Kerala

Delayed justice from consumer courts

Mathew Thomas was in distress. It was his eighth visit to the consumer court in Thrissur to check whether the complaint he filed seven months ago would be considered in the near future.

Mr. Thomas, an autorickshaw driver, joined a chit fund a few years ago to fund his daughter’s wedding. The company duped him and he filed a complaint with the consumer court, where it has been pending. As the date of his daughter’s wedding nears, the poor man wonders what else he should do. His question strikes resonance with many more who are awaiting redressal of complaints at the consumer courts all over the State.

Lack of quorum

Non-functional for many months due to lack of quorum, the consumer forums, conceived in 1986 as a solace for the common man, has become a paper tiger in many districts. According to the data provided at the Confonet (Computerisation and Computer networking of Consumer Forums), not even a single case has been considered in Thrissur, Ernakulam, Malappuram, and Wayanad districts in 2019. While just two cases were taken up in Kannur, three were considered in Kottayam and four in Alappuzha.

The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, mandates that all cases be settled in 90-150 days. But, there are 18,517 pending cases in various district consumer courts and 3,549 cases at the State-level. Thissur has the maximum pending cases of 6,103.

Three members

Each district forum should have three members, a president, and two members. The president and at least one member constitutes the quorum. Most district forums do not have even those numbers. Though the NCDRC (National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission) says that procedures for new appointment should be launched six months before a member is scheduled to retire, it is not followed.

“They are political appointments. It is learnt that the fight between the two prominent groups in the Left Democratic Front is the main reason for the delay in appointments,” alleges Shaji Kodankandath, DCC general secretary. The consumer courts were conceived as an alternative to the civil courts for providing speedy justice to consumers. It is a three-tier system with national and State-level consumer dispute redressal commissions and district consumer dispute redressal forums. While the district forums hear cases where compensation amount is less than ₹20 lakh, the State-level courts deal with cases where the damages sought is between ₹20 lakh and ₹I crore. They also hear appeals from district courts. The national-level court hears cases of compensation above ₹I crore and appeals from the State courts.

Lower fee

The main attraction of the consumer court is the lower fee compared to civil courts. For cases involving up to ₹5 lakh, the case fee is ₹200, for cases up to ₹10 lakh the court fee is ₹400 and for those up ₹20 lakh the fee is ₹500. The consumer can take up the cases without a lawyer’s help.

“In many cases the firms which are in dispute will be closed (for example, chit funds) by the time the cases are considered, leaving the consumer helpless,” says Shravan Paul, an entrepreneur who has filed a case in the consumer court, Thrissur.


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Printable version | Jul 15, 2021 2:22:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/delayed-justice-from-consumer-courts/article28662030.ece

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