Protecting consumers

Consumer courts the readily accessible forums to settle disputes speedily without entailing any cost give consumers a safeguard against exploitation and unfair trade practices. Saima Riyaz reports.

Consumer courts are to ensure fair play and save consumers from exploitation. Any person can go the consumer courts to seek compensation, refund or replacement of defected products.

People can register complaint against any agency or trader, where monetary transaction is involved. Different courts deal with such cases depending upon the amount of money involved. “National Level consumer courts work nationwide and deal with cases equal to one crore rupees. State level (consumer court) deals with cases of less than one crore rupees and district level courts deal with the cases of up to 20 lakh giving customers an easy forum to redress their grievances,” said Bashir Ahmad, Reader, Divisional Consumer Protection Forum, Old Secretariat, Srinagar.

However, Srinagar has a Division Level consumer court that deals with the complaints of Ladakh and Kashmir. “Our jurisdiction is from Rs one to five lakh, above it up to one crore the cases are dealt by State Consumer Commission at Karan Nagar (in Srinagar).”

But the cases of the State Level involving more money are decided only for the six months when the government is in Srinagar. “We don’t have the mandate to try State Level cases. They are done when the Darbar moves to Srinagar,” he said.

Since the inception of Divisional Consumer Protection Forum – 1989, the consumer court has been receiving a lot of cases. “A total of 6507 complaints have been registered from March 1989 to December 2010 in which 5303 have been already disposed off,” shares Bashir Ahmad.

Officials say culprits can be caught provided the consumers put some effort. “It does not  cost anything. Whoever is wronged has to file a complaint and ask for compensation or put forward his/her clauses for whatever unfair treatment he or she was subjected to.”

As per the law, an alleged wrongdoer trader is asked to come to the court in 30 days. Another 15 days are given if she or he does not show up. “If the person against whom the complaint is made refuses to follow the court orders then we approach police for executing the (consumer court) orders,” Bashir Ahmad said.
Three persons – one judge and two members – form a jury. “Only documents are presented, verbal discussion is only done in the cases where there is a requirement of witnesses,” Bashir Ahmad said.

Around 1184 cases are pending in the court. “Most of the times the person who makes the complaint is unable to produce witness, that is why the case is delayed,” he said.

Telephone related complaints used to flood the court but in 2009, Supreme Court of India issued a stay order directing the Consumer Court of Srinagar not to entertain any complaint related to the telecommunications.

“Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) has its own adalat (court) and General Manager should be approached for any unfair practices by the company,” Bashir Ahmad said.

After 2009 complaints related to mobile companies and insurance, the officials say, top the list. “Be it against a shopkeeper, a vehicle, doctor, private nursing home, all kinds of complaints come here,” Bashir Ahmad says, “The complaints about mobile companies though most in number, are settled usually in 30 days.”

Complaints against fake universities and colleges that cheat or have wronged the people are also frequent.

Recently 20 cases were filed by pilgrims accusing a travel agency of bad services which was solved in one go. “Cases against a travel company were registered on Feb 27, 2008 and the court passed a collective judgment on given March 26, 2010 solving all 20 cases,” Bashir Ahmad said.

The consumer court in Srinagar receives many complaints against public utilities like water supply and electricity department. “Many complaints come against water and electricity department which we try to resolve to the best of our ability,” shared Bashir Ahmad adding that the consumer court is an agency that can solve consumer disputes simply and speedily. “The quick redressal can keep the exploiters in check and save the consumers from exploitation,” he said.

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