While there has been a phenomenal rise in e-commerce, redressal of complaints was always been a sore area. For example, earlier, if an individual had made a purchase from Delhi and was unhappy with the product or service, the case could only be filed in the city where the company’s registered office was situated, say Bengaluru.
Things have become a lot simpler. The Supreme Court recently upheld the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission’s (NCDRC’s) order, which clarified from where an individual could file a complaint against an e-commerce company. A consumer can file a complaint in the city where he made the transaction or at the forum where the office of the company is located, according to the NCDRC’s and state forum’s orders.
“We have been asking consumer fora to consider this for a long time. Going by the Consumer Protection Act, they always asked us to file a complaint with the consumer forum where the office of the e-commerce
company was located. They didn’t consider the place where the consumer did the transaction,” says Arun Saxena, president, International Consumer Rights Protection Council. According to Saxena, the recent order will help consumers get speedy redressal to disputes as the issue of jurisdiction is now clear and resolved.
“The order considered the spirit of the Consumer Protection Act, which seeks to empower individuals to seek speedy relief without spending much,” says Nishit Dhruva, managing partner, MDP & Partners.
To provide relief to consumers, the court relied on the Information Technology Act, 2000, which says that if two parties enter into a contract for goods and services over the internet, it is deemed that the contract originated at the place where the goods or service provider is located and received at the place where the buyer places the order. For consumer cases, it will be the location of the device on which the goods or services were booked with the e-commerce player.
The order also gives consumers more options to choose a forum. In this case, the consumer had booked return flights from New Delhi to Bagdogra in West Bengal, which had a stopover at Kolkata for a change of airlines. While returning, the flight from Kolkata to New Delhi got cancelled.
The consumer had to make fresh bookings and missed the connecting bus from Delhi to Chandigarh, her place of residence.
She filed a case in Chandigarh for relief from the airline that was to take her from Kolkata to New Delhi.
The airline argued that the district and state forum didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case since travel was on the Kolkata-New Delhi sector and the airline office was located at Gurugram. But the NCDRC said she could file a case at Chandigarh, Kolkata, Gurugram or New Delhi. “This is known as places where the cause of action occurs. It includes places where the contract is performed or is to be performed, where the money is paid or payable or where repudiation of the contract is received,” says Prashant Mali, an advocate and international cyber law and cyber security expert. As a result, territorial jurisdiction over a consumer complaint would lie with the consumer forum situated at any place where the cause of action arises.
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