As the name rightly points out, this Forum is for consumers but they have to suffer again at the Forum after getting cheated by vendors/merchants. While consumers face difficulties right from figuring out the procedure for filing a complaint, their real troubles begin once the complaint hearing commences at the Consumer Forum. Although several news articles have been published evidence of delayed proceedings and other problems during hearings, the data in Exhibit-1 will startle us.

 

Data Source: cms.nic.in, accessed on Jan 22, 2019

 

Few important observations from Exhibit-1

1. Data in Exhibit-1 shows that the number of cases filed each year are more or less stable. The increase in population, increase in purchasing power of citizens, and growing awareness about consumer rights and literacy, should logically result in the increased number of complaints. Regrettably, the Forum does not seem effective enough as the cases decided are decreasing linearly every year. The counter-argument that cases of the shortfall in service or deficiency in service might be decreasing is not valid because the cases at other redressal forums/helplines are increasing as consumers are reluctant to approach the consumer courts.

2. The number of cases resolved in 2018 is exceptionally low - only 8 in number i.e. 0.33% of total pending cases in 2018. The statistics show the dismal performance of the Forum. Going by these statistics, in 2019, the number of cases resolved may turn out to be a negative number!

The story below may help one understand why cases are not getting decided and what actually happens in this Forum:

1. You have to file three copies of the complaint in a green legal paper in the proper format  - (forget filing a simple application on white paper!)

2. Those papers have to be stitched with thread (god knows how a consumer is expected to know this!). Nobody at the office will give you information about the requirement that the documents need to be stitched (not stapled or pasted).  

 

 

3. After you submit the papers, you will be asked to come to the office after 10-15 days to get the date of the hearing. They will never give information on the phone or even a contact number of the person concerned at the Forum.

4. Court fee is only accepted through demand draft.

5. At the first hearing, it is very likely that nobody will talk to you and you will just get another date (3/4 months later).

6. If the second hearing happens, the Judge present, and if the opposite party advocate is present, the opposite party advocate will simply ask for more time. No explanation will be asked for for this extra time. The President (Judge) will simply postpone the hearing for next date and give more time to file the reply. After months of struggle, you may discover that you can find the status of your case (Updated 2/3 days after the hearing) online also.

7. By the 3rd / 4th / 5th hearing, the opposite party advocate would still not have filed the reply (by now it is already 10/12 months and you have been going to every hearing! There is no sign of the opposite party advocate. By now you can safely assume that the opposite party will never ever come in person.

8. The opposite party may file the reply after last chance (the President gives them last chance in many hearings).

9. You may file the reply in the next hearing and then again the hearing will be postponed without any discussion

10. No matter what you say, the President generally never listens to you or just ignores whatever you say.

11. This will go on for two years or more, and hearings will continue. In due course, if you get transferred from your job and/ or are unable to come to the Forum, the complaint will be decided in favour of the opposite party or dismissed or set aside.

12. For every hearing, you have to take leave from office.

13. The date is fixed. No matter what important work you may have in the office or at home, you need to go to the Forum. In a few days or in years you may also find that one day in advance you can get the information whether the hearing will be there or not.

14. Fast forward to 3.5 years later and the President still wants more time! S/he still does not encourage any discussion, further postponing the date for 3-4 months. You cannot ask the President why is he postponing, it’s just his wish!

So effectively, after 4 years, if you are a working individual and have been visiting the Forum 12 times a year then all your casual leaves get exhausted, you may have suffered mental agony, and cannot just leave the city even if you get transferred on job. If you move to another city, the process of transferring the case is very difficult. So, you will have to either hire a lawyer or travel to the Forum for each hearing (which will just give dates) and suffer more financial loss and mental harassment or just forget the complaint (better option!). The Forum is in itself breaching the right to be informed (Consumer Forums are providing a service and as per the act the resolution should be within 90 days / as expeditiously as possible)

Hiring Lawyer to represent your case:

Lawyers are seldom interested in closing the complaint. From what I have seen, only a few lawyers argued the case, rest kept seeking adjournments. So effectively, the complainant will stop appearing, the case will be dismissed and the Forum will show that the complaint has been resolved.

Additionally, if you don’t know the local language then it is further difficult as the President will talk to you in the local language (rarely in English). It doesn’t matter even if you tell him 100 times that you don’t know the local language - there is no interpreter at the Forum.

All the above comments are from my personal ongoing complaint and also the result of discussion with many applicants who want to fight as a party in person (or already representing their own cases), without hiring a lawyer.

One must have the patience, financial means and a lot of time on hand to fight a case in the Consumer Forum. Simply put, it is a “torture forum”, as the harassment faced by consumers is endless.

Conclusion:

This clearly shows that Forums and Presidents at these Forums are not interested in deciding and closing the complaints. Most of these complaints are of the type that even a local Sarpanch (community leader) can hear and decide in 15 minutes in one go (that too judiciously).

I observed that the system is designed in a way that consumers are exploited at every step and this is the reason that many companies don’t care whether you go to Consumer Forum or not as they know that they can engage a lawyer to appear on their behalf. These lawyers continue to seek adjournments for years that finally, a vexed consumer, will choose not to pursue the case.  

If complaints are resolved within 3 months from the date of notice to the opposite party, as is mandated under the law, in maximum 2/3 hearings, without indulging in unnecessary paperwork and age-old processes, fraudsters will be wary and afraid of any wrongdoing, resulting in effective delivery of justice.