On Thursday, the Lok Sabha passed the Consumer Protection Bill 2018, which will, if enacted, replace the current Consumer Protection Act 1986.
The bill, among other things, proposes setting up of the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and forums at the District, State and National levels to examine and decide on consumer complaints.
It has also defined the pecuniary jurisdiction of the three fora, which have been increased from those provided in the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
Under the Consumer Protection Act 1986,
- The District Forum can entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services and the compensation, if any, claimed is up to Rs 20 lakh.
- The state commission can entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services and compensation, if any, claimed exceeds Rs 20 lakh but does not exceed Rs one crore.
- The National commission can entertain complaints where the value of the goods or services and compensation, if any, claimed exceeds Rs one crore
Now, the new Consumer Protection Bill 2018 has substantially increased the pecuniary limits of the three disputes redressal agencies.
- For District Forum, the jurisdiction has been increased to Rs one crore.
- For State commission, the jurisdiction has been increased to between Rs one crore and up to Rs 10 crore.
- For National commission, the jurisdiction has been increased to above Rs 10 crore.
This enhanced pecuniary jurisdiction of the Consumer Protection Commissions and Forums at District, State and National Level does have implications for practicing doctors.
District Forum would be most accessible to complainants; so, more and more cases will be filed before the District Forum.
Medical malpractice claims against doctors are becoming commonplace, so doctors will now have to increase their professional indemnity insurance up to Rs one crore. Because, the compensation claims now will be one crore at least and may even run into many crores.
The outcome of this would be an increase in the cost of treatment, which would mean a higher out-of-pocket spending on treatment costs.
This should be of concern, especially for a country like ours, where patients pay most of their medical expenses out of their own pockets.
The goal of providing quality and affordable healthcare to all then may seem more unreachable.
Apart from the above amendments, the bill also proposes following other amendments as follows:
- District, state and national fora do not require judicial members.
- Not only persons but associations and other bodies can complain to consumer fora
- Consumer Mediation cells at district, state and national level.
- District, state and national councils, which are advisory in nature
- A Central consumer authority which has judicial powers, can conduct investigations, search and make judgements