums: Introducing a spatial design approach to court infrastructure

This report[20] is a cross-disciplinary effort from Vidhi's JALDI Innovation Lab in partnership with the Srishti Institute of Art, Design, and Technology. It comes up with a blueprint for a consumer court infrastructure that is friendly to litigants, is replicable, scale-able, and will help achieve the goals of consumer protection laws. Building Better Courts, a survey on the infrastructure accessibility of 665 District Courts in India, was previously conducted by the Justice, Access & Lowering Delays in India (JALDI) initiative at Vidhi. Moving forward, the initiative plans to work on other aspects of court infrastructure, such as a model criminal justice court for women.

Institutionalizing Justice: Gram Nyayalayas and Consumer Courts

This article[21] highlights two promising measures adopted by the judiciary in the pursuit of access to justice: (a) the gram nyayalayas set up under the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 and (b) the consumer forums established under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. They also work as good illustrations of the ‘concerted effort' in India to move cases out of the formal courts, with alternate dispute resolution mechanisms assuming increasing significance and taking various forms. The article analyzes how consumer forums have been the focus of evolving reforms for improvement.[22]

International Experiences

Different countries have different systems in place to enforce the consumer protection laws in their respective countries.

In the USA, various federal agencies enforce consumer protection laws, such as the Federal Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Food and Drug Administration. In the UK, there are two primary agencies for enforcement: Trading Standard Services and the Competition and Markets Authority. In Australia, the Australian Consumer Law is enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission at the centre level and state and territory consumer protection agencies at respective levels. In Japan, the Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) is responsible for enforcing most of the consumer protection laws and has various specific bodies mainly under different Ministries that enforce specific laws.[23]

References

  1. Ankur Saha & Ram Khanna Sr., Evolution of Consumer Courts in India: The Consumers Protection Act 2019 and Emerging Themes of Consumer Jurisprudence, 9 IJCLP 115 (2021), Abstract.
  2. Repealed by Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  3. See sections 28, 42 and 53 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  4. Enathu Services Co-op Bank v The Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, AIR 2011 Ker 145
  5. See Section 2 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019
  6. Section 2 (7), Consumer Protection Act, 2019
  7. C.M.D., City Union Bank Limited v. R. Chandramohan 2023 SCC OnLine SC 341, ❡12
  8. Section 88 and section 89 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019
  9. See Section 34 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  10. Empire Builders George Residency, Goa v Anthony Xavier Andrade, AIR 2009 1796 NCC
  11. Section 34, Consumer Protection Act, 2019
  12. See Section 42 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019
  13. Provided that the State Government may, by notification, establish regional benches of the State Commission, at such places, as it deems fit. (As per Section 42 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019)
  14. See Section 47 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
  15. CONFONET official website, available at:  https://confonet.nic.in/Faqs.html
  16. Official website of the Department of Consumer Affairs, available at: https://consumeraffairs.nic.in/vision-and-mission
  17. Official Website of NCDRC: https://ncdrc.nic.in/rti.html
  18. eDaakhil: https://edaakhil.nic.in/
  19. Digital Seva Connect: https://connect.csc.gov.in/account/authorize?state=1684951661610&response_type=code&client_id=d8b04cfe-f783-4ef2-ce4d-e95023bf7c0d&redirect_uri=https://edaakhil.nic.in/edaakhil/faces/cscloginresponse.xhtml
  20. Re-Imagining Consumer Forums: Introducing a spatial design approach to court infrastructure: https://vidhilegalpolicy.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Re-Imagining-Consumer-Forums-Full-Report.pdf
  21. https://www.dakshindia.org/state-of-the-indian-judiciary/34_chapter_19.html#_idTextAnchor485
  22. Robert Moog. 2008. ‘The Study of Law and India’s Society: The Galanter Factor’, Law and Contemporary Problems, 71(2): 129–137, p. 129. Also available online at http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1470&context=lcp.
  23. Comparison of Consumer Laws in Different Countries: https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=1c2dfca4-1893-49e7-8590-35ff02499515#:~:text=By%20far%20UK%20and%20Australia,redressal%20and%20other%20supporting%20statutes.&text=In%20India%20a%20consumer%20has,has%20been%20paid%20or%20promised
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