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Easing Procedural Complexities of Consumer Complaints

Under Analysis – Neena Aneja & Ors V Jai Prakash Associates Ltd.(2021) SC 164 SHRADDHA TRIPATHIFaculty of Law, University of Delhi The enactment of the Consumer Protect Act, 2019 (hereinafter ‘Act of 2019’) has undermarked radical shifts pertaining to consumer dispute resolution procedures including an alteration to the pecuniary jurisdiction of various Consumer fora across the country. Pecuniary jurisdiction of consumer forum relates to the jurisdiction or the competency of the consumer forum to try a dispute based upon the pecuniary/monetary value of the services/products in relation to which the aggrieved consumer has approached the concerned forum. The newly instituted criteria of pecuniary jurisdiction made a significant shift from the earlier one. A repercussion of this was the emergence of a dilemma upon the jurisdiction of these fora in respect of already pending cases and the urge to arrive at an answer as to when exactly should the newly instituted criteria of pecuniary jurisdiction be adhered to. This uncertainty has been put to rest by the Supreme Court as well as the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, both having ruled upon the applicability of the concerned provisions of the Act of 2019 and Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (hereinafter ‘Act of 1986’) while deciding pecuniary jurisdiction of the Court. As per their aligned ruling Sections 34, 47 and 58, of the Act of 2019 shall have a prospective application, i.e., shall be effective post the enforcement. This implies that the provisions of the Act of 1986 shall remain in force for consumer complaints filed before the 20th of July, 2020. For consumer complaints filed prior to the 20th of July, 2020, jurisdiction of the Commission shall be determined in accordance with Sections 11, 17 and 21 of the Act of 1986. The 2-Judge Bench decision of the Apex Court in the matter of Neena Aneja and others vs Jai Prakash Associates Ltd.1, reasoned that: Sec 6(c) r/w 6(e) of the General Clauses Act provides- the right which has accrued on the date of the institution of the consumer complaint under the Act of 1986 (the repealing law) is preserved and that the enforcement of the right through the instrument of a legal proceeding or remedy will not be affected by the repeal. Thus, the conferred right to file a suit as per the previous Act of 1986 shall stay preserved with the consumer and any alterations shall not snatch the same. The Act of 2019 is silent on transfer of pending cases to the fora in accordance with the provisions of the same and therefore consideration should be given to its purpose. A retrospective application would lead to enormous hardship, uncertainty and expense for the consumer who would have to take the burden of undertaking another round of litigation from scratch, increasing their ordeals and not serving any purpose. The verdict evolved in the backdrop of mushrooming of products and services aided by global supply chains, e-commerce and international trade, thereby expanding the consumer market. Consequentially, consumers have acquired a greater access to new markets which renders them vulnerable to the ongoing menace of unfair and unethical trade practices. This when read with the intent of the legislation that seeks to provide “for protection of the interests of consumers” lead the court to declare a prospective application of the procedure, thereby digressing from the norm of retrospective application of procedural laws. Similarly, the Commission’s raison de etre (primary intention) in Ms. Narinder Chopra v. M/s. Jaiprakash Associated Limited2 has been to avoid any anomalous and absurd situation which shall eliminate method and workability in redressal of consumer complaints. While the retrospective or prospective application of the provisions of Act of 2019 was the primary issue in the above proceedings, the court acknowledged the enormous pendency of consumer cases across Indian fora demanding a speedy disposal of cases, else, preventing the legislation from turning futile. Interventions such as strengthening class action suits and adopting mediation as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism have also been mentioned by the court as essential components of the Act of 2019. This is suggestive of the legislature’s inclination to further the interest of the consumers and provide for a simpler & effective remedy to an already aggrieved consumer. The element of ‘ease of consumers’ has been noticed by the court playing a dominant role throughout the Act of 2019. The underpinned ‘consumer interest’ colouring the court’s interpretation of the Act of 2019 is noteworthy but in the contemporary scheme of facts does not reach far in the actual realization of consumer interests. Swift and speedy redressal mechanisms, man-power concerns of redressal and the infrastructural challenges ought to go beyond a mere acknowledgment towards actual rigorous transformation. Steps to ameliorate these problems need to be suggested, effectively implemented and later continued, followed & improved upon as per the need of the hour. Timely disposal of cases has a huge role in preventing consumer exploitation and serving consumer justice, as is aptly said: “Justice delayed is justice denied”. This consumer justice is not restricted to the concerned consumer-party but has a ripple effect in deterring the exploitative trade practices in the market. Delayed justice acts as a catalyst for expansion of ill-trade practices and their subsistence on account of lethargy & reckless attitude of the justice delivery mechanism. This, created psychology, can only be undercut by a rigorous overhauling and dedicated process that shall inspire faith of the consumers in the provided redressal mechanisms and uphold their interests thereby facilitating the purpose of the legislation, creating a positive impression about markets, market strategies and amicable seller-consumer relationships. Readers may refer to the table below for understanding the pecuniary jurisdiction of Commissions for the concerned goods & services: S. No Dates Pecuniary Jurisdiction 1. FOR CASES FILED BEFORE 20th July, 2020 A. District Forum– less than Rupees 20 lakhsB. State Commission– more than Rupees 20 lakhs but less than Rupees 1 croreC. National Commission– exceeding Rupees 1 crore 2. FOR CASES FILED FROM 20th July, 2020 A. District Forum–

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