Consumer courts pick up the pace after having their holidays cancelled

According to the Press Information Bureau, the number of cases pending in consumer commissions fell from 5.55 lakh in December 2022 to 5.45 lakh in September 2023.
According to the Press Information Bureau, the number of cases pending in consumer commissions fell from 5.55 lakh in December 2022 to 5.45 lakh in September 2023.

Summary

Since July 2020, national and state consumer forums have resolved more cases than have been filed, making inroads into their huge backlog of disputes, according to data available exclusively with Mint. Heads of state commissions taking leave had become a very common practice, an official said.

New Delhi: National and state consumer forums have resolved more cases than have been filed since the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) was set up almost four years ago, making inroads into the huge backlog of pending disputes.

According to data available exclusively with Mint, 4,15,104 cases have been filed and 4,40,971 disposed of since the CCPA was launched in July 2020, marking a disposal rate of 106.23%. This trend is reflected in the absolute number of pending cases. According to the Press Information Bureau, the number of cases pending in consumer commissions fell from 5.55 lakh in December 2022 to 5.45 lakh in September 2023.

One of the reasons for this is that the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) started suspending summer vacations for state commissions in 2022 on the recommendations of the consumer affairs ministry, two officials said. This month, justice (retd) Sangita Dhingra Sehgal, president of the Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, was asked to cancel her summer vacation, they added.

Vacation’s over

One of the officials said, “State commissions taking leave had become a very common practice. We began addressing this issue in 2022, after seeing the significant backlog of cases at various courts."

“We brought the matter to the notice of the NCDRC and it acted according to the provisions of the CCPA. The act clearly states that all commissions will follow the holiday schedule prescribed by the state government," the official added. “Since there is no provision for a summer vacation in any state offices, the NCDRC directed all commissions to adhere to the norms and continue functioning."

The second official said, “The commissions had a habit of taking leave during summer breaks, similar to various courts, including high courts and the Supreme Court." Summer breaks for courts start from the third week of May and end in the first week of July. This year the vacation started on 20 May and hearings are scheduled to resume on 8 July.

The official added, "Another key initiative that the ministry of consumer affairs has taken to reduce pendency is the introduction of e-courts. In March, of the 10 benches of the NCDRC, only one was operating online." Now, the official added, most of the 35 state consumer dispute redressal commissions hear cases online.

Ashim Sanyal, chief operating officer and secretary of Consumer VOICE, a consumer rights organisation, said, “It’s a good move and a lesson that every other quasi-judicial body needs to follow. The mandate of the CCPA is very different from that of courts. Its key focus area is protecting the rights of consumers and addressing their grievances within the stipulated time."

Queries emailed to the consumer affairs ministry were not immediately answered.

The turnaround in numbers

The NCDRC handles cases in which the amount in dispute exceeds 2 crore, while SCDRCs handle cases between 50 lakh and 2 crore.

In 2021, the NCDRC received 2,449 cases and resolved 2,011. After holidays for commissions were suspended, 3,420 cases were filed and 4,138 cases resolved in 2022. In 2023, 5,276 cases were filed and 6,422 resolved. As of 31 May 31 2024, 1,796 cases were filed and 3,778 cases resolved across the 10 NCDRC benches.

Of 1,48,418 cases filed in all consumer commissions in 2021, only 99,073 were resolved. However, In 2022, 1,83,723 cases were resolved against 1,74,271 cases filed. This trend continued in 2023, with 1,86,672 cases resolved compared to 1,71,218 filed. As of 31 May 31 2024, consumer commissions have resolved 70,576 cases while 69,615 have been filed.

“Since its inception, the CCPA has issued various guidelines and regulations for protection of consumers including guidelines against surrogate advertisements, gambling, 'dark patterns', and misleading advertisements. These are likely to have had a positive impact by lowering the number of cases and protecting consumers from unfair trade practices and false and misleading advertisements," said Manmeet Kaur, partner, Karanjawala & Co, a law firm.

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