Knock at the door-is it all well with consumer courts
One more year is over .We are again to celebrate world consumer day on 15th of March.Now let us take a pause and see-is it all well with the consumers while celebrating the day with rejoice.
There is no reason to regret ,things went very well with the time.We could get three amendments done to the consumer protection act since the inception of this welfare law and every time we went a step ahead towards achieving more .With Special features added to the act by amendment 1991 forum could function in the absence of one member also.In yet another amendment in 1993 ,apart from defect in goods,services were also for the first time brought under the purview of consumer forums meaning thereby service provider could be held responsible for deficiency in services .Number of services were defined and housing,education ,electricity , medical services ,fixed deposit matters were brought under the purview of this act .Not only this ,Supreme Court held in number of cases that section three of the act provides an additional remedy to the consumer inspite of the fact, other remedy is available to the consumer in other laws . Pecuniary jurisdiction was also raised to twenty lacs by Amendment 2002 ,unfair trade practices became the subject of consumer forums ,forums could pass interim orders and many other features were added to the act enhancing the strength of consumer forums.First class magistrates powers were also granted to these forums for compliance of its orders .Consumer became a king one day
[LANDMARK JUDGEMENTS ]
The obevious result was- a lot of hue and cry was created over the authority of the forums among big business houses Ever since the act has come into force ,at one hand the Apex court gave broader definition and wider scope to the act through its various pronouncements ,at the same time ,it also faced numerous problems and several attacks on the authority of these forums Even the act it self was challenged before the court of law in a case of Vishwabharti House Building Co-operative Societies Versus Karnataka State and others and its legal validity was questioned when a big business man was ordered to be sent to jail for non compliance of its order. The questions were raised before the Supreme court as to whether Lok Sabha is empowered to pass such an act by which consumer forums run like parallel courts to/against the civil courts with much more discretionary powers.The matter was finally resolved by the Apex court in 2002 and held that the Consumer Protection Act is a valid law passed by the Lok Sabha as per the constitution who was competent to pass such welfare Act.Further,the forums constituted under this act are competent to perform their work assigned to them in all respects .These forums can also invoke the provisions of section 27 of the act for execution of their order and sending the defaulter to jail.
It was as back as in 2002 in J.J.Murchant case,Supreme Court made it ample clear that consumer foras can take evidence ,cross examine through affidavits,can appoint local commissioner etc and if matter otherwise falls under their jurisdiction,they must adjudicate the same . This case is an example in which doctors had put all their tools and weapons to get rid of the vigilant watch of consumer forums,but none could work in their favour as the supreme court ultimately did not agree to their arguments and held consumer foras competent to decide medicl negligence case.
If we go back to the case of New India Insurance Co.Ltd. V Srinivasan decided in 2002 by the Supreme court ,it was held that consumer foras need not go into technicalities of Civil Procedure Code or Indian evidence act and foras may go by the summery procedure laid down in the act in section 13, meaning thereby ample discretionary powers ,at times more than civil courts
Universities, colleges and educational institutions are seen very upset on interference of consumer courts in their functioning and time and again holding meetings as and when there is a case decided against their interest by the consumer redressal commissions.Even the education ministry is in a flux as to how to distinguish the demarcation line between the statutary functioning of autonomous bodies working for education and the interference of consumer courts.However by now Universities are out from consumer forum’s jurisdiction for their statutary functuions
In Ms Kalawati V United Vaishya thrift and co-operative society case also objections were taken by co-operative societies referring to the clauses in their act which bar the courts to interfere in their functioning,it is the registrar to redress the grievance. Supreme court rejected their arguement stating consumer forums are not courts ,hence not barred by their act
[WHAT MORE IS REQUIRED TO BE DONE ]
Inspite of all positive aspects as discussed above, much more is yet left undone and if we remember the courageous steps taken by the housewives of Mumbai in 1949 coming on the road in protest against the quality of goods ,we need to show similar zeal for price fixation too –this is the real need of the day.Though Govt.is serious about the gape between manufacturing cost and MRP and is working on it,several areas like pharmacy/pricing of medicines has been upto some extend brought under control but we all have to join hands ,NGO’S need to play their role.
A very little is being done to discourage false and frivolous complaints resulting into speedy rise in institution of complaints .Section 26 of the act is required to be brought into action and such practices of filing complaints either for the sake of compensation or to escape from some other liability should be dealt with heavy hands .
While dealing with the case filed against statutary bodies it was suggested by the apex court in 1993 in the case of M G Gupta V Lucknow Development Authority that erring officer causing harassment to the public at large must be penalized by deducting compensation money from his account .This aspect has not been brought in to practicle action or looked up seriously and we observe day in and out dealing person sitting over the file till the time he does not receive bribe
A big barrier which comes in the way is the provision that consumer forums cannot interfere into the statutary functioning of the autonomous bodies.It is an established law that autonomous bodies have freedom to diagram their strategies, decide their annual programe of development for their respective area and fix their budge thereof ,get approvals ,allocate funds under different heads.and also make schedule for their every activity.But consumer’s concern is- whom to ask if such body does not follow their own schedule ,planning and at times neither their funds are used nor the activity so designed by themselves is translated into reality .They are answerable to none but their chair but at the same time ultimate sufferer are public at large funding their salaries and other expenses.Sewer is kept open causing child loosing life inspite of funds allocated for maintenance ,roads are full of pits and pitches prone to accidents ,responsible official to take care of this area is performing statutary duty, hence cannot be questioned
Someone is to knock at the door-All is not well
Dr Prem Lata