MINUTES OF THE CONFERENCE OF PRESIDENTS OF STATE COMMISSIONS AND SECRETARIES IN-CHARGE OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS IN THE STATE/UT GOVERNMENTS, ORGANIZED BY THE NATIONAL CONSUMER DISPUTES REDRESSAL COMMISSION ON THE OCCASION OF WORLD CONSUMER RIGHTS DAY ON 14TH AND 15TH MARCH, 2009 AT HALL NO.5, VIGYAN BHAVAN, NEW DELHI.
The Conference commenced with lighting of a lamp and honouring of guests by presenting bouquets.
Mrs. Rajyalakshmi Rao, Hon’ble Member of the National Commission welcomed Hon’ble Shri H.R. Bhardwaji, Union Minister for Law and Justice, Hon’ble Dr. Arijit Pasayatji, Judge, Supreme Court of India and other distinguished guests. While welcoming the guests she informed that this is the time we come together to interact and assess the ground realities on various issues, such as the difficulties being faced by the Consumer Forums. Thereafter, she shared some of the achievements of the National Commission and stated that many decisions are given by the Commission to help the hapless consumers. She suggested that it is very important to curb unethical practices adopted by the educational institutions, builders, manufacturers, retailers etc. She also dealt with the medical negligence cases and shared the important judgments delivered by Supreme Court on the subject. Further, she informed the gathering that under dynamic leadership of our President Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ashok Bhan, the backlog of cases have been brought down in the National Commission considerably and he is ensuring that all five Benches are committed to tackle the issue.
Shri Rakesh Kacker, Additional Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India addressed the participants and informed that the Central Government is doing its best to render financial assistance to the State Governments for providing infrastructure as well as financial assistance to the Consumer Forums. Similarly, for computerization, the Central Government has launched a scheme under the ‘Confonet Project’ to computerize the Consumer Forums all over the country. The Consumer Forums should try to dispose off cases as stipulated under the Act.
After welcoming the distinguished guests, the President of the National Commission informed the background to the evolution of Consumer Protection as also what we have done to achieve that, and where do we go from here? Due to the international character of trade and industry- having well organized and highly professionalzed producers and sellers on one hand and the illiterate and unorganised consumers with little time on the other, - the exploitation of consumers is inevitable, the exploitation of consumers cannot be avoided without the development of international consumer protection movement. As a sequel to resolution of United Nation’s General Assembly, India was almost the first country in the World to enact “Consumer Protection Act 1986”, which was made effective from 1987. He further informed that the Consumer Protection infrastructure has now been in place for over 22 years and we can look back with some satisfaction over the performance of the different Consumer Forums. Presently, 628 District Forums, 34 State Commissions and the National Commission are functioning in the country. It should be matter of some satisfaction that out of about total 31 lakh cases filed so far by the consumers, over 27 lakh cases have been disposed off by the different Fora. This is, despite inadequacies in the system resulting in inadequate infrastructure and financial support at different levels especially at the level of District Forum(s) and State Commissions. The Central Government is trying its best to provide financial assistance to the Consumer Fora but lot more remains to be done. Thereafter, he analysed the position of functional and non-functional Fora in the country. He emphasized the need for awareness among the masses through the ‘print’ and ‘electronic’ media. The Department of Consumer Affairs could consider evaluating the effects of its efforts in raising the awareness of the common consumer about his rights.
‘Information’ lies at the heart of the essential problem of consumer protection as a distinct policy area. The information base has also to keep pace with the fast changing instruments that are available in the market as also the fallout of technological changes within the market. He stressed that the development of Consumer Protection Policy should be organized around the central importance of information and information costs in consumer transactions and in the design and implementation of policy itself. In the first place, there is a need to fill in the gap between what a consumer ‘intended’ / expected, and what the consumer in fact got from a particular transaction. Consumer Protection policy based on information analysis attends to the cost of information across different regulatory options and can be focused on the feasibility, in the light of information costs, of bringing consumer expectations and intentions in line with consumer realizations. It is by now well appreciated that by attending to the information basis of consumer problems and the information costs and impacts of varying approaches to addressing these problems, consumer protection policy can best respond to the demands of a world of increasingly diverse consumer choice and increasingly complex market structures.
At last, the President of the National Commission observed that information and awareness are the two legs on which the whole concept of consumer protection stands on. Some steps to this effect have already been initiated, but more needs to be done so that the consumer becomes the ‘King’, and hoped that our pledge of consumer protection is realized in substantial measure in the days to come. The President summed up his speech by quoting Robert Frost’s:
“The woods are lovely dark and deep
And I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Hon’ble Dr.Arijit Pasayat, Judge,Supreme Court of India while giving his address observed that the Consumer Protection Act was intended as a quick and speedy measure to tackle the problems of the consumers but experiences have shown that instead of speedy disposal mechanism, it has taken its roots like other modes of disposal. Although, the Consumer Forums have disposed of 27 lakh cases out of 31 lakh cases but in some States cases are pending for more than ten years. The main reason for non-disposal of cases in time is due to lack of infrastructure as well as non-filling up the vacancies in time. Further, a serious dispute which could come before the Forum is not coming because it is not known how long it will take to get a verdict in favour of the consumer. Somebody has rightly said, a simple man who has spent his life long earnings by investing in a flat, has to fight a real battle right from the District Forum, State Commission and then National Commission. He suggested that apart from the consumer bodies in the Districts and States, the Legal Services Authorities of various States could play an important role, because legal education, legal awareness about the consumer protection, which the Consumer Forums cannot do, but the Legal Service Authority can do it. He requested all the Presidents of the State Commissions to explore this possibility, discuss with their counterparts in the State Legal Authority for organizing awareness camps. He highlighted the medical negligence cases. Finally, he congratulated the President of the National Commission and his team of Members, who have given a new fillip to the National Commission and the Presidents of the State Commissions are doing wonderful work notwithstanding the lack of infrastructure, lack of facilities and what not.
Shri H.R. Bhardwaj, Hon’ble Minister for Law and Justice, while inaugurating the Conference informed that he drafted the Consumer Protection Bill on the advice of the then Prime Minister for redressal of the consumer grievances. He expressed his happiness that after passing of the Act, the law on Consumer Protection Act has developed to such an extent that people are getting quick justice and the Consumer Fora are disposing off cases quickly. He appreciated the pioneered work of Honb’le Mr. Justice V.Balakairhsna Eradi, the first President of the National Commission, for his singular contribution in developing the case-law in the field of Consumer Protection. Thereafter, Hon’ble Mr. Justice M.B. Shah took lot of interest in developing the law on consumer protection. He appreciated the work of the Members of the Consumer Fora. He expressed that sufficient resources are not being given, and this is the tragedy of justice in our country that access to justice has been given in a big way, but the infrastructure, and judicial manpower has always been lacking. Unless you employ more judicial manpower, you will meet with the docket explosion in this country. As a Minister of Law and Justice, I am trying my best to do justice by increasing the strength of Judges, providing court-rooms and other infrastructure. He observed that Supreme Court and High Courts should not be burdened and Commissions and Tribunals should be established for speedy justice. A very reasonable amount should be paid to the Members of the Consumer Forums. We have to devise the method of quick justice to the public and Consumer Forums are one of them. There should be a constitutional court as Supreme Court of India, there should be a court of Appeal, for miscellaneous, civil and criminal cases like in England. After all whatever we are running is after all a ‘common-law system’ and again I must emphasis the common law was not built by a statute or a Constitution. This was made by the Judges and lawyers by a continued struggle and revolution until Parliament got its full power. He further emphasized that a Government which does not invest in judiciary, will not earn the respect of its people. The Hon’ble Minister further observed that we should find ways and means to address their problems and awakening must come, if you want to rate India as one of the most modern countries in 2020. For achieving this object, we have to upgrade the knowledge also. Without knowledge, there cannot be refinement of mind. Knowledge, alone is a great purifier. He praised the working of the Consumer Fora. Lastly, he observed that the Tribunals must be encouraged, their Members should be adequately paid and their infrastructure should be very respectable place to sit.
Hon’ble Mr. Justice R.C. Jain, Member of the National Commission gave a Vote of Thanks.
(15th March, 2009)
The Business session was chaired by the Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ashok Bhan, President of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Comission.
Before commencement of discussion on the agenda items, Hon’ble Mr. Justice R.K. Batta, Member, National Commission welcomed the participants. He stated that in view of the tremendous increase in the filing of the cases before all Fora, it is absolutely essential that we should start utilizing alternative redressal system in a very big way. We can take advantage of the situation and try to settle as many as cases as possible through Lok Adalats. Justice Batta suggested that we must have a balanced approach and the frivolous litigations must be curbed with heavy hand. He complimented the Government for the slogan “Jago Grahak Jago” which has reached to the masses. He further observed that we have to take care of the mini/micro prints in which the insurance policies are given to the consumers, which are not readable and the print on the medicines on which even the constituents of the medicine cannot be read, because they are written in such small words that you cannot read them. He also felt the need of conferring suo moto power on the President of the National Commission to deal with the cases of unfair trade practices such as misleading advertisements. He also apprised about the importance of Action Taken Report on the implementation of the resolutions. He stressed the need of placing ATRs before the next conference so that it could determine as to what was the success of the last Conference.
The Hon’ble President, National Commission, in his introductory address, informed that the National Commission has received ATRs only from five State Commissions, namely, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Punjab. It has been reported in the ATRS that whatever was in their jurisdiction or within their power, they have already done and unfortunately, the other State Commissions have not responded. He requested the Additional Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India to address a communication to the Secretaries, Department of Consumer Affairs of the States/UTs to apprise the National Commission about the ATRs. The Presidents of the State Commissions were also requested to keep the National Commission informed about the implementation of the resolutions and/or action taken on the resolutions
The Hon’ble President further informed that so far 31 lakh cases have been filed in various Consumer Fora, out of which 27 lakh cases have been disposed off. The remaining 4 lakh cases could also have been disposed off, had appropriate infrastructure been provided as also, the vacancies filled up on time.
The Central Government under the integrated project has made a provision for a grant for construction of the building of the State Commissions and the District Forums. But the said grant is subject to the allotment of land free of cost by the State Governments to the respective State Commissions and District Forums in the States.
Further, the President National Commission analyzed the reasons of large number of pending cases in some State Commissions such as Uttar Pradesh (32605) Haryana (15101), Maharasshtra (17,755), Orissa (7,160). The President of National Commission informed that the rate of disposal of the cases by the National Commission and the State Commissions is 83.10% and 75.88% respectively. The Disposal rate of the State Commissions Orissa, Maharashtra and UP is 60.07%, 60.81 and 40.10%. In the U.P. State Commission, there are only two Benches, whereas four or five more Benches are required.
The President National Commission observed that to fill up the post of Presidents and Members in the District Forums and the State Commissions, the State Government should make a ‘standing panel’. The President and Members of the District Forums, who have very good record, should be considered for re-appointment. Further, if there is vacancy in a particular District Forum, that Forum should be temporarily clubbed with the neighbouring District Forum, so that consumer do not suffer for want of action on the part of the authority.
Apart from above, the District Forums and the State Commissions are facing acute shortage of staff, particularly, Stenographers. The State Commissions can consider engaging the services of such persons through contractual arrangements. For that, funds should be provided by the State Governments. The Consumer Fora should have complete financial independence with sufficient budgetary allocation.
In some of the States, the President and Members of the District Forums are paid very meager amount. In the last Conference a resolution was passed and a Committee under the Chairmanship of Hon’ble Dr. P.D. Shenoy, Member National Commission was constituted, which has already given its report but no action has been taken on the same.
Shri Rakesh Kacker, Additional Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India informed that the Department of Consumer Affairs have circulated a draft to the amendment in the Consumer Protection, wherein certain changes have been proposed to make the Act more effective. He further informed that so far as the problem of infrastructure is concerned, there are two schemes, which have been running through the 10th Plan and that they have got extension for running them upto the first two years of the 11th Plan and now both the schemes are over. The Central Government is in the process of proposing fresh schemes for 11th Plan. For the integrated project, the Department has received the evaluation report and for the Confonet i.e. computer related programme, they have received interim report and are hoping to get the final report very soon.
Mr. Kacker further informed that under the Integrated Project, which is basically for ‘buildings’ and also for creating of non-building assets, the Department has got proposals from half a dozen States for release of the second installment, which means that they have come up to the minimum mark of utilization of the first installment. With regard to the building, there is problem of availability of land. He has also informed that there is a provision of Rs.10 Crores in the Plan while they have got the proposal for more than 12 crores.
As regards the Scheme i.e. Confonet, it is closed and whatever funds were marked in the 10th Plan have completely been utilized. Since the Technical Support persons (TSPs) have been withdrawn, the State Commissions and the District Forums are facing problems. The Presidents of several State Commissions requested that period for TSPs should be extended.
Thereafter, discussion on the agenda items were started.
At the outset, the President, National Commission suggested that the President of the State Commissions should also organize a Conference in their States of the President and Members of the District Forums. In such a Conference, the Minister concerned, President/Member of the National Commission and Secretary/Additional Secretary or his nominee should also be invited which would help in sorting out several problems being faced by the Consumer Forums.
The President of the Andhra Pradesh State Commission informed that many of the resolutions passed in the previous Conferences were sent to the Government and the Government had given positive response and that there is no vacancy of the Presidents/Members in the District Forum in the States.
The President of the J & K State Commission informed that he had given in writing to the State Government the problems being faced by the State Commission. He suggested that the funds allotted by the Central Government should come directly to the State Commission and not to go to the State Government and that there should be some accountability for the expenditure of the funds allotted by the Central Government. The Secretary, Consumer Affairs, Govt. of J & K informed that all the accounts are audited and that he had also convened a meeting with regard to the problems being faced with regard to the building.
The President of the Himachal State Commission expressed his difficulty in getting the building constructed for the District Forum at Kullu and that the funds are also lying with the State Government. In spite of the request having been made for transfer of money allotted for construction of building, the money was not being transferred. He requested that the State Government may be directed to transfer the money. The Presidents of the other State Commissions, who were present in the Conference raised certain issues on the subject.
While participating in the discussion, it was emphasized that the Court Management System be developed by the Consumer Fora and only a requisite number of cases be listed for hearing, which can be heard and disposed of on a particular day. Similarly, as per Regulation No.19(1) of the Consumer Protection Regulation, 2005, a Consumer Forum is expected to dispose off at least 75-100 cases every month. While analyzing the statements, it is found that the Consumer Forums are not adhering to the said limit. The Consumer Forums should also dispose of the cases within the time limit as stipulated in the Act and it will be the responsibility of the President of the State Commissions to monitor the disposal of cases by each District Forum on a monthly basis. Mr. B.K. Taimni, Hon’ble Member, National Commission suggested that the old cases should get priority.
During the course of the discussion, the Hon’ble President reiterated that a Standing Panel be prepared, well in advance for filling up the posts of Presidents & Members in the District Fora, and also if any District Forum becomes non-functional due to vacancy of President or any Member, the same District Forum may be clubbed with the neighboring District Forum. He emphasized that to reduce the arrears of cases for speedy disposal of cases, alternative-mode(s) should also be explored. The participants also raised the issue of providing more funds under the Integrated Project because the funds allotted under the said scheme were not sufficient.
Dr. Ranjana Nagpal, Senior Technical Director, NIC gave detailed presentation regarding the status of the Confonet Project. She informed that the Confonet Project came into operation after signing of the MOU with the State Governments in July, 2005. She informed that the NCDRC, 34 State Commissions and 593 District Fora have been supplied with the required Computer System with peripherals and software.
She further informed that one major component is the post of Technical Support Person (TSP) at these locations. The State Commissions & District Forums have been provided Senior Programmer and Junior Programmer. The TSPS were identified through the contracting agency of the NIC and they were trained by the central and local teams through E-learning sessions. The job of the TSPs is to upload the software and to train the local people. She has also informed that the TSPs have been provided for a defined period, and after that, the Consumer Fora should make their own arrangements for maintaining the computer system.
Shri Kacker, Additional Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India informed that under the new scheme it has been proposed to have Technical Support Personnel at all locations during first year i.e. 2009-10, reduce their number to half during second year of the Scheme and to ⅓rd during the third year of the Scheme.
Dr. Suresh Misra, Chair Professor & Co-ordinator, Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), informed that the IIPA has been organizing orientation training programme for the President and Members of the District Forum since 1994 duly financed by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Government of India. In order to improve the training programme and to make it more effective and need based, the National Commission was entrusted the job to co-ordinate, guide the training programme from July, 2003 onwards. He further informed that every year four (i.e. one every quarter) training programmes are organized by the IIPA. Generally, two programmes are organized at IIPA’s Headquarter and two Programmes are conducted outside the Headquarter, which depends upon the institution support for boarding lodging for 30-45 people. Dr. Misra apprised that normally they get the nominations for 30-45 people, but actually only 15-20 persons turn up. The Hon’ble President National Commission impressed upon the Presidents of the State Commissions to ensure the participation of the nominees from their State. A suggestion was made to Shri Misra that Computer Training may also be made a part of the training programme.
Hon’ble Dr. P.D. Shenoy, Member National Commission summed up the proceedings of the Conference and gave Vote of Thanks.
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