In Andhra Pradesh, we have 29 district forums, three in Hyderabad, and two each in Chittoor, East Godavari, Krishna and Visakhapatnam. In addition, we hold circuit (mobile) benches in Vijayawada, Tirupathi and Visakhapatnam.
On the occasion of the World Consumer Rights Day, senior member and President in charge of the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission M.Shreesha talks to The Hindu, and asserts consumer forum is not all about televisions and refrigerators.
Q. Who is a consumer according to the Consumer Protection Act?
A. Under the Act which came into force in 1986, a consumer is somebody who has paid or promised to pay for goods or service, except when it is for commercial purpose. For example, if a corporate hospital acquires a machine for enhancing its business, it doesn’t come under the purview of the Act. But if the buyer is self-employed, he is a consumer for us.
Q. What are the protections offered to the consumer under the Act?
A. The Act offers protection against defective goods and deficiency of services. It protects the consumer’s right to be informed about the quantity, quality, purity, potency (in case of drugs), and price of the goods. It also acknowledges the right to be heard to seek redressal and the right to consumer education.
Q. How can a consumer with a grievance approach the consumer court?
A. The affected consumer may file his complaint in the District Forum for compensations up to Rs.20 lakh. The State Commission may be approached for compensation between Rs.20 lakh and Rs.One crore. If it is beyond Rs.One Crore, one should approach the National Commission. However, if either of the parties or both of them are not satisfied with the judgement, they can go for an appeal first to the state commission and then the national.
To complain, one has to file an affidavit, along with the correspondence with the seller, bills, invoices, guarantee or warranty cards, and a nominal fee. But the complaint should be made within two years of the cause of action.
In Andhra Pradesh, we have 29 district forums, three in Hyderabad, and two each in Chittoor, East Godavari, Krishna and Visakhapatnam. In addition, we hold circuit (mobile) benches in Vijayawada, Tirupathi and Visakhapatnam. Each bench has three members, with the quorum of two members mandatory to listen a case. They are headed by retired members from judiciary, to each of the appropriate rank respectively.
One more interesting feature is, at least one member in each bench should be a woman according to the Act, which makes us 33 per cent.
Q. How many services are covered under the Act?
A. It is an exhaustive list which cannot be stated at one go. But the major services used by many include Insurance, Banking, Electricity, Railways, Housing, Financial Institutions, and Chit-funds, among others. Recently, I addressed an appeal against the district court judgement, where the appellant complained against a marriage bureau. While he paid Rs.5,100 to the bureau, there was not even one match suggested by the latter. We decided it in favour of the complainant.
Q. What are the products against which consumer complaints are frequent?
A. We have had many farmers approach us against seed companies for selling them low quality seeds. Often, the contention of the companies would be that the farmer did not follow proper crop management procedures. But since farmers usually file complaints in groups, they can get a report from agricultural scientists, or village agricultural officer to prove their claims. About four to five years ago, we had 300 complainants from Adilabad district, complaining against two seed companies. We award compensation going by the acreage, yield per acre, and market value.
A recent Supreme Court judgement said the farmer cannot be expected to keep the seeds for quality testing. Hence, the burden of proof of the quality lies with the seed company. Our advice to the farmer is, check for packaging and ISI marking, and keep the invoice after buying.
Q. What kind are the complaints mostly encountered with regard to services?
A. Banks misplacing the title deeds of properties mortgaged with them is a common complaint. Cheques being lost in transit is another. One more is banks forgetting to pay insurance premium on behalf of the consumer. A fourth of the complaints come from the Insurance consumers. Companies try to dismiss claims on the grounds of suppression of earlier ailments. They show the medical leave availed in past as proof. But we insist that they must prove that the alleged suppression of facts is by wilful and fraudulent intentions.
One more important sector is Housing. If a plot is sold without proper sanctions, or if there are disputes between land owner and builder, they can approach us. More importantly, if a consumer’s apartment is demolished by the authorities due to the builder’s fault, the former can file a case. One caution to the consumers is, please check if what is said on the brochure is reflected in the sale deed.
Q. Do hospitals come under the purview of the Act?
A. Under the Act, every hospital is vicariously liable for the acts of its employees. Infections due to hospital stay, unhygienic instruments, improper post operative care resulting in patient’s death, overdose of anaesthesia—all these reasons enough for initiating proceedings against hospitals.