The Consumer Ministry, both at the central as well as state level, is the most “neglected” despite mandate to take care of 1.23 crore consumers, Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said on Saturday. Expressing concern about vacant posts and lack of infrastructure at state and district consumer courts, the Consumer Affairs Minister appreciated their efforts in disposing of 41 lakh cases in the last 30 years despite poor facilities.
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Paswan urged the state governments to provide adequate facilities for smooth functioning of these courts as there is expected to be a “flood” cases after the new Consumer Protection Bill gets passed in Parliament. The government has made sweeping changes in the bill to protect consumer rights.
“I had told the Prime Minister in the first meeting that we have 1.23 crore population and all are consumers, but the Department has been most neglected, be it at Centre or state level,” Paswan said at an event organised to celebrate the National Consumer Day in New Delhi.
It is commendable that the consumer courts have been able to dispose of 41 lakh cases since the 1986 when the Consumer Protection law was enacted, Ram Vilas Paswan said. “But, the number is still less. There are two-three reasons. One is that the posts to fill 200 members are still lying vacant. There is no adequate infrastructure provided and salary is also an issues.”
In a federal structure, the state governments have to address these issues and the central government has time and again reminded them to fix these gaps, he said. Asserting that a lot more needs to be done to create awareness about consumer rights, he said states and the industry should take proactive step to redress grievances.
Consumer helplines have been set up, the number of such centres although being increased, still many consumers do not know where to file the complaints, he said. Talking about alternative dispute resolution (ADR), the minister said the mediation route for resolving consumer disputes should be done fast and justice should be delivered fast to affected party.
Observing that mediation is not an effective ADR tool to redress consumer cases, National Consumers Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) President D K Jain said: “I am not saying mediation as ADR will not work. I have certain reservations. It may not be that effective. “Mediation in consumer disputes is fraught with bottlenecks … In mediation, there is big gap of bargaining power as consumer is represented in person in most cases, while the other side is represented by big lawyers.”
He said mediation cannot be ADR as Consumer Protection Act was legislated as ADR. “Mediation can only supplement and not sub-plant the Act,” he said, adding that there is a need to change the basic mindset of seller/service provide who are more keen in prolonging cases to the detriment of consumer. “The expected results of mediation will come out only if this mindset changed,” he