Pankaj Sharma/ Zee Research Group
E-filling of your complaints in consumer courts may soon become a reality! After promising a year ago to start e- filling in consumer courts, the Consumer Affairs Ministry has achieved a major breakthrough in implementing the project.
A top ministry official told ZRG that the government has just implemented the technology solution to enable the electronic filing of consumer complaints in the country. He said, “Technically the e-filing feature has been developed and this would come under the ongoing scheme for computerization and computer networking of consumer forums in the country.”
He said the next big step to make e-filing a reality would be an amendment to the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the process for which had already been initiated. India observed about 50 per cent growth in consumer complaints since 2005 with the number of such complaints now pegged at about 35 lakh this April.
The government is under pressure to expeditiously clear the backlog of ever rising consumer complaints and digitalization is being touted as a key solution to bring transparency and efficiency in delivering consumer justice. On last count the pending number of cases had piled up to 3.5 lakh, growing by about two per cent every year since 2005.
Vice president and head-government industry solutions unit, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Tanmoy Chakrabarty said, “It will empower consumers as the process is fast, cheaper and efficient.” He, however, argued for educating consumers on merits of going online with their complaints. TCS works closely with the government on implementing its e-governance agenda.
However, secretary-general, CUTS International, Pradeep S Mehta believes e-filling won’t be a cake walk for consumers. “We welcome this initiative. The big worry though is the fee payment gateway. Only a small percentage of people use credit cards,” he cautioned.
Mehta predicted that e-filing would put additional pressure on consumer courts since the numbers would go up significantly. The ministry, however, is gearing up to meet the additional pressure. It has yet again written to the state governments to expeditiously fill up the existing vacancies in state and district consumer courts.
“This issue is repeatedly emphasized in all conferences or meetings held with state government representatives by both the Central government as well as the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC). After analyzing state-wise data, states are advised to remedy the shortcomings observed, including early filling up of vacancies of president and members,” the Consumer Affairs Ministry official said.
Consumer market strategist Rama Bijapurkar said, “Rise in filling of cases in consumer courts is reflecting that consumers have become more aware about their rights. It will put more pressure on suppliers to deliver better in future.” However, to reduce the pending cases in consumer courts, she called for adoption of fast track courts at the earliest.
Consumer activist Pushpa Girmaji said, “Each case should be disposed off within 90 days but sadly it is not happening. If any consumer court is under huge backlog of cases, it is the responsibility of the state government to start an additional forum to dispose the cases expeditiously.”
The consumer courts across the country face acute shortage of manpower. Vacant posts which were only 240 in 2005 have climbed up to 352 in 2011. Here also UP topped with 65 vacancies followed by 46 vacancies in Madhya Pradesh and 35 in Maharashtra. While a total of 67 posts are vacant for president at state and district level a huge 285 posts are vacant for members.