In 2019, amid outcry and protests against the repeal of Article 370 of the Constitution, the Indian government passed the Consumer Protection Act 2019 (Act of 2019) by parliament and hailed it as a tool to protect consumer rights and simplify the consumer dispute resolution mechanism. . However, even after two years of enacting this legislation, consumer dispute appeal boards (consumer commissions) are plagued with problems that make consumer rights redundant. In fact, consumer boards are in such a dire state that the country’s highest court must step in.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court in a suo motu (In Re: Inaction of the Governments in Nomination President and Members / Staffing of District and State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and Inadequate Infrastructure in India) expressed concern about the mismanagement of consumer commissions. On October 6, the Additional Solicitor General submitted the Legislative Impact Assessment (LIA) report of the 2019 law, carried out by the Indian Institute of Public Administration. The LIA highlighted the glaring shortcomings of the 2019 law and raised concerns about the workload of district consumer commissions, the state of consumer commission infrastructure and the acute understaffing. In this article, we delve into these concerns to highlight the insufficiency of the 2019 law and the need for comprehensive actions to address the shortcomings of the consumer dispute resolution system.
Excessive workload and delays
Due to the growth of the market economy, in the last decade (2009-2019) the number of cases filed with the national, state and district consumer commissions has increased by 133.9% , 102.7% and 63.6%, respectively. However, the capacity of consumer commissions has not kept up with this increased workload, resulting in excessive delays. For example, official data shows that although 28,431 cases are pending before the Maharashtra State Consumer Commission, the average treatment between 2017 and 2019 remained as low as 661 cases. The COVID-19 pandemic has further crippled the functioning of consumer committees in 2020 and 2021. In our opinion, the 2019 law and the rules framed by the legislation have missed an opportunity to address these capacity constraints and prepare the consumer commissions to meet the needs of consumers. a diversified and dynamic economy.
Infrastructure audits will be part of the impact assessment
Indian courts lack basic facilities such as signage, parking, security, waiting areas, ramps and tactile sidewalks. Consumer commissions, meant to be convivial spaces that encourage litigants to represent their cases directly, are in reality intimidating and unwelcoming spaces with complex processes. The lack of help desks or information centers and the legal jargon associated with the documentation force most consumers to resort to lawyers. Most commissions have 60 to 80 cases listed daily, but are housed in rented complexes that were not designed with the intention of being used for this purpose and do not have sufficient facilities to support this attendance. Even when located in dedicated buildings, consumer commissions are rarely designed with the objective of being accessible and user-friendly spaces for the public. In addition to actions to meet infrastructure and storage requirements, highlighted by the LIA report, a full infrastructure audit is needed to assess the gaps and shortcomings in the existing infrastructure of the Consumers Commission . Only such an audit would give the executive a realistic picture of the funds and resources needed to rectify and improve the existing situation.
Administrative staff: the backbone of consumer commissions
The contribution of administrative staff to the functioning of consumer commissions is often overlooked. In practice, consumer committees are mostly understaffed, with existing agents having to juggle multiple roles. For example, the Consumers Commission of Belagavi District, Karnataka, with an average of 2,179.67 cases filed each year (between 2018 and 2020) was sanctioned with as few as ten people to run its administration. Even if all the existing vacancies were to be filled, which in itself seems a challenge, it may still be insufficient to cope with this state of affairs. It is disappointing that the 2019 law was passed to increase pecuniary jurisdiction at all levels of consumer boards – district, state and national without any consideration or scientific calculation of the additional staff that this would entail to manage the workload. .
LIA Demonstrates Quality Of Law Making In India
Lack of consultation and discussion of legislation not only diminishes the value of parliamentary democracy, but also results in laws inadequate to address the challenges facing the system. The LIA’s key recommendation revising the pecuniary jurisdiction, provided for in the 2019 law, of district commissions at Rs. 50 lakhs (from Rs. 1 crore), state commissions at Rs 50 lakhs to Rs. 2 crore (from Rs. 2 crore) Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 10 crore) and the National Commission above Rs. 2 crore (above Rs. 10 crore) is a shocking revelation of how far our lawmakers were from understanding the workings of these commissions. It is certainly a welcome initiative that a court-initiated impact assessment may have shed light on some of these critical gaps in the new law, but such assessments should be part of the legislative process with an impact assessment beforehand. and after legislation guiding law-making. in this country.
Reshma Sekhar is Senior Resident Fellow and Aditya Ranjan is a researcher for the Judicial Reforms Initiative at the Vidhi Center for Legal Policy. Opinions are personal.