Juhu resident Anita Tripathi bought a Ford Ikon for Rs 7 lakh in 2004. Since then, the car has made more trips to the garage than anywhere else, running a total of just 24,000 km.
Subramania Bhat has been visiting the consumer court for the last two years. The Bandra-based chartered accountant had moved court after a builder refused to return some extra money Bhat had paid while buying a flat.
A Thane-based consumer rights organisation has been helping harrowed consumers like Tripathi and Bhat in seeking justice from the Maharashtra State Consumer Redressal Commission (MSCRC). In this year alone, the International Consumer Rights Protection Council (ICRPC) has received 96 applications. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“I receive four-five complaints every week from across India. However, very few people are willing to go on record and file a written complaint. They do not even disclose their names, fearing adverse consequences during the trial,” said ICRPC President Arun Saxena.
The organisation helps people file applications and disseminates information about the functioning of the consumer courts. For instance, when Tripathi moved the consumer court, she was unaware if she needed an advocate. “The judge asked me if I had a lawyer. Thankfully, ICRPC had told me that consumer courts hears people’s grievances directly without any legal help,” said Tripathi.
Despite the absence of intermediaries, the MSCRC has a long list of pending cases. And this is partly because the court gives too much time to the opposite party to reply. “My seven court visits were useless. The opposite party just did not turn up and each time, the court comfortably issued a new date,” said Tripathi.
However, “under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), the court can issue an ex-party order if the accused fails to reply to a notice within 45 days,” said consumer court lawyer Mikhil Ajmera.
Yet other applicants complain about missing case files. “Files disappear from the court and the case does not get listed on the day of the hearing,” said a complainant who did not wished to be named. This is because “many complainants claim that the clerks in consumer courts demand bribes to list cases,” said ICROC’s Saxena.
This is probably why 2,186 cases are still pending before the MSCRC even though it has received 6,297 complaints since its inception in 1989. The commission has only disposed 16,350 appeals of the total 29,626. A record keeper, requesting anonymity, said: “A handful of people approach the consumer courts because the process is extremely time consuming.”
AR Shenoy, Chairman of the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI), said: “Consumer complaints have dwindled because people have lost trust in consumer courts. The common man has no patience to wait for eight-10 years for justice. Thankfully, there is a petition pending in the Bombay High Court. The MSCRC will have to answer these questions on February 15.”