‘Ad­journ­ment should not be a rule’

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - THE STORY -

Ad­vo­cate Shirish Desh­pande, Chair­man of the Mum­bai Gra­hak Pan­chayat, which is the largest con­sumer body in Asia, talks to DNA about the prob­lems of huge pen­dency in con­sumer courts. The pan­chayat has 33,000 mem­bers across the coun­try and has also as­sisted in re­vis­ing the ‘United Na­tions’ Guide­lines for Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion.

“There has to be a ma­jor change in the func­tion­ing of the con­sumer courts. It is time that the bench adopts a strict ap­proach of ‘no ad­journ­ments’ while hear­ing sim­ple con­sumer com­plaints, which are drag­ging in courts for years. Ad­journ­ments should be an ‘ex­cep­tion’ and not the ‘rule’.

I have, over the years, ob­served that judges/mem­bers of con­sumer courts and com­mis­sions are fol­low­ing civil court at­ti­tude and mak­ing pro­ce­dures more te­dious. In to­day’s time of the dig­i­tal era, it is im­per­a­tive for the bench to ac­cept and use tech­nol­ogy to re­duce the ever-grow­ing pen­dency. It is more es­sen­tial for the judges of the con­sumer courts to set an ex­am­ple for other courts to fol­low as they have a dead­line to dis­pose a com­plaint.

Time has come, when a com­plainant, sit­ting in some far off place can, by use of video con­fer­ence, ar­gue his/her own case. They need not be forced to travel or present du­pli­cate or trip­li­cate copies of their com­plaints and plead­ings to op­po­site par­ties. Us­ing email or be­ing able to up­load doc­u­ments on on­line plat­forms, which can be ac­cessed in a safe and se­cure on­line ecosys­tem, should be the norm.

The pro­ce­dure laid down un­der the ‘Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act’ is that a com­plaint is to be de­cided within 90 to a max­i­mum of 120 days. But in re­al­ity, is it hap­pen­ing? Ad­journ­ment of cases is given at a drop of a hat. The judges have to grant ad­journ­ments only in ex­cep­tional cases and on con­sid­er­a­tion of gen­uine rea­sons. How­ever, to­day, ad­journ­ment is a way of life in con­sumer courts, it is worth a study to see how many cases are ad­journed on a daily ba­sis in var­i­ous fo­rums.

Also, mul­ti­ple hear­ings of sim­ple cases on com­plaints re­gard­ing prop­erty mat­ters should not hap­pen. Why th­ese cases are lan­guish­ing for years, the con­sumer courts need to ex­plain. More­over, the de­lay in de­cid­ing the com­plaint is ad­van­ta­geous to the op­po­site party and not the com­plainant, who has trav­elled all the way to the court for a ser­vice which was due, but not given to him. No­body is mind­ful of this as­pect.

To­day, be­cause of ef­forts of con­sumer bod­ies like the Mum­bai Gra­hak Pan­chayat, oth­ers and the gov­ern­ment, there is am­ple aware­ness among cit­i­zens about their rights as con­sumers. A new Act, which is pro­posed, would fur­ther strengthen the rights of con­sumers, but the ef­forts are go­ing down the drain, due to no speedy dis­posal of cases. The en­tire ef­fort of cre­at­ing aware­ness will ‘boomerang’ if there is not timely dis­posal of com­plaints.

(As told to Mustafa Plumber)

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