The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 was enacted to promote consumer welfare and
protect the rights of the consumers, and in order to accomplish the same, the
Consumer Commissions in the National, State and District level for Consumer
dispute redressal was established. In contrast, the objective of these
Commissions was to deliver justice and provide cost effective and speedy dispute
redressal to the consumers.
The same had not been achieved over the past years, as they fell prey to the
traditional civil courts' inefficiencies and the procedural intricacies.
Therefore, it was nevertheless safe to presume that the excessive vacancies,
delay in the disposal of the cases as well as the high pendency of cases
stemming from it, had successfully defeated the entire purpose of this Act.
In order to combat the same, the Central Government brought in the Consumer
Protection Act, 2019, to abolish the intricacies of the previous Act. This Act
addressed the regulations of the E-Commerce entities and set up a central
regulatory body for the same. Although there were changes brought in to address
the concerns of the changing marketplace of the consumers, the same did not
prove effective in modifying the issues relating to the functioning and
efficiency of the Consumer Commissions
Further, the 2019 Act also enforced a change in the pecuniary Jurisdiction to
consider the consumer complaints according to their value, and these were the
new values that were finalized:
- The District Commissions - Upto 50 Lakhs
- State Commission - More than 50 Lakhs and Upto 2 Crore
- National Commission - More than 2 Crores
The revised pecuniary Jurisdiction does entertain consumer complaints where
the value exceeds 2 crores, as against the earlier 10 crore limit, but without
ensuring time-bound proceedings for the same, the complaints filed by the
consumers to seek justice might be a lost cause.
Justice delayed is justice denied
The legal maxim 'Justice delayed is justice denied' seems like an understatement
at this point, considering the pendency of thousands of cases due to which lakhs
of victims suffer because of delayed justice. The average period between two
hearings in the Apex Consumer Forum is said to be three months, whereas the
Consumer Protection Act limits the same to 90 days for an appeal.
There are various consumer cases, revision petitions and pending appeals at the
National Commission, which does not provide an alternative to the consumer, but
wait for the case to be heard. Now, there are various reasons for the said
delay, including the use of cumbersome procedures, adoption of dilatory tactics,
and the reasons that range from the vacancies not being filled up in the
Consumer Forums by the Government to the grievance of yearlong adjournments
sought by the advocates.
Due to the failed effective functioning of the justice system, the consumers are
becoming the bait to the delay in such decisions. Considering the situation at
hand earlier, the Supreme Court has extended the retirement of the members and
its chairman, which proved to be ineffective.
When the Courts keep extending the dates, and the cases start piling up, it's
unjust to the litigants. In many cases, the amount spent on filing and
contesting a case exceeds the amount the litigants seek or get awarded as
compensation. Therefore, when the delay is crucial, and the litigants cannot
afford to pay the Counsel fees, they let go of the compensation amount, which
negates the entire purpose of filing a complaint before the Court.
Adjournments at the comfort of the counsels need to be put to an end by the
Consumer Courts. It is seen that there are at least 7 - 8 adjournments per
case, which delays the decision-making process and gives enough time for the
parties to influence the other party, which intends on making the entire process
flawed. Along with this, the lack of technical expertise when a particular case
on insurance or finance is brought up requires the bench to adjudicate according
to the complexities of the matter, without which there may be a delay, or the
decision adjudicated might not be standard.
As mentioned earlier, the Pecuniary Jurisdiction may be a lost cause without
time bound proceedings. Although the change in the pecuniary Jurisdiction does
ease the burden on the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, on the
other hand, it increases the burden on the lower forum (District Commission).
Coming to the reality of the groundwork, the District Commissions are often
known to be under-equipped in relation to the other commissions, in terms of
technical support, court staff, et., which in turn may result in the lower rate
of disposal of the consumer disputes and affect the objective of the revised
The National Commission or the State Commission is bound to follow the procedure
that is laid down under Section 38 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, which
emphasizes that on the receipt of the complaint, the opposite party shall be
given 30 days along with an extension of 15 days which the District Forum or
Commission may grant, to share their version of reply to the said notice. This
mandate of submitting the written statement has to be done within the span of 45
days as mentioned, which would otherwise defeat the purpose of disposing of the
cases within 3 - 5 months.
Therefore, in the case of Dr. JJ Merchant and Others v. Shrinath Chaturvedi
, five essential steps were laid down by the Supreme Court to check the
disposal of cases within the statutory limit, and the National Commission and
the State Commission were advised to take action on the same.
- Exercise of Administrative Control, which ensures the appointment of
competent people in the composition of the forum in order to reduce the
- The members appointed would ensure that the time limit prescribed for
filing the written statement of the opposite party and the disposal of the
case within the statutory period is strictly adhered to.
- Evidence such as documents and affidavits that the parties intend to
rely on must accompany the complaint.
- Cross-Examination of the persons who have filed affidavits must be done
by giving such people the suggested questions, to which the reply may be
provided on the affidavits.
- No adjournment shall be ordinarily allowed, except in cases where the
speaking order would be made giving reasons for the same.
Another example of a delayed justice consumer case would be the one where an
appeal was made to the National Commission against the State Commission for
medical negligence in the year 1998, but the complaint was disposed off after 5
years, with a compensation of 7 lakhs. Meanwhile, the patient (Complainant)
passed away before the verdict.
The high rates of pendency of consumer cases due to the delay in the disposal of
the complaints can completely lift the trust of the litigants in the justice
system, where the claims by the litigants are of a comparatively smaller value.
Therefore, the adaption of Alternative Dispute Resolution is essential, for it's
a cheaper, speedy and cost-effective method of disposal of cases.
It would be one of the best strategies to be taken into consideration for
disposing off the consumer complaints, which in turn would also lessen the
burden on the Consumer Commissions and enable them to resort to a suitable and
effective mechanism for the resolution of disputes. Mediation being one of the
forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution, may be implemented, particularly in
cases that are pending for more than 5 years in the Consumer Courts, and the
same may prove effective due to its fair, cost-friendly and quick nature when in
comparison to a complaint filed in a Consume Court. The provision for the same
has also been included in the Act. Therefore, this resolution method may help
reduce the backlogs by avoiding the delays and disposing off the cases within
the prescribed time.
- Dipak K Dash, Average Adjournment period in Apex Consumer commission at
par with time prescribed to dispose off appeal, The Times of India
- Dr JJ Merchant & Others v. Shrinath Chaturvedi, Appeal (civil) 7975 of
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Kishan Dutt Kalaskar
Authentication No: JA38688359363-28-0122