Pankaj Sharma/ Zee Research Group
India’s promise to deliver justice to consumers has been belied with about three and a half lakh cases pending to be resolved in various consumer courts in the country at the end of April this year. Uttar Pradesh (UP) followed by Maharashtra and Rajasthan had the highest number of cases pending in their respective states.
The backlog of cases has been rising by about two percent every year since 2005 even as the number of consumer applications filed for redressal has grown from 23.5 lakh until December 2005 to 35 lakh until April 2011, representing a near 50 percent increase.
The growth in consumer complaints shows growing consumer awareness about their rights as much as it raises doubts over the efficacy of India being billed as the prime destination for global consumer brands.
A ZRG study of the official data at the Consumer Affairs Ministry shows that Uttar Pradesh (UP) topped the list of pending cases with about one lakh consumer complaints pending to be heard.
Maharashtra followed with about 35,000 pending cases while Rajasthan and Haryana observed 27,000 pending cases. Gujarat had about 23,000 consumer cases pending April end this year. In contrast, smaller states and union territories, showed a better performance in expeditiously resolving consumer complaints filed with the courts there.
Rajiv Aggarwal, Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, in the Consumer Affairs Ministry, said, “The ministry has taken the cognizance of increasing cases in consumer courts and we are working to reduce the pending list in consumer courts.” He, however, did not immediately offer any timeframe to clear the backlog.
Consumer market strategist Rama Bijapurkar said, “Rise in filing 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.
The consumer grievance redressal mechanism came as an initiative under the Consumer Affairs Ministry in 1998 with the proclamation that all consumer complaints would be resolved within 90 days of filing of the case.
It is not though difficult to explain the backlog. 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, 285 posts are vacant for members. Holding various state governments responsible for the backlog, consumer activist and former president of ‘Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission’, JD Kapoor said, “Lack of infrastructure and inadequate monitoring of cases has reduced the purpose of consumer courts. Apex body of consumers, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) needs to monitor cases in State commissions and State Commission should monitor cases in District Forums. And every case should be disposed off within three months.”
Under sub–section (I) of Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the appointment of president and members in District Forums and State Commission is in the hand of state governments.
Endorsing Kapoor’s call for states to expeditiously fill vacancies, consumer activist Pushpa Girmaji said, “Each case should be disposed within 90 days but sadly it is not happening. If any consumer court is under huge backlog of cases, it is the responsibility of state governments to start an additional forum to dispose the cases expeditiously.”
Kapoor believed that the consumer rights were only partially protected under the current provisions of the Consumer Protection Act and that there was need to rope in civil society as a pressure group to redeem consumer plight.
However, Girmaji also emphasised judges of consumer courts should impose heavy fines on manufacturers and service providers so that deterrents were created against repeated offences against the consumer.
At present, 665 consumer forums are functioning in the country consisting of the National Commission, 35 State Commissions and 629 District forums.
Best and Worst States in respect of pending cases in Consumer Courts
Five Best States in 2011
Five Worst States in 2011
Five Best States in 2005
Five worst states in 2005
State wise posts vacant in Consumer Courts