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When and Where to file a Consumer Complaint? What is the time period for filing the Complaint?

Recently I bought a refrigerator which was found to be defective. I want to file a consumer complaint immediately. When can I file complaint under Consumer Protection Act, 1986? Is there any time period for filing complaint under Consumer Protection Act?

Section 24-A of the Act states that the District Forum, State Commission and National Commission should not entertain the complaint unless it is filed within two years from the date on which the cause of action has arisen.  However, provision has been given under the said section that the complaint filed beyond the prescribed period can be entertained by the District, State or National Forums if the Complainant satisfied the Forum with sufficient cause that prevented the complainant to file within the stipulated period only upon recording the reasons for condoning the delay in filing the Complaint. E.I.C.M. Exports Ltd. Vs. South Indian Corpn. (Agencies) Ltd. & ANR. [2009] INSC 125.

Section 24-A was inserted in the Act in 1993.  Consumer Forums was following the limitation period pertaining o the suit in the Limitation Act, 1963, which states that a suit has to be file within 3 years from the date of cause of action has arisen.

For determining the limitation period specified under Section 24-A for filing a Complainant, the date of cause of action arose is very essential, however, the exact date of cause of action is mainly depends on facts and circumstances of the case.  This was clearly stated in Supreme Court’s judgment France B. Martins and others vs Mafaida Maria Teresa Rodrigues.

In State Bank of India Vs. M/S. B.S. Agricultural Industries (I) [2009] INSC 578 (20 March 2009), it was clearly stated by Supreme Court that “consumer forum must deal with the complaint on merits only if the complaint has been filed within two years from the date of accrual of cause of action and if beyond the said period, the sufficient cause has been shown and delay condoned for the reasons recorded in writing. In other words, it is the duty of the consumer forum to take notice of Section 24A and give effect to it. If the complaint is barred by time and yet, the consumer forum decides the complaint on merits, the forum would be committing an illegality and, therefore, the aggrieved party would be entitled to have such order set aside.” Also, on this point, in Union of India and Another v. British India Corporation Ltd. and Others, (2003) 9 SCC 50, the Court held that “question of limitation was a mandate to the forum and, irrespective of the fact whether it was raised or not, the forum must consider and apply it”.

From the above observations, we noted that time limit has been prescribed by Act to file a Complaint before any Consumer Forum.  Therefore, you have to file the complaint within 2 years from the date on which you had the knowledge that goods purchased were defective.

by Adv. Anitha Gutti