SC to rejuvenate consumer courts
The Supreme Court (SC) has set up a high-level panel headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat to look into the functioning of consumer courts in the country. The panel will look into vacancies, infrastructure of consumer courts, need for additional benches, difficulties faced by litigants, feasibility of separate cadre for consumer forums, etc. The panel will suggest improvements to ensure speedy delivery of justice.
The Consumer Protection Act was enacted by the Parliament in 1986 to safeguard and promote interests of all consumers in the country. It made laws for the setting up of consumer councils and other appropriate authorities to settle consumers' disputes and for similar matters related to consumer goods. Consumer courts were set up at district, state and national levels to address consumers' grievances.
The government proposed amendments through the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2011 which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 16 December 2011. According to this amendment, delays with the consumer orders could now entail a fine from the court of Rs 500, or 1.5% of the value of the product. A separate amendment sought to make a provision for online filing of consumer complaints.
The Centre sought to amend the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) to strengthen the three-tier grievance redressal system stipulated under it. Union minister for consumer affairs, food and public distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan said that this amendment will hold companies responsible for "product liability, misleading advertisements within its purview". This amendment will bring e-commerce under CPA which was not the case earlier.
The government filed a complaint with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) against Maggi over alleged lapses. Ram Vilas Paswan, the union minister said the compromise with food safety standards was a "serious issue" and asked for a thorough investigation. In the back drop of the Maggi controversy, the demands for a newer, stronger consumer bill to penalise such suits are getting louder.
The complaint against Maggi was initiated by the government itself with NCDRC. This is the first time that the Government of India has used this provision in the three decade old history of Consumer Protection Act.
The government would bring major amendments to the consumer protection bill to update it according to the changing needs of the economy, trade, businesses and consumers. According to Ram Vilas Paswan, Union Minister for Consumer affairs, the Consumer Protection Act passed 30 years back, require major changes. The amendments would include enhancing pecuniary jurisdiction of courts, simplifying registering of complaints including online filing, etc.
The consumer forums established under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 are facing huge backlogs which have increased from 3.52 lakhs in 2013 to 3.72 lakhs in 2015. This is delaying justice delivery and consumer rights protection.