The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (in short,‘The Act’) is a benevolent social legislation that lays down the rights of the consumers and provides for their promotion and protection. The first and the only Act of its kind in India, it has enabled ordinary consumers to secure less expensive and often speedy redressal of their grievances. By spelling out the rights and remedies of the consumers in a market so far dominated by organized manufacturers and traders of goods and providers of various types of services, the Act makes the dictum, caveat emptor (‘Buyer Beware’) a thing of the past. The Act mandates establishment of Consumer Protection Councils at the Centre as well as in each State and District, with a view to promote consumer awareness. The Central Council is headed by Minster In-charge of the Department of Consumer Affairs in the Central Government and the State Councils by the Minister In-charge of the Consumer Affairs in the State Governments.
A written complaint, can be filed before the District Consumer Forum for pecuniary value of upto Rupees twenty lakh, State Commission for value upto Rupees one crore and the National Commission for value above Rupees one crore, in respect of defects in goods and/or deficiency in service. The service can be of any description and the illustrations given above are only indicative. However, no complaint can be filed for alleged deficiency in any service that is rendered free of charge or under a contract of personal service.
The remedy under the Consumer Protection Act is an alternative in addition to that already available to the aggrieved persons/consumers by way of civil suit. In the complaint/appeal/petition submitted under the Act, a consumer is not required to pay any court fees but only a nominal fee.
Consumer Fora proceedings are summary in nature. The endeavor is made to grant relief to the aggrieved consumer as quickly as in the quickest possible, keeping in mind the provisions of the Act which lay down time schedule for disposal of cases.
If a consumer is not satisfied by the decision of a District Forum, he can appeal to the State Commission. Against the order of the State Commission a consumer can go to the National Commission.
Functioning of District Forum, State Commission and National Commission is consumer friendly, and thus a consumer can file a complaint and also address arguments in person. In genuine cases where the complainant/ appellant/ petitioner before the State Commission is unable to engage the services of an advocate legal aid is provided by the Commission free of charge.