‘Adjournment should not be a rule’
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)