Consumer rights

In Jammu and Kashmir, consumer laws only exist on paper

THE The government of Jammu and Kashmir announced the vacancy of the chair more than a year ago as part of a proposed National Consumer Dispute Resolution Commission (SCDRC). The advertisement, published by the Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, invited applications from retired or serving judges for the post. As of today – the application window closed on March 18 – the State Commission is inoperative.

Not even a single district commission is functioning in Jammu and Kashmir, and thousands of pending cases await resolution. Moreover, no new cases have been filed in Jammu and Kashmir in the past 2.5 years, since the Center read Section 370.

REPEAL OF THE J&K CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT 1987

Shortly after the repeal, around 800 central laws were extended to Jammu and Kashmir under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019. Effective October 31, 2019, the Central Consumer Protection Act 1986 was extended to the new Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir and Ladakh.

Jammu and Kashmir had its own Consumer Protection Act, which came into force in 1987, and under which a state commission and district forums were operational. The Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs ordered the closure of all existing consumer forums in an order issued in October 2019. As a result, effective October 31, 2019, the State Act of 1987 became superfluous after 24 years of action, and the Central Consumer Protection Act of 1986 took its place.

Relevantly, on August 9, 2019, the Center also repealed the Central Act 1986 and replaced it with the Consumer Protection Act 2019. The rules of the new law were drafted by the Union Ministry of Consumer Food and Public Distribution and published on July 15, 2020. This central new law, although it has been extended to Jammu -and-Kashmir, is still not operational. The result is that consumers in Jammu and Kashmir and the union territory of Ladakh face many difficulties.

Since the state and district consumer forums were closed in the old state, chaos and confusion have reigned among consumers whose cases were pending before these bodies. Since the repeal, their cases have been eating dust in various offices in the food, civil supplies, and consumer departments. Aggrieved consumers with new grievances have also been stripped of their rights under the Consumer Protection Act 2019. They have no institution to address their grievances to.

Speaking to Newsclick, Srinagar-based senior reporter and editor of Kashmir Observer newspaper, Sajjad Hyder said, “My newspaper office in Srinagar was damaged in the floods of 2014. The floods destroyed computers, laptops, printers and other equipment, but I did not receive adequate insurance. In 2016, I moved the National Consumer Commission against the insurance company and expected a favorable judgment by the end of 2019. But the commission was closed. New State and District Commissions Not Formed Even After New Consumer Law [central Consumer Protection Act, 2019] has been extended to J&K. Will the government compensate us for this injustice and this disproportionate delay? He says more than 1,500 cases are pending before the former National Consumer Commission and thousands more before district forums.

The basic problem is that the repealed law of the old state – the Consumer Protection Act of 1987 – was similar to the central law of 1986. Jammu and Kashmir had also created institutions under it . Until August 5, 2019, the state had a strong consumer rights movement, but the repeal completely changed that.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT 2019

The Consumer Protection Act 2019 ostensibly expands the scope of consumer rights and covers e-commerce, direct selling, teleshopping, multi-level marketing and other forms of commerce in the digital age. Technically, it came into force on July 20, 2020 in the countryside. It aimed to reorganize the settlement and administration process through tougher penalties. The pecuniary jurisdiction of the District Forum has increased to Rs. 1 crore and the State Forum to Rs. 10 crore. For unfair contract claims, where the consideration does not exceed Rs. 10 crore, the pecuniary jurisdiction of the National Claims Commission exceeds Rs. 10 crore.

It is important to note that misleading advertisements have been made liable to prosecution under the new law, including advertisements, notices, flyers, labels, packaging, invoices or other documents in a variety of physical and digital formats. It also provides for Consumer Mediation Units attached to the District and State Commissions.

DISTRICT CLUBBING COMMITTEES?

Section 28 of the Consumer Protection Act 2019 states that the state government shall establish a District Consumer Dispute Redress Commission (DCDRC) in each district. It also indicates that the state government may establish more than one district commission in a district. Each district commission should have a chairman and not less than two members, and more members appointed in consultation with the central government.

On February 22, 2022, the government of Jammu and Kashmir issued an order establishing ten district commissions instead of twenty. He bludgeoned two to three districts in Jammu and Kashmir which violates the 2019 law. The Anantnag District Commission will also have jurisdiction over Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama. The Baramulla commission will also deal with Bandipora. Doda will have jurisdiction over Kishtwar, Kathua over Samba, Rajouri over Poonch, Srinagar over Ganderbal and Udhampur over Reasi and Ramban.

The Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs order misquotes Section 32 of the 2019 Act, which allows district officials to take charge of other districts in certain circumstances. This article never allowed the government to combine districts. The exact layout is, “If…there is a vacancy in the office of chairperson or member of any district committee, the state government may by notice direct—(a) any other district committee specified in such notice to exercise also jurisdiction over that district; or (b) the chairman or member of any other district committee specified in this notice to exercise the powers and perform the duties of the chairman or member of such district committee as well. »

When there are no operational district commissions under the new law, and all the vacancies of the twenty district commissions are still vacant, how can the government invoke section 32 and only fill ten posts and combine the other ten districts with neighboring districts?

It is necessary to involve district officers if, in the event that a chairman or member of a district committee dies, resigns or is removed by the government. The law never says that the government can associate the districts when no district commission is operational.

Syed Nasarullah, legal expert and former administrative director of the judicial system of Jammu and Kashmir, says: “The law states that if there is a vacancy for a chairman or member of a committee in a district, the government may empower the chairman or member of another district to serve there as an interim arrangement. Ten commissions have been created by the government, but none is operational and no incumbent is in office. The question of entrusting the office of a president or a member of a district to another district does not arise. The government shall appoint as many commissions as the equivalent number of districts in J&K’s union territory. »

It should also be noted that the General Administration Department issued a standard order to disband the SCDRC and other pre-repeal commissions. Thus, the Human Rights Commission, the Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Commission for the Protection of Women and the Rights of the Child, the Commission for Persons with Disabilities and the State Accountability Commission pre-existing ones have also been dissolved. Each of them is a case in point that must be explored separately.

the The author is a Srinagar-based columnist, independent activist and researcher, and an Acumen Fellow. Opinions are personal.

First published by Newsclick.