The Consumer Protection Act 1986 provides three tier adjudication of disputes between the complainant and the opposite party. These adjudication bodies are (1) District Forum, (2) State Commission and (3) National Commission. Hierarchy-wise District Forum is the lowest redressal agency. The District Forum consists of three members: the President and two members. The President will be a judicial member and members are non-judicial persons, who have knowledge and experience of minimum ten years dealing with the problems relating to economics, law, commerce, accountancy, industry, public affairs or administration with a bachelor degree from a recognized university and who is not below the age of 35 years. One of the members shall be a woman. They must be persons of ability, integrity and standing.
The District Forum has powers to entertain complaints, where the value of goods, services or compensation claimed does not exceed Rs.Twenty lakhs. Apart from financial jurisdiction, the District Forum has territorial jurisdiction. A complaint may be lodged in District Forum within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the opposite party and if there are more than one opposite party, each of the opposite party normally resides or carries on business or has a branch office or personally works for gain at the time of institution of complaint, or any of the opposite parties where there are more than one, normally resides or carries on business, or has a branch office or personally works for gain. Permission of the District Forum is necessary or alternatively the other opposite parties who do not reside in the jurisdiction of the District Forum have to agree for such filing of complaint. Even the complaint may be filed in District Forum in whose jurisdiction is the whole or part of cause of action arises.
The limitation period is two years from the date on which cause of action has arisen. The Forum may permit filing of the complaint even after the limitation period of two years, if the complainant satisfies the forum about the sufficient reasons / causes for delay in filing the complaint. However, the forum has to record reasons for having waived the limitation period. Consumer Protection Act 1986 has prescribed certain procedures for filing a complaint with the District forum. The complaint shall be within the pecuniary and territorial jurisdiction and shall be within the limitation period. The complaints along with the supporting documents shall be filed before the District forum, in addition to as many copies as the number of respondents.
The District Forum entertains complaints, which are related to goods sold, or agreed to be sold or delivered or to any services provided or agreed to be provided. The complainant; i.e. the person who files complaint must be a consumer to whom goods are sold or agreed to be sold or delivered, any services provided or agreed to be provided. Any recognized consumer association may also prefer a complaint. It is not necessary that the consumer who has actually suffered should be a member of such an association. In case there are more than one consumer, where all the consumers have common interest, any one may file a complaint with the permission of forum. The Central or State Government may file a complaint in its individual capacity or as a representative of consumer interests in general. Each and every complaint to the District Forum shall have proof for having paid the prescribed fee.
Depending upon the merits of the case, the forum may accept the complaint or reject it. But no complaint will be rejected unless an opportunity is provided to the complainant to present his case. The District Forum has to decide about the admissibility of the complaint within twenty-one days of receipt of complaint. When once the complaint is admitted by the District Forum, it shall not be transferred to any other court, tribunal or authority set-up under any law, which is in force for the time being.
After admission of complaint, the district forum forwards the copy of the admitted complaint to the opposite party, within twenty-one days of admission of complaint, for submission of his version of the case. The opposite party has to submit his version of the case within thirty days. This period may be extended by another fifteen days at the discretion of the forum.