Handbook on filing consumer complaint in India


Introduction

This article attempts to explain the procedure of filing a consumer complaint in India in simple terms without involving technical niceties.

A consumer complaint in India has to be filed under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The Act provides for establishment of 3 Consumer Commissions – at National Level, State Level, and District Level – for adjudication of consumer complaints filed on certain grounds enumerated in the Act.

Grounds for filing a consumer complaint

A complaint can be filed by a consumer on grounds of –

  • GOODS: any defect in goods, charging of excess prices, sale of hazardous goods, adoption of unfair contract, unfair or restrictive trade practice by the trader.
  • SERVICES: any deficiency in service, charging of excess prices, offering of hazardous services, adoption of unfair contract, unfair or restrictive trade practice by the service provider.
    However, services rendered free of charge or under a contract of personal service (like contract between employer-employee or master-servant) are excluded from the purview of Consumer Protection Act.
  • PRODUCT LIABILITY: any defective product manufactured, sold or any deficiency in services relating to it.

Who can file a consumer complaint?

A consumer can file a complaint. A consumer does not include the one who buys goods for resale or for commercial purposes or avails of any service for commercial purposes. However, use of goods exclusively for earning livelihood by way of self-employment is not considered commercial purpose and in such a case, the person can file a consumer complaint.
A legal heir or legal representative (in case of death) and a parent or a legal guardian (in case of a minor) can also file the complaint.

Where to file a consumer complaint?

The answer depends on the pecuniary and territorial jurisdiction of the Commissions. A complaint can be filed in the commission which has both the territorial and pecuniary jurisdiction to decide the complaint.

PECUNIARY JURISDICTION:

  • District Commission can entertain complaints (except complaints against unfair contracts) where value of goods or services is up to one crore rupees.
  • State Commission can entertain complaints (including complaints against unfair contracts of less than one crores) where value of goods or services exceeds one crore but is up to ten crores.
  • National Commission can entertain complaints (including complaints against unfair contracts) where value of goods or services exceeds ten crores.

TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION:

A complaint can be filed where -

  • the complainant resides or personally works for gain, or
  • the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises, or
  • the opposite party ordinarily resides or carries on business or has a branch office or personally works for gain, or
  • any of the opposite parties ordinarily resides or carries on business or has a branch office or personally works for gain but only with the permission of Commission.

For example, if a flat buyer residing in Delhi has purchased a flat for Rs. 90 lakhs in the district of Gurugram, a consumer complaint has to be filed in District Commission as the consideration for the flat is less than one crore rupees. The complaint can be filed either in the District Commission of Delhi (where consumer resides) or Gurugram (where the cause of action arises and also the opposite party carries on business) at the complainant can choose the Commission as per his convenience.

Format of the consumer complaint

The complaint shall clearly contain particulars of dispute, the relief claimed and shall also be accompanied by copies of such documents as are necessary to prove the claim made in the complaint. It should be comprehensive and self-explanatory.

Even though there is no prescribed format, it is preferable that the complaint is properly drafted and arranged in a coherent manner. It is also advisable that the contents of the complaint are supported by an affidavit. An ideal complaint should be arranged as below:

  1. Index
  2. Challan of fees
  3. Memo of Parties (Along with address of both the parties)
  4. Complaint - (a) Facts, (b) Grounds, (c) Relief claimed
  5. Affidavit in support of the complaint
  6. Any other application, e.g. for seeking interim relief (if any)
  7. Copies of documents in support of the complaint

Interim Relief

The Consumer Commissions can also grant interim reliefs to the consumers depending on the facts and circumstances of each case.

Such interim order can also be passed ex-parte, that is, without hearing the other party. However, ex-parte interim orders can be vacated or modified on an application by the other party.

Fee for making complaints

The fee has to be paid in accordance with the table below. It can be paid in the form of crossed Demand Draft drawn on a nationalised bank or through a crossed Indian Postal Order in favour of the President of the District Commission or the Registrar of the State Commission or the Registrar of the National Commission, as the case may be, and payable at the respective place where such Commission is situated. It can also be paid through electronic mode in case such arrangement is made by the Commission concerned.

For the state of Haryana, the fees can be paid online through e-GRAS website and the payment challan has to be attached with the complaint.

Sl. No.   Value of goods or services paid as consideration   Amount of fee payable
    District Commission    
(1)   Upto rupees five lakh   Nil
(2)   Above rupees five lakh and upto rupees ten lakh   Rs.200
(3)   Above rupees ten lakh and upto rupees twenty lakh   Rs.400
(4)   Above rupees twenty lakh and upto fifty ten lakh   Rs.1000
(5)   Above rupees fifty lakh and upto rupees one crore   Rs.2000
    State Commission    
(6)   Above rupees one crore and upto rupees two crore   Rs.2500
(7)   Above rupees two crore and upto rupees four crore   Rs.3000
(8)   Above rupees four crore and upto rupees six crore   Rs.4000
(9)   Above rupees six crore and upto rupees eight crore   Rs.5000
(10)   Above rupees eight crore and upto rupees ten crore   Rs.6000
    National Commission    
(11)   Above rupees ten crore   Rs.7500

Filing of Consumer Complaint

The complaint has to be filed in three (3) sets with additional sets equal to the number of opposite parties. Therefore, minimum four (4) sets have to be filed in case only one opposite party is there. The complaint set has to be submitted along with requisite fees in the office of the Secretary/Registrar of the appropriate Commission.

In case of defects, the complainant will be informed at the time of filing or afterwards. The defects are to be removed within 15 days. If the complaint is in order, the date of hearing is informed at the time of filing.

Appearance before Consumer Commissions

The complainant or the opposite party can appear –

  • in person, or
  • through his duly authorized agent, or
  • through an advocate.

The person appearing before Commission shall not wear flashy dress or dress displaying any affluence or Jeans or T-shirts.

Hearing of the case

The first date of hearing is informed at the time of filing of the complaint. Thereafter, the next date is informed at the time of hearing. The Cause-Lists are also uploaded online on CONFONET portal

On the first date of hearing, the Commission hears the complainant on brief facts of the case and thereafter it admits (it can reject the complaint also if it is time-barred, outside its jurisdiction, etc.) the complaint and issues notice to the opposite party directing him to give his version of the case within thirty (30) days.

On the next date of hearing, the opposite party appears and files the written version of the case. In any case, the written version has to be filed within forty-five (45) days of the notice. If the opposite party seeks adjournment, the complainant can request the commission to impose costs.

Once the written version is filed by the opposite party –

  • in case the dispute pertains to defect in goods which can be ascertained by proper analysis or test of goods, the Commission will direct the complainant to submit a sample of the good and the fee for the analysis. Once submitted, the sample will be sent to appropriate laboratory for analysis and testing. The laboratory thereafter submits the report. Both the parties can submit their objections (if any) on the report.
  • in case, the dispute does not require analysis of goods or where it relates to services, the Commission directs the complainant and thereafter the opposite party to give evidence. In most cases, evidence is given on affidavits along with documentary evidences.

Thereafter, the matter is listed for arguments. In case, a party appears through an advocate, it is mandatory to file brief written arguments. The Commission hears the parties on merits of the case and finally decides the matter.

TimeLine for final adjudication

The Consumer Protection Act provides that the Commission shall attempt to adjudicate the complaint expeditiously within 3 to 5 months. However, in practice, it usually takes around 1.5 to 2 years for the final adjudication of the complaint, primarily because of large pendency of cases.

Judgement/ Final order

After hearing the arguments, final order is passed by the Commission. A copy of the order is provided to both the parties free of cost. The copy of order is also made available online through CONFONET portal. The opposite party is required to comply with the order of the Commission within the time limit prescribed in the order, failing which complainant can file for execution.

Enforcement of the order of the Commission

The order of the Commission can be enforced in the similar manner as that of a decree by a Civil Court. In addition, failure to comply with the order of the Commission can lead to imprisonment for a maximum term of three (3) years and/or a maximum fine of one (1) lakh rupees.

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