India is home to billions of consumers indulged in the market space which ranges from small necessity products like food and beverages to luxury products like a television or a car. The Consumer Protection Act of 2019 came into effect for the purpose of protecting the interest of such consumers and to give an efficient solution to the disputes relevant to them. The process of filing a consumer court complaint has been made very convenient and fast-track for satisfaction and redressal to the consumers.
Who can file a Complaint?
There are multiple individuals or groups who are eligible to file a complaint in the consumer forums for redressal:
Consumer - According to Section 2(7) of the 2019 Act, a consumer is an individual buying goods or availing services for monetary consideration, excluding any consumer who has obtained the goods or services for resale or commercial use. According to the definition's clarification, the expressions "buys any goods" and "avails any services" also include online transactions performed through digital communication, as well as direct selling, teleshopping, and multi-level advertising. Online transactions are a distinctive characteristic of this act that was added in response to the growing e-commerce industry and technological advancements.
Voluntary Consumer Association - the VCA shall be registered as per the provisions of Companies Act 2013 or 1956 or any other legislation which is relevant in the time being.
State or Central Government.
Group of consumers having the same interest.
It shall be noted that a consumer complaint cannot be filed on behalf of the public which consists of unknown consumers or by an association that is not registered under the Companies Act or relevant legislation.
Situations wherein a Consumer Complaint can be Filed
It shall be noted that the parties who can file a consumer court complaint are eligible to do so only when a 'legal notice' has already been served to the accused party for giving them an opportunity to make compensation for the loss that occurred to the aggrieved party, by either replacement or return of value. After such a legal notice has been served, yet if the accused party does not agree to compensate, the consumer complaint can be filed when the consumer is dissatisfied:
With an unethical trade practice.
With a practice of the trader that restricts trade.
If goods that are bought or agreed to be bought by the consumer contain one or more defects.
If the services availed by the consumer suffer from defects.
If the seller has billed the consumer more than that of the net price regarding the goods or services which has been stipulated by government authorities.
If the goods prove to be hazardous to the life and safety of the buyer.
If goods are sold to the public at large and are against a law.
When the seller fails to showcase information about the content, method, and impact of the use of the goods sold.
The Process of Filing a Consumer Complaint
Step 1: Legal Notice
Prior to filing a formal complaint in court, the first step in any type of consumer conflict is to send a legal notice to the accused party. Every aggrieved party must send a legal notice to the accused person regarding a defect in services and/or unethical business practices such as selling faulty goods and products, etc. A legal notice is issued to determine whether the accused is ready to acknowledge the mistake and offer payment of compensation for the consumer's unjustified loss.
If the defendant does not respond to the legal notice in under 30 days, or plainly disregards or refuses to take action on the conditions imposed in the notice by the aggrieved, the aggrieved has the absolute right to redressal through an appropriate consumer commission or court.
Step 2: Finding the Jurisdiction of Court
When the accused fails to respond to the legal notice, the consumer must first determine the authority of the Forum where the complaint must be submitted. The complainant shall take into account both the tribunal's pecuniary and territorial jurisdiction.
The pecuniary jurisdiction of District, State, and National Commission is up to Rs. 10 million, Rs. 10 million to Rs. 100 million and more than Rs. 100 million, respectively.
The territorial jurisdiction must be found out on the local limits of the District, State or National Commission in whose jurisdiction the accused has a residence or owns a business or a subsidiary office. In a situation where there is more than one accused, the jurisdiction could cover any one of the accused. It could also be where the 'Cause of Action' appeared.
Step 3: Consumer Court Fee
Afterward, the complainant has to make payment along with the complaint about a standard fee to the District, State, or National Commission, wherever applicable.
Step 4: Contents of Complaint and Supporting Documents
The complainant must meticulously draw up the consumer complaint, including all relevant factual evidence, with his attestation and signature. The complaint must include the name, address, and description of the complainant and accused against whom relief is sought in court. Furthermore, if the complainant delegated authority to another person to register the complaint, the complaint must be supplemented by a valid letter of authorization from the complainant.
The complaint must encompass all supporting and relevant documents, including a copy of the invoice for the goods or services acquired from the accused, documents concerning a warranty or/and guarantee of goods/services, a copy of the letter of complaint, and the legal notice served to accused asking that he redress the goods he sold or make compensation.
Lastly, the complainant must provide an affidavit with the complaint describing that the facts asserted and evidence presented in the complaint are wholly accurate and factual in his opinion.
Aside from that, the complaint must be submitted in the forum with a minimum of 5 copies and supplemental copies for each accused party.
Step 5: Compensation Sought
The complainant must explicitly state what kind of relief or compensation he/she seeks from the accused party, in the consumer complaint. The cost of compensation or damages that occurred to the complainant shall be explicitly mentioned in the consumer complaint.
In addition, consumers have the right to demand a reimbursement of the goods/services, the cost of product injury, litigation expenses, as well as some additional interest. The complainant needs to provide a detailed description of the amount requested in compensation under various separate headings.
Step 6: Limitation Period and Delay
The complainant has only two years from the date the cause of action appeared to file a lawsuit. Furthermore, an appeal to the State Commission must be filed within 45 days of the order of the District Commission. An appeal that is made to the National Commission must be filed within 30 days of the order received from the lower court.
When a delay in filing the complaint happens, it is exclusively the complainant's obligation to provide a clarification to satisfy the Tribunal for such delay. The delay can only be excused if the Tribunal is content that the cause of the delay was reasonable and not malicious.
Step 7: Final Filing
A consumer complaint can be addressed in person by the complainant, by her/his representative who has an authorization letter, or by her/his lawyer.
The complainant has the option of sending the complaint via registered mail, receipts of which should be stored for future reference. However, the complaint can also be filed online through the official website on “https://consumerhelpline.gov.in/”, which is more convenient for the consumer as it is time-saving. The fee for the complaint must be submitted through the online payment portal available.
The dispute resolution and complaint filing mechanism regarding the consumer complaints are made in such a way to protect the interests of the consumers in a fast-track method as well as discourage traders from indulging in malpractices. The government has taken a significant step forward in addressing consumers' frustrations in a timely manner by introducing an online form of complaint. The online procedure can be regarded as one of the friendliest and beneficial procedures, particularly during the time of the pandemic, which will have a larger effect on consumers in the long run by saving them from lengthy and exhausting procedures.