To ensure speedy redressal of consumer complaints, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) has written to Registrars and Presidents of National, State and District Commissions not to grant adjournment for more than one month to ensure adhering to the timelines provided under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. In case of any delay in resolving the complaints beyond 2 months due to adjournment requests, the Commission may consider imposing costs on parties.
In his letter, Secretary DoCA, Shri Rohit Kumar Singh has emphasized on inexpensive, hassle free and speedy justice to the consumers. The letter states that frequent and long adjournments not only denies a consumer his right to be heard and seek redressal, but also takes away the spirit of enactment which the legislature intended. Therefore, Consumer Commissions are requested to ensure that in no circumstance adjournment for a long period is provided. Further, in case of more than two requests of adjournment by either parties, Consumer Commissions may, as a measure of deterrence, impose costs on parties.
Drawing attention of the consumer commissions on the procedure on admission of a complaint as provided under Section 38(7) of the Act, the letter emphasizes that every complaint is required to be disposed of as expeditiously as possible and endeavour shall be made to decide the complaint within a period of 3 months from the date of receipt of notice by opposite party where the complaint does not require analysis or testing of commodities and within 5 months if it requires analysis or testing of commodities.
Further, the Act also stipulates that no adjournment shall ordinarily be granted by consumer commissions unless sufficient cause is shown and the reasons for grant of adjournment have been recorded in writing. The commissions are also empowered to make such order as to the costs occasioned by the adjournment.
It may be mentioned that as per Section 38(2)(a) of the Act the commission shall refer a copy of the admitted complaint to the opposite party directing him to give his version of the case within a period of 30 days or such extended period not exceeding 15 days as may be granted by it. Section 38(3)(b)(ii) further provides that the commission may proceed to take ex parte decision, on the basis of evidence, if the opposite party fails to take any action or represent his case within the stipulated time.
In addition, the letter also mentions decision of the Constitution Bench of Supreme Court of India in New India Assurance Company Ltd. Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Private Ltd delivered on 04.03.2020 highlighting that consumer commissions have no power to extend the time for filing the response to the complains beyond the period of 15 days in addition to 30 days as mentioned in Section 13 of the Act. The same decision has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in the case of M/s Daddy’s Builders Pvt. Ltd. & Another vs. Manisha Bhargava and Anr. decided on 11.02.2021, and Diamond Exports & Anr vs. United India Insurance Company Limited & Ors decided on 14.12.2021.
The Secretary, DoCA has also written to the Chief Secretaries of all States/UTs and all consumer commissions laying stress on encouraging consumers to file their complaints through e-daakhil portal. In the letter, it has been highlighted that all States/UTs have put in place e-daakhil mechanism which has several features including e-notice, case document download link and virtual hearing link, filing written response by opposite party, filing rejoinder by complainant and alerts via SMS/e-mail. The commissions have been requested to sensitise and encourage consumers to file their grievances through e-daakhil portal.
The Department is also organizing a National Workshop on 31.05.2022 with President and members of National, State and District commissions, as well as Secretary-in-charge of Consumer Affairs in States/U.Ts. to discuss and deliberate on making the dispute redressal mechanism more effective, speedier and hassle-free for consumers.