Guide to file a consumer complaint case in a court in India

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A consumer is a person, who purchases any products or services for his personal use. Interests of consumers are protected by giving them certain rights under a special statute known as the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Act was enacted to protect consumers from exploitation and ensure fair trade among competing vendors. In case a situation arises where the customer is cheated by the vendor, then the Act provides for simpler and faster redressal of consumer disputes.

Even if it is a case of nominal value, consumers must not be discouraged from filing a case against the cheating vendor. Many a times disputes of nominal value are not brought to the notice of the court because the consumer thinks it would be impractical. These isolated cases, when taken together may expose a grave injustice happening to the consumers. It is in the interest of the society if such incidents are brought to the notice of the courts. Even with disputes where the amount is high, the consumer should not worry about the technicalities and the inevitable delays that come along with the court procedures.

The lawmakers have understood the need for quick redressal of consumer disputes. Thus, under the Consumer Protection Act, the process for redressing a complaint is far simpler than that for normal civil cases. The complainant may represent himself without appointing a lawyer. The charges for filing a complaint are also minimal compared to the fees for filing a civil suit. There is no need for the consumer to make huge deposits in the court as court fees for proceeding with the case either . This now has motivated the consumers to raise their voices and take steps to redress their grievances under the Act.

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Scope of the Consumer Protection Act

Consumer Protection Act applies to consumers, who make use of goods and services for their personal use. The people who come under the scope of consumer under this Act are those who have bought goods or services for some amount, which is either outstanding or is partly paid or is promised at a later stage or those who are availing the benefits of the goods and services.

The ambit of the Consumer Protection Act is vast; however, consumers who purchase products for commercial use or resale do not fall under the ambit of this Act.

Use which shows deficiency in service or defect in product is covered under the Act. This is adjudicated by the consumer forums that are quasi-judicial authorities. All sectors, be it private, public or cooperative come under this act and are liable to be prosecuted by the consumer forums and at a higher stage, the Supreme Court if they are found to cause any damage to the end consumer.

The consumer forums makes redressing the complaint fast; since they do not have the burden of other cases upon them, nor do they have to follow the rules of evidence. They can try complaints summarily and process matters by providing compensation. The forums prefer compromise among parties rather than adjudicating a matter and thus act as mediators.

What are the types of consumer courts in India?

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    • District Forum:The value of the goods or services and the compensation, if any claimed, does not exceed rupees twenty lakhs.
    • State Commission:The value of the goods or services and compensation, if any claimed, exceeds rupees twenty lakhs but does not exceed rupees one crore as well as appeals against the orders of any District Forum within the State.
    • National Commission:The value of the goods or services and compensation, if any claimed, exceeds rupees one crore; as well as appeals against the orders of any State Commission.

There are 4 conditions to be fulfilled by you to be able to file a consumer case.

Condition 1: You should be a consumer

    Under the law, the benefits of consumer law are available to any person who:

    1. buys any product.
    2. uses a product with the approval of its buyer.
    3. hires any service.
    4. avails a service with the approval of the person who has hired such service.

Such a person as above is called a ‘consumer’. It must be noted that the size of the product or the amount of money paid for the purchase is irrelevant. So, a consumer case can be filed in connection with purchase of a pen as well as for purchase of a penthouse. The consumer law specifically excludes certain persons from the definition of ‘consumer’.

    The benefits of this law are not available to any person who:

    1. obtains goods or services for free.
    2. obtains goods or services for the purpose of resale.
    3. obtains goods or services for the purpose of trading.

In such a case, the correct legal action is to file a civil suit against the seller or service provider.

Condition 2: There should be proper grounds for your case

    A consumer case can be filed in any of the following cases:

    1. the goods suffer from any defect.
    2. the services suffer from any deficiency.
    3. the vendor follows restrictive trade practice. This means that the vendor agrees to sell the product or provide the service only if the consumer agrees to buy or hire some other goods or services. This condition deprives the consumer of his or her right to choose and is restrictive in nature.
    4. the vendor follows unfair trade practice. An unfair trade practice means a deception created by the vendor to promote the sale of the product or the service. Making of false statements about the goods or the services, the making of a false guarantee concerning the goods or services, or making false statements against the goods or services of another person with a view to sell more of a particular goods or services are all cases of unfair trade practice.
    5. the products or services are sold in a manner which violates any law.

It naturally means that a consumer case can be filed only if the goods and services are faulty or if the method of selling the goods and services is wrong. In a case where the complaint is for any other reason, say because the product is damaged owing to lack of proper tools or knowledge by the consumer, a consumer case cannot be filed.

Condition 3: You should have sent a written notice to the vendor

Before approaching the consumer court, the consumer should send a written notice to the vendor. The notice should clearly mention the grievances of the consumer and the action required. These grounds could be a defect in the goods, a deficiency in the services, a restrictive or an unfair trade practice by the vendor, overcharging of price of the product or service, sale of dangerous or unsafe products without proper instructions and so on. The action required can be removal of defects or deficiencies from the goods or services, replacement of defective goods or payment of compensation. If the vendor refuses the allegations or ignores the notice, it results in a consumer dispute. A consumer dispute can be brought before the consumer courts by way of a consumer complaint.

Condition 4: Your case should be filed within time

A consumer case has to be filed within a period of 2 years from the date of the cause of action. If this is not done, then the consumer courts cannot grant relief even if there is a clear violation of a consumer’s right, unless the consumer proves reasonable grounds for the delay to the court and the court pardons such delay. This provision is based on the legal principal ‘vigilantibus non dormientibus jura subveniunt’ - the law serves the vigilant, not those who sleep.

How to file a consumer case?

Step 1: Where to file?

Selecting the proper court for filing a consumer case depends on the amount of claim of the consumer as well as the place of the transaction or the location of the vendor.

    The amount of claim is the total of the costs and the compensation that the consumer wants from the consumer court:

    • Amount of Claim: Consumer courts are a 3-level structure. For claims up to Rupees Twenty Lacs, the proper court is the District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum, also known as District Forum. If the claim is over Rupees Twenty Lacs, but is less than Rupees One Crore, the proper court is the State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, which is also known as the State Commission. As the name indicates, State Commissions are located in every State. Finally, for claims of over Rupees One Crore, the consumer has to file a case at the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, which is also known as the National Commission.
    • Location: Except where the case is to be filed at the National Commission (i.e. the total claim is over Rs. One Crore), the consumer case is to be filed at the District Forum or the State Commission in whose jurisdiction the transaction was performed OR where the vendor resides, carries on business, has a branch office, or is personally involved in working. If there is more than one vendor for a common grievance, the consumer case can be filed at a location where any one of them resides, carries on business, has a branch office, or is personally involved in working, with the permission of the court or of the other vendors.

Step 2: Payment of court fee

The court fees of a consumer court are payable depending on the total claim. The court fees can be paid by way of a demand draft drawn in favour of the particular court.

    The amount is calculated as under

    • For total claim up to 1 Lac, court fees are 100.
    • For total claim up to 5 Lacs, court fees are 200.
    • For total claim up to 10 Lacs, court fees are 400.
    • For total claim up to 20 Lacs, court fees are 500.
    • For total claim up to 50 Lacs, court fees are 2000.
    • For total claim over 1 Crore, court fees are 5000.

Step 3: Preparing and filing the documents

A consumer complaint can be filed by the consumer himself or herself, by a group of consumers having the same interest, by a registered voluntary consumer association, by the Government, or by an advocate engaged by any of these persons.

    The following documents are required to be submitted for completing the filing:

    • A complaint giving (a) an introduction of the parties, (b) details of the transaction, (c) details of the defect / deficiency / restrictive or unfair trade practice, (d) evidence of written complaint to vendor and the vendor’s reply, if any, (e) other evidence such as receipts, etc., and (f) relief desired;
    • Supporting documents in favour of the complaint, such as receipt, voucher, delivery note, etcetera;
    • An affidavit stating that the contents of the complaint are complete, true and correct;
    • An index of the documents submitted;
    • Evidence of payment of court fees

Step 4: Filing the documents

The above documents have to be prepared in minimum 5 sets of originals and filed with the proper court. In addition, one set of documents has to be submitted for each vendor named in the complaint. These documents can be submitted at the proper court or can be sent to it by registered post.

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Defence of a vendor in a consumer case

Any ground that invalidates the jurisdiction of the consumer court is a sufficient ground of defence for a vendor in a consumer case.

    The common grounds of defence are:

    • That the transaction in question was done free of charge.
    • That the complainant is not a ‘consumer’ as defined in the Act.
    • That the subject of the dispute is civil in nature and is not a consumer grievance.
    • That the court has no jurisdiction, either in terms of amount of claim or in terms of location.
    • That the complaint is filed in order to harass and blackmail the vendor.
    • That the complainant is not authorised to file the complaint on behalf of the consumer.
    • That the necessary persons are not made a party to the case and so the case should be dismissed.
    • That the consumer has already filed a case in the civil court for the same subject matter.
    • That the present complaint is filed after a period of two years and should therefore be dismissed.
    • That the restrictive or unfair trade practice complained of is actually not restrictive or unfair.

An appeal from the decision of a court lies with the court at the next level, i.e. an order of the District Forum can be appealed against at the State Commission, and that of the State Commission at the National Commission. An appeal against an order of the National Commission lies in Supreme Court of India.

    In addition to the documents required for filing a consumer case, there are three additional documents to be filed by the appellant:

    • Certified copy of the order of the District Forum or the State Commission appealed against.
    • Memorandum of appeal with affidavit duly attested by a Notary or an Oath Commissioner.
    • Copy of complaint and written statement filed by the opposite party before the District Forum or the State Commission.

There is no fee payable for filing an appeal.

Closing remarks

A consumer case may last for a year or two, depending on the workload of the particular court. The remedies available from a consumer court are removal of defects or deficiencies from the product or services, replacement of the defective product or payment of compensation. It must be noted that generally in India, the amount of compensation awarded is based on the actual damage caused to the consumer and the concept of exemplary damages, i.e. penalty in excess of actual damage to punish the wrongdoer, is not adopted.

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It is very important for a consumer to be aware of the law that protects him in case he is not satisfied with the products and services purchased by him. Many a times going up against a big company is what seems to be a daunting task but the Act provides the consumer with the protection to bring unfair trade practices out in the open and redress their grievances. People hesitate before filing a consumer complaint because of expense, time constraints as well as practicality of actually filing and following up with the case. As against this, most of the time they feel that the monetary loss they face is easier to bear then getting entangled in a legal battle. These are some of the reasons; why there is a need to spread awareness about consumer protection laws and simplicity of the process for filing consumer complaint.

It is imperative for the consumers to know their rights so that in times of need they know exactly what steps to take to ensure that justice is provided so that they are not helpless in the face of circumstances, which may arise from purchasing products or availing services.

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