During the course of a life time, an individual comes into contact with and carries out business dealings with large corporates, associations of persons, government departments and other bodies. These are large, impersonal bodies with resources much larger than an individual's. There are instances where injustice is done to the individual due to callous and indifferent attitude of certain personnel of these bodies. Individuals often do not have recourse to costly litigation to seek justice and has to, per force, bear such injustice. Such submission to injustice emboldens the perpetrators and makes them even more brazen. Most developed countries have set up watchdog bodies to help the individuals in this unequal fight and the individual enjoys an enviable amount of protection from the avarice and indifference of large bodies. In India, however, this movement is in a fledgling stage. Nonetheless, forums exist which can help you seek justice against corrupt and avaricious practices without incurring exorbitant litigation costs.
Under the Consumer Protection Act, every district has at least one Consumer Redressal Forum, more commonly called a Consumer Court. Here, consumers can get their grievances heard. Above the district forums are the State Commissions. At the top is the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in New Delhi.
A written complaint to the company is taken as proof that the company has been informed. The complaint must be backed by copies of bills, prescriptions and other relevant documents, and should set a deadline for the company to respond. Consumers can also complain through a consumer organisation.
If the company does not respond, consumer can approach the consumer court. Again, this can be done directly or through a consumer organisation. Claims of less than Rs. 5 lakh should be filed with district forum, claims of Rs. 5-20 lakh directly with the State commission, and claims of more than Rs.20 lakh with the National Commission.
The set-up of consumer forum is geared to provide relief to both parties, and discourages long litigation. In a process called 'informal adjudication', forum officials mediate between the two parties and urge compromise. If a defaulter does not appear in court despite notices and reminders, the court may decide the matter in his absence. The forum can sentence them to a maximum of three years' imprisonment and impose a fine of Rs. 10,000. Forums can issue warrants to produce defaulters in court. They can use the police and revenue departments to enforce orders.
Please note that consumer courts provide redress only in cases of products or services for personal use, defects in products used for commercial purposes are not entertained.
To file the complaint:
Complaint is to be filed within two years of buying the product or using the service.
Complaint needs to be in writing, and should be acknowledged. Letters should be sent by registered post or should be hand-delivered against acknowledgement.
In the Complaint, consumer should mention clearly the name and address of the person who is complaining and against whom the complaint is being filed.
Copies of relevant documents must be enclosed.
The consumer must mention details of the problem and the demand on the company for redressal. This could be replacement of the product, removal of the defect, refund of money, or compensation for expenses incurred and for physical/mental torture. However, please ensure that the claims are reasonable.
You should preserve all bills, receipts and proof of correspondence related to the case. Avoid using e-mail, voice mail or telephone because such communications cannot be proved.
The complaint can be in any Indian language, but it is better to use English.
There is no compulsion to hire a lawyer. Main cost consists of correspondence and travelling to the consumer forum for the hearing.
SOME OF THE ACTIVE CONSUMER ORGANISATIONS:
Mumbai Grahak Panchayat
Grahak Bhavan, Sant Dhyaneswar Marg,
Juhu Vile Parle Development Scheme,
Near Cooper Hospital, Mumbai 400056.
Consumer Guidance Society of India 'J' Hutment, Mahapalika Marg,
Opp Cama and Albless Hospital,
A-31, West End, New Delhi 110021.
Voluntary Organisation in Interest of Consumer Education
F-71, Lajpat Nagar II, New Delhi 110024.