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Determining Whether You Are A “Consumer” Under The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) As the great economist,Adam Smith rightly said,“Human wants are unlimited”. These unlimited wants resulted in humans constantly consuming not just the natural resources but even man-made goods and services. We start consuming right from the time we enter this world,things like,milk,clothes,water,soap,etc.,and consumption of natural resources,goods and services keep increasing,as we grow older. Therefore by virtue of this need for consumption all of us are consumers if the term consumer is literally interpreted. In a country like India,where the population is increasing day by day,the number of consumers is also increasing. In order to meet the demands of the increasing number of consumer,the numbers of suppliers are also growing and the existing suppliers are burdened to meet the demands of the consumers.As consumers,people go into the market to purchase good quality products and with the expectation that the supplier is selling them quality products for the money they give in exchange for the product. But sometimes the sellers or suppliers in order to meet the demands of the customer subscribe to unfair trade practices like selling defected goods or in case of food products adulterating these food products. In such cases,the consumer has to incur a loss as well suffer due to the usage of such defected or adulterated products. Consumers in India too face this issue and the Government of India in order to protect the rights and interest of consumers enacted various laws. Laws such as the Sale of Goods Act,the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act,the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Act,the Dangerous Drugs Act,the Indian Standards Institution (Certification Marks) Act,the Indian Contract Act,etc. These Acts to a certain extent protect the rights and interests of the consumer. But in order to initiate an action against the faulty seller or service provider the consumers are required to approach the civil courts and this process is very time consuming and expensive. Therefore the Government of India enacted the Consumer Protection Act,1986 to provide a quicker and simpler access to the remedy or redressal of consumer disputes and grievances. The Consumer Protection Act introduced the concept of ‘consumer’ and conferred express and additional rights on the consumer. It is important to note that the Consumer Protection Act does not protect the rights and interests every consumer who comes under the ambit of the literal meaning of the term ‘consumer’. Only the person coming under the ambit of the definition of the consumer under the Consumer Protection Act is protected and conferred with rights under the Act. As mentioned earlier the aim of the Consumer Protection Act is to protect and safeguard the rights and interests of consumers and initiate legal action against suppliers who cheat the consumers. The Consumer Protection Act provides a mechanism,whereby consumers can file complaints against suppliers who harassed and cheated them. Such complaints should be filed in the Consumer Forums,such Consumer Forums have special powers to take action against suppliers who cheat and harass consumers. Such Consumer Forums also have the powers to direct the supplier to pay compensation to the consumer/consumers who have suffered due to the supplier/suppliers. Unlike in civil cases,the consumer here need not pay any court fees nor does the consumer need to hire a lawyer to represent him/her in the Consumer Forum. Therefore it is not only quick and simple method of resolving consumer disputes but it is also economical. The Consumer Protection Act does not protect and safeguard the rights and interests of all consumers,only the consumers as defined under section 2 (1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act. According to section 2 (1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act,a consumer is any person,who “buys any goods for a consideration,which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised that is paid for.” Consideration means a price or money amount paid for any goods that are purchased. The definition of consumer under his section also includes,a user of such goods who is using the goods with permission of the buyer or a person who has purchased or obtained the goods under any system of deferred payment. But any person who has purchased or obtained goods for resale or for commercial purposes is not covered under the definition of consumer under this section. The definition of consumer under this section is not just restricted to the purchase of goods but it also includes any person who avails or hires any services for a consideration,which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised. It includes any person who is a beneficiary of services who has availed the services with the approval of the person who has hired the services and any person who has availed or hired services under any system of deferred payment. As already mentioned any person who buys goods or avails or hires any services for commercial purposes is not included in the definition of consumer under section 2 (1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act. Just like how the definition of consumer under the Consumer Protection Act does not include all consumers,similarly the term ‘commercial purposes’ used in the Act does not include all commercial purpose,there are a few exceptions. Any person buying goods or hiring or availing any services for self-employment,for his own use or for the purpose of earning his/her livelihood will not come under the ambit of the term commercial purpose and therefore will be considered as a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act. For example,if a person purchases a car,auto or bus and uses it as public transport by driving it himself then he will be a consumer as per the definition of the Consumer Protection Act. But if such a person purchases a car,auto or bus and uses it as public transport by hiring a driver then this will be considered as commercial purpose and he will not be considered as a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act.The reason for excluding commercial purpose from the ambit of the definition of consumer under the Consumer Protection Act is to exclude big companies and business enterprises carrying on business with profit motive from the purview of the Act. At the same time to save and protect the interests and rights of small consumers who buy goods for self-employment to earn their livelihood,like a taxi driver buying a car to run it as a taxi,or a rickshaw puller buying rickshaw for self employment,or a baker buying flour to make bread,or a farmer purchasing fertilizer for his crops,etc.Now that we know who can be considered as a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act,it is important to understand the procedure to file a complaint or to initiate a legal action against the supplier or seller under the Consumer Protection Act. As mentioned earlier the Consumer Protection Act provides a mechanism,whereby consumers can file complaints against suppliers who harassed and cheated them. Such complaints should be filed in the Consumer Forums,such Consumer Forums have special powers to take action against suppliers who cheat and harass consumers. There are three Consumer Forums,the District Consumer Forum or Commission,the State Consumer Forum or Commission and the National Consumer Forum or Commission. The appropriate forum to approach in case the goods purchased or the services availed is less than 20 lakhs,is the District Consumer Forum or Commission. If the goods purchased or the services availed is between 20 lakhs-1crore then the consumer needs to approach the State Consumer Forum or Commission. If it’s more than 1crore then consumer needs need to approach the National Consumer Forum or Commission.If the consumer is not satisfied with the decision of the District Consumer Forum or Commission,an appeal can be filed against the decision or order in the State Consumer Forum or Commission within a period of 30 days. The same time period applies for filing an appeal against the decision or order of the State Consumer Forum or Commission in the National Consumer Forum or Commission. If the consumer is still not satisfied with the decision or order of the National Consumer Forum or Commission,then such a consumer can approach the Supreme Court of India or the Apex Court for redressal,and the Supreme Court can entertain an appeal within 30 days from the decision or order of the National Commission.Section 2(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act defines a complaint. A complain according to the Consumer Protection Act is an a complaint consisting of accusations or allegations against,defective goods sold or by the supplier,or the service provided is defective,or unfair or restrictive trade practices are followed by the supplier,or if the seller or supplier is selling dangerous or hazardous goods in public,or if the seller or supplier has charged a higher rate for the goods sold or services availed. In order to file a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act,it is essential for the person filing a complaint to be a consumer as defined under the Consumer Protection Act. The consumer must also show that the goods were purchased or the services were availed for a consideration or in other words money was paid in exchange for the goods purchased or services availed. Section 2(1)(d) and section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act allows a consumer,or one or more consumers having the same interest,or the Central Government or any State Government,or any voluntary consumer association registered under the Companies Act,1956 or under any other statue or provision of law that is valid at time of filing the complaint. Although it is not mandatory to hire the best consumer lawyer in India,or best advocate to represent the consumer or the person filing the complaint in any of the Consumer Forums,it is important to consult and seek assistance from the best lawyer,or best consumer advocate in India who has experience and is an expert in consumer cases. Such a best lawyer or top advocate In india will not only be able to assist the consumer or the person filing the complaint regarding the appropriate forum to approach but such a best lawyer,or best advocate will also be able to draft the complaint for the consumer or the person filing the complaint. Therefore the first step would be to approach the best lawyer,or top advocate in india who is an expert in consumer cases in the city where the consumer or the person filing the complaint is living or residing.
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