For the user's rights

THE CONSUMER is not as helpless now as he may think, thanks to the Consumer Protection Act enacted in 1986 and the subsequent amendments in 2000 to better protect his rights and interests and prevent his exploitation by the trade and industry.

On December 24, observed as National Consumer Rights Day, the official exhortation is, do not hesitate to approach the consumer court to assert your rights wherever necessary. A booklet distributed on the occasion seeks to enlighten consumers on their rights as well as privileges.

A complaint can be filed in the consumer court against any defective goods purchased or deficient service rendered, including restrictive/unfair trade practices adopted by any trader/person.

Normally, a complaint is to be filed within two years from the date on which the cause of action arose.

If the cost of goods or services and compensation asked for is up to Rs. 20 lakhs, the case can be filed in the District Forum concerned. Similarly, for claims more than Rs. 20 lakhs and up to Rs. 20 crores, the State Commission and for claims higher than Rs. 1 crore, the National Commission can be approached.

The consumer forum has the power to order the removal/replacement of defects/deficiencies in goods and services, refund of the price paid, compensation for loss/injury suffered, discontinuation of unfair/restrictive trade practices, withdrawal of hazardous or unsafe goods or awarding of adequate costs to parties, etc.

The consumer courts are empowered to pass interim orders and a time frame has been prescribed for admission, issue of notices and disposal of complaints. As far as possible, complaints are to be decided within 90 to 150 days and appeals are to be decided within 90 days.

Ordinarily, no adjournments are granted and there is provision for serving of notices by courier, fax, speed-post, etc. The seniormost member can preside over the Consumer Forum when the office of the president is vacant or when the president is absent for any reason.

Again, in case of the death of the complainant or the opposite party, the legal heir can file or continue the case, the booklet tells you. Services and goods utilised for commercial purposes are excluded from the purview of the consumer courts, while the sale of spurious goods has been included as an unfair trade practice. Complaints can also be made against service providers who offer services that are hazardous.

We are told that the compensation ordered by consumer courts can now be recovered as arrears of land revenue. These courts are equipped with the powers of a Judicial First Class Magistrate to punish those who fail to comply with the court's orders.

Lastly, not many would know that the Department of Consumer Affairs is operating a fund called the Consumer Welfare Fund, the primary aim of which is to provide financial aid to promote and protect consumer welfare and strengthen the voluntary consumer movement, particularly in rural areas.

By M. Harish Govind

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