The Consumer Forums are the bodies who function like courts in order to settle the consumer disputes. Their composition is so made as to best represent the interests of the consumers, and they have specified jurisdictions. The next question is – what procedure these Forums adopt in order to deal with the consumer disputes.
Section 13 of the Act has detailed the procedure in context of District Forum only. For State Commission, section 18 says that it will follow the same procedure as followed by District Forum with such modifications as necessary, and for the National Commission, section 22 gives power to the Central Government to make rules in this regard. These rules in turn have included therein the procedure given by section 13. In addition, these rules have prescribed some procedures to be followed by the parties to the complaint.
A complaint may be made with respect to the goods or services. When complaint relates to goods, the criteria for the decision is – whether the goods are defective or not. Now the question is – how to hold that the goods are defective. The most logical way is to get the goods tested to determine the defect. However, in certain cases defect can be determined without technical support or it may happen that the test is not feasible. These are—
– The opposite party admits the defect.
– The defect is obvious and is visible to naked eyes, like in a complaint about contamination of water, the sample of water given was so dirty that the Forum did not consider it necessary to send it for test.
– When the complainant is not in possession of the subject matter of the complaint, e.g., in a matter the complainant had given to the dealer the tyre and tube which had burst, the dealer sent the same to the manufacturer. Thus the complainant was not in possession of the same.
– When subject matter of the complaint gets destroyed, like in case a pressure cooker burst, its remains can’t be send to the laboratory for testing.
– In case of complaint regarding deficiency in service there is no question of testing or analysis.
Thus the procedure to be followed by the Forums can be discussed under the two heads—
1. where laboratory test is required to determine the defect in goods.
2. where no laboratory test is required to determine the defect in goods or the complaint relates to services.
Procedure to be followed by the District Forum [Section 13] – The following procedure is equally applicable to the District Forum, State Commission with required modifications, and National Commission with additional procedures required by the rules.
WHERE LABORATORY TEST IS REQUIRED TO DETERMINE THE DEFECT IN GOODS – A
consumer is supposed to file as many copies of the complaint as there are number of judges, with all essential information, supporting papers like correspondence, and specifying the compensation demanded.
On receipt of such complaint—
(a) The District Forum should refer a copy of the complaint to the opposite party directing him to give his version of the case within a period of thirty days which can be extended to forty five days.
Where the opposite party on receipt of a complaint referred to him denies or disputes the allegations contained in the complaint, or omits or fails to take any action to represent his case within the time given by the District Forum, the District Forum would take the following steps to settle the dispute :
(b) The District Forum may require the complainant to deposit specified fees for payment to the appropriate laboratory for carrying out the necessary analysis or test in relation to the goods in question.
(c) The District Forum will obtain a sample of the goods, seal it, authenticate it and refer the sample so sealed to the appropriate laboratory for an analysis or test, whichever may be necessary, with a view to finding out whether such goods suffer from any defect. The District Forum will remit the fees to the appropriate laboratory to enable it to carry out required analysis or test.
The laboratories supposed to report its findings to the District Forum within a period of fifty-five days. This period is extendible by the District Forum.
(d) Upon receiving laboratory’s report, its copy will be forwarded by the District Forum to the opposite party alongwith its own remarks.
(e) In the event of any party disputing the correctness of the findings, or the methods of analysis or test adopted by the appropriate laboratory, the District Forum shall require the objecting party to submit his objections in writing.
(f) The District Forum will give an opportunity of hearing to the objecting party.
(g) The District Forum shall issue appropriate order after hearing the parties.
WHERE NO LABORATORY TEST IS REQUIRED TO DETERMINE THE DEFECT IN GOODS OR THE COMPLAINT RELATES TO SERVICES
(a) On receiving the complaint, the District Forum should refer a copy of the complaint to the opposite party directing him to give his version of the case within a period of thirty days which can be extended to forty five days.
(b) The opposite party on receipt of a complaint referred to him may—
(i) admit the complaint
(ii) deny or dispute the allegations contained in the complaint, or
(iii) omits or fails to respond within the time given by the District Forum.
(c) Where the opposite party admits the allegation, the District Forum should decide the matter on the basis of the merits of the case and the documents before it.
Where the opposite party denies or disputes the allegations made in the complaint, the District Forum will proceed to settle the dispute on the basis of evidence brought to its notice by both the parties.
Where the opposite party omits or fails to respond within the time given by the Forum, the District Forum will proceed to settle the dispute on the basis of evidence brought to its notice by the complainant.
(d) The District Forum shall issue an appropriate order after hearing the parties and taking into account available evidence.