The consumer dispute redressal process in India should streamline operations, adopt digitization and shake off unnecessary bureaucracy that has led to lakhs of pending cases nationwide, Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal said.
Speaking at a national workshop on effective, speedier and hassle free consumer dispute redressal, Goyal said more bunching of cases, much higher levels of digitization and e-disposal of cases were imperative.
The workshop was envisioned to find realistic solutions to the continuing challenges in India's consumer grievance redressal mechanism.
Addressing the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) and its head Justice R K Agrawal who was present at the event, the minister said the body needed to think about how to quickly become more effective. Otherwise, the entire government mechanism risked becoming obsolete, he warned.
"The idea was to have a direct connect with the consumer, give him speedy grievance redressal. Effort were to be made by the Commission to dispose of cases within three months if they didn't require analysis or testing or atleast by five months if required those. Sadly, that hasn't happened till now," Goyal said.
He said there was also a need for developing a sense of sensitivity and sympathy towards the fact that most of the complainants in the country's consumer grievance redressal mechanism were poor, weak consumers.
"As of June 14, the pendency of cases at the National Commission (NCDRC) was running into thousands, the pendency at state commissions were over a lakh, and that at district commissions were over four lakh. That can't be allowed to continue," Goyal said.
The state consumer grievance redressal commissions need to seriously introspect on how to simplify the entire process that a consumer has to deal with for filing a complaint, according to the minister. He stressed that was the only way to ensure better compliance, and push more consumers to be vocal about their rights.
"Otherwise, more and more people will stop filing cases," Goyal argued. "We need not be influenced by consumer activists or big industry, either of the two. We need to get them on board as well."
Addressing the state commissions, Goyal said there was a serious need to look at the situation. He pointed out vague filing rules are often cited by state commissions to stretch the 21-day limit for beginning the redressal process.
Section 38 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, says that within 21 days of admiring the complaint, the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission should send a copy of the complaint to the opposite party, directing him to give his version within 30 days or such extended period not exceeding 15 days.
He also said the state commissions continue to have long vacations and there was a lack of an uniform vacation schedule for commissions in the country.
"I would urge the commissions to at least take a Suo Moto decision to atleast follow the central pattern on vacations. If we can't work at an uniform pace across the country, then it is a matter of serious concern and introspection," he said.
Goal also said that state and district commissions that have already adapted mediation practices but where get to begin disposing off cases through that channel, needed to be investigated.
The government has increasingly pushed the commissions to consider mediation as a necessary option in the redressal process. 153 district commissions,11 state commissions, and the national commissions have already adapted radiation, the minister said.
Much work needed
Goyal also pointed out other administrative measures that can be taken by the NCDRC, and the other commissions to improve the efficiency.
"It is something as simple as (examining) whether we can reduce the number of adjournments or reduce the long duration between two adjournments. That is in your hands, doesn't need any regulation or orders. It is your choice and that of the members or chairman of your commission," Goyal stressed.
The Consumer Affairs Ministry has recently sent notices to the NCDRC, as well as state and district level commissions that adjournments should not extend beyond a month.He said that insistence on bureaucratic requirements such as three physical copies of documents should also be looked at carefully. Unlike the rest of the central government machinery, the NCDRC is yet to shift to a mandatory digital mode of work.