In our previous article ‘How to file a complaint in consumer court?’ We have explained the procedures for lodging a complaint in Consumer Courts either online or offline. We have also explained about the establishment of the Central Consumer Protection Authority and, ‘Product Liability’ clause where a manufacturer or product service provider or product seller will now be responsible to compensate for injury or damage caused by defective products or deficiency in services including rules for prevention of unfair trade practice in e-commerce in our article In ‘Highlight of Consumer Protection Act, 2019’. The above act provides real teeth to courts against such errant businesses as they can be awarded up to 6 months in jail or a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh in cases where the consumer is not injured. In cases where the consumer is injured, the fine to the manufacturer, seller, or distributor could be up to Rs 5 lakh along with up to seven years imprisonment. If the case pertains to the death of the consumer, then a minimum fine of Rs 10 lakh and seven years in prison, extendable to life imprisonment, can be imposed.
Now we will discuss how the three consumer protection redressal agencies handle the complaint received from a consumer. On filing the complaint, the Commission shall admit or reject the complaint within 21 days of receiving the complaint. It is legally prohibited under Section 36 for the commission to reject a complaint without first hearing the complainant. Further, it is also obligatory for the President and at least one member of the commission to be present for every proceeding of the commission.
The concerned district commission shall refer a copy of the complaint, within 21 days of the complaint being admitted, to the opposite party and direct it to give its version of the story within 30 days or the extended period granted by the commission. If the opposite party disputes the allegation or fails and omits to take any action regarding the complaint, then district commission must deal with it in the following ways. The commission may decide the case on its merits if the complainant fails to show up for the hearing.
- The complainant shall deposit the sum of money with the commission as per direction of the Commssion for testing at the appropriate laboratory.
- The commission must seal the allegedly defective goods, and send them to the appropriate laboratory to findout whether any genuine fault with the goods and report its findings to the commission within 45 days or how much ever time granted by the commission.
- In case the complainant or the opposite party dispute the correctness of the finding of the laboratory will be directed to submit their objections in writing to the commission.
- The commission shall give the parties concerned a reasonable opportunity to be heard regarding their dispute.
When the above-mentioned procedure can’t be followed due to the lack of goods to take a sample from or if the defect alleged is in the service of the opposite party, the commission may settle the dispute on the basis of evidence provided by the complainant or the opposite party if the opposite party disputes the allegation. The commission may also take an ex parte decision if the opposite party omits to do anything regarding the allegations. The commission may decide the case on its merits if the complainant fails to show up for the hearing. There is also a provision to conduct the hearing or examination of parties through video conferencing if it is inconvenient for the party to show up to the commission in person and submit an application in this regard. The commission may accede to the party’s request and allow so after recording the reason.
The commission is normally expected to dispose of the case within three months if no analysis or testing is required and five months if analysis and testing are required.