Consumer protection act 1986 – This Act seeks to provide for better protection of the interests of consumers and for that purpose provides for the establishment of Consumer Councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumer’s disputes and for matters connected therewith.
The Consumer protection act 1986 covers all private, corporate and public sector enterprises. Services availed for commercial purposes have been excluded, thereby making them oriented only to the disputes of ordinary consumers, The District, State and National Commission (quasi- judicial bodies) have been established who look into the complaints of consumers, where defect or deficiency of services have come to the notice of the consumer.
Defect means any fault, imperfection, or shortcoming in the quality, quantity, potency, purity or standard. Deficiency means any fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance. They provide speedy and simple solution to consumer’s disputes.
These quasi-judicial bodies observe the principles of natural justice, and are empowered to give reliefs of a specific nature, and award wherever appropriate compensation to consumers. It also prescribes penalties for non-compliance of the orders.
Consumer Disputes Redressal Agencies under Consumer protection act 1986:
(1) District Forum.
(2) State Commission.
(3) Central Commission.
(1) District Forum consists of 3 members, (two members nominated by the State Government from among well known public citizens), presided by a serving or retired District Judge. It entertains claims up to twenty lakhs.
(2) State Commission consists of 3 members, presided by a serving or retired High Court Judge, and entertains claims between 20 lakhs to one crore.
(3) National Commission consists of 5 members presided by a retired Supreme Court Judge, and entertains claims of over rupees one crore.
Provision has been made for the National Commission and the State Commission to establish multiple benches for speedy disposal of cases.
It has been made mandatory for the State Governments to establish State Consumer protection act 1986 Councils. Similarly, they shall establish District Consumer Protection Councils under the chairmanship of District Collector to promote and protect consumer interest.
Manner in which complaint shall be made: A complaint, in relation to any goods sold or delivered or any service provided or agreed to be provided may be filed with a District Forum by
(b) recognized consumer association,
(c) one or more consumers,
(d) Central or State Government.
If the consumer dies, the legal heir or a representative can file the complaint. Each complaint made in a District Forum shall be charged a fee fixed by the State Government.
Every complaint is heard as early as possible. If the complaint relates to any services, the District Forum shall refer a copy of such complaint to the opposite party within 21 days of the admission date, directing him to give his version of the case within a period of thirty days. Notices can be served even by fax. It is not necessary for the parties to be represented by lawyers.
The dispute is settled on the basis of evidence brought to its notice by the complainant and where the opposite party denies or disputes the allegations contained in the complaint, or on the basis of evidence brought to its notice by the complainant where the opposite party omits or fails to take any action to represent his case. The District Forum has the same powers as are vested in a Civil Court (First Class Magistrate), under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
Every proceeding before the District Forum, shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding and the District Forum shall be deemed to be a Civil Court. Ordinarily, no adjournment is granted unless sufficient cause is shown. The reasons for adjournment are recorded and the orders for the costs of adjournment are passed.
If the District Forum is satisfied that the goods complained against suffer from any of the defects specified in the complaint or that any of the allegations contained in the complaint about the services are proved, it will issue an order to the opposite party directing him to remove the defect or replace the goods, or to provide adequate costs to parties. District Forum has the power to pass interim order, if required.
It has the power to award punitive damages where deemed necessary, as a deterrent when pecuniary loss is substantial under Consumer protection act 1986. Where a complaint is frivolous, the complaint is dismissed and complainant ordered to pay costs to opposite party not exceeding ten thousand rupees. The aggrieved person can prefer an appeal to the State Commission within a period of thirty days from the date of the order. Further appeals can be made to National Commission and finally to Supreme Court, within a period of 30 days from the date of the order.
Before preferring an appeal in the State Commission or in the National Commission, the appellant should deposit 50% of the amount ordered by the Forum or Rs. twenty five thousand, whichever is less, in the case of a State Commission, and Rs. thirty five thousand in the case of the National Commission, to avoid prolonging the disputes and causing harassment to the consumers.
The National Commission is empowered to review its orders, to avoid to rush to the Supreme Court. The State Forum can perform its functions at any notified place besides the State capital from time to time. It has power to transfer any complaint from one district forum to another.
To make sure that the complainants get the relief by the Consumer Courts, they can attach the property of the opposite party and subsequently dispose it to recover the amounts due to the complainant. The District Collector will play a vital role for recovery of the amount from the opposite party.
Limitation Period: The District Forum, State Commission or National Commission shall not admit a complaint unless it is filed within two years from the date on which the cause of action has arisen.
The doctors and hospitals who render service as medical practitioners are liable for any act of ‘medical negligence’ under Consumer protection act 1986, and they can be sued for compensation under the Consumer protection act 1986. Service rendered to a patient by a medical practitioner by way of consultation, diagnosis and treatment, both medical and surgical, at a Government hospital, health centre or dispensary, or at a non-government hospital or nursing home where charges are required to be paid by all persons or persons who are in a position to pay, and the persons who cannot afford to pay are rendered free of charge, fall within the purview of this Consumer protection act 1986.
Service rendered at a Government hospital, health centre or dispensary, or at a non-government hospital or nursing home by a doctor attached or employed in a hospital or nursing home where no charge whatsoever, is made from any person availing the services and all patients (rich and poor) are given free service is outside the purview of the Consumer protection act 1986. The payment of token amount for registration purpose only at the hospital or nursing home would not alter the position.
No change is brought about in the substantive law governing claims for compensation on the ground of negligence. The principles which apply to determination of such a claim before the Civil Court would equally apply to consumer dispute before the Consumer Dispute Redressal Agencies established under the Consumer protection act 1986.
The doctors are liable to pay compensation to the patient, if their professional negligence results in injury or death of the patient. As there is no scope for testimony by medical experts, and the District Forum or State Commission comes to its own conclusions, there is every likelihood of the justice being miscarried. A large number of frivolous cases are also likely to be filed against the doctors.