CPA, RTI: Losing Teeth?
By R.K Arora
Before enactment of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), 1986, India had a seller's market. The year 1986 reached a watershed and since then, consumer protection in India gained momentum. While the people's movement for Right to Information (RTI) was started by the Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan, the reverberations of this struggle led to a nationwide demand for a law to guarantee the right to information to every citizen, with widespread support from social activists, professionals, lawyers, and persons within the bureaucracy, politics and the media, who are committed to transparent and accountable governance and people’s empowerment.
The basic objective of the CPA, 1986 is to provide "speedy and simple" redressal of consumer grievances and disputes. The Section 9 of this Act envisages the establishment of quasi-judicial machinery at the national, state and district levels. Moreover, section 13(3A) reads "Every complaint shall be heard as expeditiously as possible and endeavour shall be made to decide the complaint within a period of three months from the date of receipt of notice by opposite party where the complaint does not require analysis or testing of commodities and within five months if it requires analysis or testing of commodities.
Also that no adjournment shall be ordinarily granted by the District Forum unless sufficient cause is shown and the reasons for grant of adjournment have been recorded in writing by the Forum: Provided further that the District Forum shall make such orders as to the costs occasioned by the adjournment as may be provided in the regulations made under this Act, provided also that in the event of a complaint being disposed of after the period so specified, the District Forum shall record in writing, the reasons for the same at the time of disposing of the said complaint".
But several district consumer forums remain non-functional for a long period due to non-appointment of members resulting in lack of quorum in these fora. Consequently, there is delay in dealing with complaints of the consumers. Thus "speedy and simple" redressal becomes slow and sluggish thus, jeopardising the very purpose for which the Act was enacted.
Here is an instance of inordinate delay of more than six months in delivering the verdict by a Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum that took more time than the stipulated period of three months as envisaged in the CPA.
A complaint of a widow (senior citizen) came up before a Consumer Forum. The notification of regulations dated 31st May, 2005 issued by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) mentions in Sub-section (6) under Clause 26: Miscellaneous, that “The cases filed by or against the senior citizens, physically challenged, widows and persons suffering from serious ailments shall be listed and disposed of on a priority basis". But in the above case, the complaint of a senior citizen widow was decided very late with the remarks mentioned in the end "Case could not be disposed of within the stipulated period due to heavy pendency of the cases in this Forum". This depicts the true picture of the present state of affairs of Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
Further, the cost of litigation or legal expenses allowed to the complainant by the Consumer Court was very much on the lower side. In several cases the litigation cost reimbursed is just INR 1000. Keeping in view the sky-rocketing prices, no advocate or legal advisor these days charges such a meager amount from the complainant/petitioner. So, the cost of litigation and legal expenses should be raised to at least INR 5000.
No doubt the CPA, 1986 arms the consumer to fight the battle against unfair trade practices, unsatisfactory, lax and deficient services and defective goods. But these should not made to be turn out as the proverbial toothless tiger.
Similarly, the RTI 2005 came into being to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of the Government, contain corruption and make our democracy work for the people in the real sense. An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority, the constitution of a Central Information Commission and State Information Commissions and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
But this Act is also losing its relevance. In most of the cases the PIOs/APIOs invariably flout the norms of this Act. They mostly provide incomplete, incorrect or late supply of information to the applicant. In several cases, these officials demand hefty and unreasonable cost of providing the desired information with the sole intention of either evading supply of information or delaying it inordinately.
Prime Minister Modi has already constituted a committee to identify the obsolete/unwanted laws that need to be repealed. The CPA and RTI should be implemented and strengthened in true letter and spirit and consumer disputes should be settled within the stipulated period of time as provided in the Act. Otherwise, these acts will soon lose their sheen and will join the ranks of many other such antiquated and outdated laws that are seldom enforced in the true sense.