Emphasising speedy and affordable justice by consumer commissions across the country, Union Minister Piyush Goyal on Monday urged that all Commissions to see how digital media such as WhatsApp and e-mail can be generously used to issue notices, replies and other documents.
Goyal inaugurated the National Workshop on ‘Effective and Speedy Consumer Disputes Redressal’ with the President and Members of the National Commission, President and Members of State Commissions and Presidents of selected District Commissions along with Principal Secretaries of the State organized by the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Addressing a national workshop here, he said the Consumer Commissions should religiously follow the timelines as per the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 for expediting the disposal of cases.
He said that the commissions should be able to dispose of cases within three to five months of filing which will provide speedy justice to consumers.
According to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, Goyal said that to provide a faster and amicable mode of settlement of consumer disputes, the new Act (Consumer Protection Act 2019 that came into effect from July 2020) also introduces reference of consumer disputes to Mediation, with the consent of both parties.
“This will not only save time and money involved in litigating the dispute, it will also help in reducing the pendency of cases. The Government is also taking proactive steps in encouraging the use of electronic mediation (e-mediation). This will help in ensuring that location and distance do not act as barriers whenever parties wish to opt for mediation for the settlement of cases. So far 153 District Commissions, 11 State Commissions along with National Commission have established mediation centres. I would like to request all States and UTs to expedite setting up mediation centres and appointing mediators,” he said.
The Union Minister highlighted the importance of digitization of all documents that are required to be submitted and urged all the Commissions to implement e-documentation and facilitate all documents and process to be online mode to enable hassle-free procedures for consumers.
He emphasized that simplification of process leads to more effective and affordable justice system.
Goyal added that delayed disposal and huge pendency remain a major challenge towards redressal of consumer grievances.
He mentioned that as per the data on June 14, 2022, the pendency in the National Commission was 22,608; State Commission was 1,49,608 and District Commission was 4,66,034.
He said that those seeking repeated adjournments should also be dealt with. He suggested that pendency can be reduced by bunching of similar cases and disposing it together.
Highlighting ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ he expressed that like e-filing, importance should also be provided for e-disposal. He applauded the progress of e -daakhil portal which enables online filing of consumer complaints and urged the authorities to facilitate virtual hearings in all cases.
The Union Minister said that to expedite the disposal of cases, the Act of 2019 provides that the District Commission shall send a copy of the admitted complaint within 21 days from the date of its admission to the opposite party.
“The opposite has to furnish its reply within 30 days which may be extended by a maximum of 15 days. These initiatives are expected to reduce the pendency and achieve speedier redressal of cases. It is expected from the Commissions that they will work with their full potential in the interest of consumers and dispose of the oldest pending cases on priority,” he added.
He pressed that consumer is King and consumer is the centre of all the activities of the Government of India.
“Therefore, the State Commissions should strengthen infrastructure for which Centre will extend support,” he added.
Goyal further stressed it should be the moral responsibility of everyone working in Consumer Commissions to consider their work not just as any job but as a service towards citizens.
The Union Minister was optimistic that six months from now during the National Consumer Day in December 2022, the Commissions would be able to review their work towards speedy disposal of complaints.
He further proposed services of BIS and NABL accredited laboratories may be utilised by consumer commissions for timely resolution of consumer grievances which require product testing and analysis.
Following the inaugural event, technical sessions were organized with the objective to deliberate on core issues faced by various consumer commissions and to address such concerns with the support of legal provisions and technology.
Some key issues that were discussed in the technical sessions were: Deliberations with Voluntary Consumer Organisations, Present Status of Vacancies and Pending cases in State and District Commissions and prescribing a framework for the effective and speedy redressal of consumer grievances, Present status of E-filing in State and District Commissions, Popularising mediation as a pre-litigation measure in the redressal of consumer and suggestions for making e filing the preferred option for consumers, Present Status of mediation in State and District Commissions and suggestions for putting in place an effective mechanism for mediation as prescribed in Consumer Protection Act 2019, the Present State of Infrastructure in State and District Commissions and suggestions for improving the same and others.
Format requesting to provide details of present availability of infrastructure and the future requirement was circulated amongst State and District Commissions. Based on the response received, DoCA will look into the gaps and provide facilities as per requirement.
Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, Rohit Kumar Singh, Additional Secretary Nidhi Khare, Joint Secretary Anupam Mishra and Vineet Mathur attended the event along with other senior officers, Presidents and Members of Consumer Commissions, and voluntary consumer organizations.