Consumer dispute redressal forums have been established for the settlement of grievances of dissatisfied consumers. This can be done at three levels:
1. District forum
2. State commission
3. National consumer disputes redressal forum
The District forum has jurisdiction over complaints where compensation claimed does not exceed Rupees Five Lakhs. Procedure for filing complaints
This is defined in Section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act: The complaint can be filed by:
- The patient, who in this case is the “Consumer” who has availed the service of the doctor.
- Any recognized consumer association on behalf of the patient
- Numerous consumers who have been affected by the deficient service
- Central or State Government.
Given below is a flow chart on the procedure followed once the District Forum receives a patient’s complaint…
- Patient files complaint with District Forum
- District Forum receives complaint and gives notice and copy of complaint to opposite party
- Opposite party has to respond with his version in 30 days
- If the Opposite party fails to respond in 30 days, a further grace period of 15 days is given
At the end of this time, the District forum settles the dispute irrespective of the opposing party’s response. The hearing will be conducted by the President of the Forum and at least one other member, sitting together.
Sometimes the doctor may acknowledge and admit to the complaint instead of defending himself. In such instances, the District Forum can pass a consent order in favour of the Complainant after ensuring no force or influence was used in obtaining the Doctor’s admittance.
If the opposite party responds appropriately but the complainant does not present himself for the hearing, the District Forum may discuss the complaint or pass a decision on its own accord.
The District Forum has certain powers similar to the Supreme Court, vested in it by the Consumer Protection Act. They are…
- Summoning and examining witnesses under oath
- Ordering Presentation of any relevant documents as evidence
- Receipt of evidence on affidavits
- Requisitioning for relevant laboratory analysis or tests
- Witnesses may be punished for perjury and contempt of court as well in a District Forum
- Any person dissatisfied with the decision of the District Forum may appeal to the State Commission within thirty days from the date of the order.
The state commission has jurisdiction over disputes where compensation ranges from five lakh rupees to twenty lakh rupees
It also has the power to address appeals against decisions of the District forums and cases pending in the same. The procedure followed for registering a complaint and ensuing protocol is the same as that followed in the District Forum
If a person is aggrieved by the result of the hearing in the State commission, he may appeal against it to the National consumer Dispute Redressal Forum within a period of 30 days.
The National commission has jurisdiction over cases where the value of the service rendered or the compensation exceeds rupees twenty lakhs. It has the power to take up cases that are pending in the state commission. It also addresses appeals made against the decisions passed by the state commissions. The President of the National Commission has to be a retired Judge of the Supreme Court.
Parties aggrieved by the order of the National Commission may appeal one step further, to the Supreme Court, within a period of thirty days from the passage of the order
Some salient features of cases dealt with under the Consumer Protection Act are as follows
- The Limitation Act states that a complaint has to be filed within a period of two years from the date on which the cause of action arises.
- A delay may be entertained if the concerned forum feels that such a delay has been justified.
- There is no court Fee required in cases that are addressed in any of the fora. However, an appeal to the Supreme Court required a fixed court fee of Rs.250.
- Once a decision is made, the relevant order can be enforced by the forum or sent to a court of enforcement.
- A check is kept on frivolous complaints and these may be dismissed by the concerned forum, if a valid reason is stated. In addition, a fine of up to rupees ten thousand may be imposed on the complainant.
- A person who fails to comply with the order may face imprisonment from one month to three years or fine ranging from rupees two thousand to rupees ten thousand or both.