Authorities for Consumer Protection
The Consumer Protection Act which came into force on 24th of December 1986, provides for the protection of interests of consumers. For this purpose, it makes provision for the establishment of Consumer Councils and other authorities for settlement of their disputes. They are further explained below.
Consumer Protection Councils
There is a Consumer Protection Council established at the Central, State, and District level. The Minister in charge of the Consumer Affairs in the Central Government is the Chairman of the Central Consumer Protection Council. Such a Council is required to meet at least once a year. The time and place of the meeting is decided by the Chairman. The main object of this Council is to promote and protect the rights of the consumer.
Similarly, the Minister in charge of the Consumer Affairs in the State Government is the Chairman of the State Consumer Protection Council. Also, in the District Council, the Collector of the District shall be its Chairman. Sections 4 to 8 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 makes provisions for membership, procedure for meeting, and objects of the Consumer Protection Councils.
District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum
Every District must consist of such a District Forum. It shall include a President, who must be qualified to be a District Judge, and two other members, one of whom shall be a woman. Appointment of such members shall be made by the State Government. Every member holds the office for a term of 5 years or till the age of 65 years. Section 10 – 15 of the Act makes provision for the establishment and functioning of such District Forums.
The District Forum shall have jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services and the compensation claimed, if any, does not exceed Rs. 20 Lacs. When a complaint is made to the District Forum, it has the power to look into the matter and do complete justice. If any person is aggrieved by an order made by the District Forum, it can make an appeal to the State Commission within a period of 30 days. For this purpose, he has to deposit 50% of the amount or Rs.25,000/-, whichever is less.
State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission
Sections 16 – 19 of the Act deals with the State Commission. Complaints where the value of goods or services and compensation claimed, exceeds Rs.20 lakhs but does not exceed Rs.1 Crore, shall be made to the State Commission. In addition, it also deals with the appeals made against the order of the District Forum within the State. It shall have the power to call for records and pass appropriate orders in any consumer dispute pending before it.
Section 17 of the Act, gives them the power to transfer any complaint pending before the District Forum to any other District Forum. If a person is unhappy with the judgement of the State Commission, he can make an appeal to the National Commission within a period of 30 days from the date of judgement.
National Consumer Redressal Commission
The National Commission consists of a President who shall be appointed by the Central Government. He must be qualified enough to be the Judge of the Supreme Court. It consists of 4 other members, of whom at least one should be a woman. It is an important criterion that members of such commission at the State and Central level, should have the proper ability, integrity, standing and have adequate knowledge and experience of 10 years dealing with problems relating to Economics, Law, Commerce, Accountancy, Public Affairs, etc.
Section 20 – 23 of the Act, provides the composition, jurisdiction, power, and procedure of the National Consumer Redressal Commission. Complaints, where the value of goods or services and compensation claimed, exceeds Rs.1 Crore shall be made to the National Commission. This Commission also deals with the appeals made against the orders of the State Commission. If any person is aggrieved by an order of the National Commission, he can make an appeal directly to the Supreme Court of India.
The establishment of the District Forum and the State and National Commission is referred to as the three-tier system. Their main role is to adjudicate the complaints received from consumers against any defect in the goods purchased or deficiencies in the services availed or any unfair/restrictive trade practices, etc.
Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA)
The Consumer Protection Act, 2019 which replaced the earlier Act of 1986 makes provisions for the establishment of the Central Consumer Protection Authority under Section 10(1). It aims to protect the rights of the consumer by cracking down on unfair trade practices, and false and misleading advertisements that are detrimental to the interests of the public and consumers. Under the Act, they will have the powers to inquire or investigate into matters relating to violations of consumer rights or unfair trade practices suomotu, or on a complaint received, or on a direction from the Central Government.
The CCPA, unlike the Councils or the Commissions, is neither a regulatory, advisory nor policy-making body, nor is entirely adjudicatory & quasi-judicial in nature. The structure of the CCPA is also mostly central and besides providing for the creation of regional offices, the Act does not mandate creation of any State or District Authorities.The CCPA would comprise of the Chief Commissioner, Commissioners, and team of subject matter experts and professionals besides an investigation wing headed by a Director-General.
The exploitation of consumers is a social disease, the main cause of which is, economic disorder and the responsibility is on the Government to prevent such a disease by providing adequate remedies to the consumers. In light of the increasing cases of fraud, consumer injustice, and unfair trade practices, it has become essential to establish such authorities and provide them with adequate powers to do justice.