Know Your Rights - Consumer Rights
The Consumer Protection Act enacted in the year 1986 provides a three-tier system for consumer disputes redressal which is comparatively expeditious as well as economical compared to other ‘traditional’ legal remedies available to an aggrieved consumer like filing a civil suit. The three-tier comprises of District Forums at lowest level, State Commissions form the second rung and at the top stands the National Commission situated at New Delhi. The 1986 Act empowers an aggrieved consumer to approach the appropriate forum/commission without any external legal assistance. Common dilemma faced by any aggrieved consumer, deciding to take recourse to the remedies provided under the 1986 Act, is two-pronged. First, which forum/commission to approach based on amount of claim? Second, regarding the place of filing the complaint? Legally, these questions are termed as pecuniary jurisdiction and territorial jurisdiction of a forum respectively. Pecuniary jurisdiction has been divided into three slabs under the 1986 Act. District Forum exercise jurisdiction over first slab which is upto Rs. Twenty(20) Lakhs , State Commission over second slab being between Twenty(20) Lakhs and One(1) Crore and National Commission entertain matters in the third slab that is over One(1) Crore. It is imperative to note that the monetary value of claim includes proportionate cost of goods or services as well as amount of compensation if claimed. An aggrieved consumer, depending upon the value of the claim, can choose the appropriate forum/commission. Next step is to decide the place of filing the complaint. Every forum has a definite territorial jurisdiction within which it has authority to adjudicate matters. The National Commission has jurisdiction over whole of India except state of Jammu and Kashmir. For State Commissions or District Forums, an aggrieved consumer may approach that forum/commission within whose local limits either the opposite party has residence/place of business or cause of action arises. However, territorial jurisdiction is a grey area of this act and soliciting expert help is advisable. Opposite parties generally include sellers, service providers, companies, dealers, branches, etc. In cases where there are more than one opposite party then an aggrieved consumer may approach a forum/commission in whose local limits at least one of the opposite parties reside, carry out business or has a branch/subsidiary office subject to the condition that other parties agree to the jurisdiction or the concerned Forum/Commission gives permission. Cause of action is defined as an event which led to filing of the complaint and may include the place where goods were purchased/supplied, services were rendered, agreement was entered upon by the Parties, etc. Cause of action need not be completely within local limits of a Forum/commission for it to exercise its jurisdiction and even an iota of any event related to the cause of action will suffice for a forum to entertain the dispute. Apart from original jurisdiction based on pecuniary limits, a State Commission and National Commission can hear appeal at the instance of an aggrieved party against order of district forums and state commissions respectively as well as exercise revisional powers.