Thanks to the SC’s decision, consumers don’t have to go to the city of a seller to sue them

The Supreme Court decision to allow consumers of e-commerce companies to file legal complaints in their own city, rather than going to a city where the seller is located or registered is a welcome move. This decision by Supreme Court will go a long way in protecting the rights of consumers who had been taken for a ride for many years by both large companies and their re-sellers.

The hard fact is that despite being given low quality of  services and goods, consumers felt helpless because if they had to take sellers of those goods and services to court, they were forced go to the city where either the registered office of that seller was located or from where he had sold the product. Given the condition of the Indian legal system in terms of cost and time, hardly any consumer showed the gumption to take the errant seller to task. The end result, it became easy for companies and re-sellers to assume that they would never be made accountable.

The trouble grew further with e-commerce companies coming into the picture. These companies which called themselves marketplace had little or no control over their sellers and quality of products and by their own admission a large number of sellers who were using their platform to sell products have been supplying substandard goods and services to customers. In fact, recently an e-commerce company disabled more than 85,000 of its sellers from its platform clearly reflecting the fact that there is a good amount of mis-selling taking place in the e-commerce space.

Now under the changed law, customers who have either been given poor service or poor quality goods would be able to take companies to court in the city in which they reside and hence the cost and inconvenience which would be much less as compared to a situation where hiring a lawyer or spending time going to other cities was a good enough deterrent for a consumer who ended up suffering in silence.

May be this will make more consumers take more companies to court and a culture of being accountable to the consumers will develop, similar to the way it is in western countries.

It is clear that some companies are going to cry about increased legal expenses. Also there is a possibility that some sellers and companies might use this ease of litigation to malign each other, but all that will happen in the short term. Over the  long term it will help all the stakeholders, even sellers who are today fleecing customers would feel the benefit of producing and delivering goods and services of quality which they have promised while charging money to customers.

At the same time, the question that begs an answer is, whether the Indian judicial system is in a position to bear the extra load of litigation, the answer is no. Our  legal system is already overburdened with work as resources at its disposal have been inadequate.  In such circumstances, given the technological advancement which has taken place in the last few years, there is a possibility that an online court can be set up for addressing such consumer issues. The initial cost of funding of setting up such a special court which deals with cases of miss-selling or failing to deliver the required product can be either be funded jointly by government and e-commerce companies. Like in many other industries where the regulator of that particular sector is partly funded by a minor fees from players of that sector, similar kind of funding mechanism can be worked out for e-commerce companies.

The kind of online court in which evidence is submitted by parties online and judgement can be delivered online would be cheaper for companies also, they will not be forced to hire lawyers throughout the country and also a time bound resolution can be achieved because most of these disputes are open and shut cases where it is not difficult to prove who is at fault. In fact, once this online court system gets established for disputes related to online purchases then other disputes regarding offline purchase by a customer can also be shifted to such online courts. It is high time that our judicial system also gets the benefit of massive technological advancement. Redressal of online consumer complaints can be the first step in that direction.