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Saturday, July 30, 2011

How & Where to Complain: Friendly Guide for Problem-Solving in India

Dear Mr & Ms Activist,

All around us, people are struggling:

  • Aggrieved citizens wishing to get relief from personal problems
  • Victims of exploitation, ignorance and poverty trying to escape the clutches of their exploiters
  • Activists acting on behalf of society or downtrodden people
  • Lawyers, CAs and other professionals acting on behalf of clients

We often feel frustrated and hopeless. We blame police, courts and information commissions for being uncaring, inefficient and corrupt. Of course, there is a lot of truth in this, but…

But there is another truth which we don’t look at: We ourselves fail to properly present problems before various forums. We mix up important law points with trivial, unnecessary details. We cannot distinguish personal grievances from criminal breach of law. We fail to draw a line between private interest and public interest. And so we present a miscellaneous bag of personal problems, civil disputes and criminal complaints, plus anger and frustration. Even a well-meaning judge or appellate authority cannot make sense of such a mish-mash – and therefore, he postpones or gives half-baked judgments.

There is a simple principle that we must remember: TO GET A CLEAR OUTPUT FROM THE SYSTEM, WE MUST GIVE CLEAR INPUTS. Many problems, including lengthy pendency before courts, information commissions etc. are because citizens and activists have failed to give clear inputs.


A. EXCLUDE PERSONAL PROBLEMS. Things that trouble us personally (e.g. rudeness, bullying, playing politics, making us repeatedly visit the office etc.) must be separated from the legal problems (e.g. violations of law, denial of information, refusing to perform official duties, giving orders and directions that are not as per law etc). On most forums, exclude the personal matters and talk only about the legal ones.

B. CITE THE RELEVANT LAWS & RULES. Each forum operates from a distinct set of laws and rules, and we should cite them in our complaint. For instance, the State Information Commission (SIC) exists to implement and interpret the Right to Information Act 2005, and the State RTI Rules. Also, the working of the State Information Commission is governed by the state’s Appeal Procedure Rules. Therefore, invoke the correct sections of the RTI Act and Rules while drafting your complaint or appeal. Also, follow the dictates of the Appeal Procedure Rules. Another example: the police derives its various powers from the Bombay Police Act, the Bombay Police Manual and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). While registering the FIR, tolice refers to various sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC). When we file a police complaint, it helps if we know about these things, and are able to cite sections of the law where necessary.

C. EXCLUDE POLITICAL VIEWS. Avoid making remarks like, “Congress is behind all the corruption” or “Lawless Shiv Sena elements are behind all this trouble”. You never know the political views of the judge or appellate authority; if he holds views contrary to yours, such remarks will harm your case.

D. PRIORITIZE. On any forum, you are required to give complaint or petition IN WRITING. Usually 2-3 pages will be read, with only a passing glance at other pages. So you need to emphasize all the crucial points in the main 2-3 pages. When asked to state your problem ORALLY, you will be given 2-3 minutes maximum. So come to the point very quickly to retain the attention of the appellate authority, judge etc. As this person hears dozens of cases every day and is mentally tired, you must make the matter easy to understand within the first few sentences you speak, without rambling, preaching or going into too much history.

E. SEPARATE THE COMPONENTS. We must divide the problem in our own mind -- separate it into private or business dispute, civil dispute, criminal offences, emotional trauma etc. We must apply these criteria:

(i) What has proof (i.e. proper documents) versus what has no proof (i.e. improper or no documents)

(ii) What issues have importance before law, versus what issues are important for ego reasons of showing that we are “right”

(iii) Which battles are absolutely essential to our cause (as against the battles we can afford to retreat from in order to conserve our own energies)

(iv) What points must be communicated within limited attention span (Two page-letter, Six bullet points, Subject-line or heading of Maximum 10 words, first paragraph of 100 words only. What to say in a three-minute verbal presentation. What are the first four sentences to speak after saying “Good morning”.)

(v) What aspects must NOT be highlighted, in order to avoid muddying the waters or spoiling the case

(vi) Exactly which actions of the opposite party violates which section of the law, rules etc. Give facts and figures.

(vii) Which actions according to us may be genuine mistakes, and which ones are deliberate and in bad faith. Highlight the ones that show criminal negligence, fraud etc.

(viii) How exactly we (private individuals or public) are affected by each violation. Give facts and figures.

(ix) Which fundamental rights are violated – exactly which article of the Constitution

(x) What are the regulator’s responsibilities and legal mandates

(xi) What are our “Prayers”? What directions and order doe we require from this legal forum?

(xii) What “interim reliefs” do we “pray” for? What must be urgently granted by the appellate authority or regulator to prevent further harm?

F. BE REALISTIC. No single forum can solve all our problems. And if we activate half a dozen forums all at once, we will not be able to handle the pressure of attending various hearings etc. So we should decide which forums to activate, and which ones to forget for the time being.

By their nature, many problems come all mixed-up together. We have to separate and simplify them, and understand WHICH LEGAL FORUMS ARE COMPETENT TO HANDLE THIS, AND HOW.


Mr X and Mr Y are brothers having a property dispute. X has occupied Y’s share of the family house, which they inherited from their father. Desperate to reclaim his share of the house, Y breaks the lock and enters. X arrives on the scene and they fight. The local police station arrests Y and registers an FIR, with charges of house-trespass, attempted robbery etc. Now Y is in judicial custody.


· Reliable lawyer

· Husband must get bail and come home soon.

· Husband’s name must be cleared in court.

· Her half of the family house.

· Revenge or “justice”

· Peace and an end to all her problems

· Not having to endlessly attend court hearings and pay costly lawyers.

WHAT WILL YOU DO, MR & MS ACTIVIST? If you are willing to support Mr & Mrs Y in sorting out their problems, let us analyze this problem together.


· LAWYER OR FREE LEGAL AID. You have to introduce Mrs Y to a good lawyer to procure bail. If she is poor and unable to pay for legal services, a lawyer must take her case on a charitable basis. So Mrs Y must be introduced to a legal aid cell. You may also have to help her financially for the bail amount

· POLICE. If the criminal offences that Y is charged with are categorized as “compoundable” (i.e. they can be withdrawn by the complainant), then X can withdraw the complaint against him. The relevant portions of Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) must be understood and explained to X. If the offences are “not compoundable”, then Y needs legal advice as to what he should say or refrain from saying before the magistrate. For instance, when charged, he has the choice of whether to plead guilty or to remain quiet. The legal rights of Y, the powers and duties of the police, and the procedures followed by the police in criminal investigation and prosecution have to be clearly understood.

· OUT-OF-COURT SETTLEMENT. If charges against Y are “compoundable”, then it may be advisable for Mrs Y to swallow her pride, approach Mr X and reach a settlement of some sort. Family elders and other respected people may invited to advise and mediate between the two sides for a reasonable solution.

· CRIMINAL COURT i.e. metropolitan magistrate’s court will decide whether or not Mr Y gets bail, and in the course of the trial, whether he is acquitted or punished. Court procedures and criminal law points must therefore be understood, and Mr & Mrs Y have to be suitably advised.

· CIVIL COURT. X is said to be in occupation of Y’s share. If there are documents to prove this, a case can be made out in civil court so that Mr & Mrs Y get back their share of the property.

· ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION i.e. ARBITRATOR / MEDIATOR. To resolve the property dispute, a formal arbitration agreement can be drawn up, and retired judge or professional arbitrator can be engaged. This may be a better option, compared to a case in Civil Court. But to bring X to the negotiation table, it is necessary that he should fear being dragged into a property dispute in civil court.

Thus we see that even a simple fight between brothers may involve many problem-solving forums. In the wider context of society – both private grievances and public interest issues -- let us look at all the forums applicable. The usefulness of each forum varies. Some are best avoided; for instance, going to civil court may take up so much time and money that it isn’t worth it! But we must know all our options before we decide.


1. POLICE and its specialized wings e.g. Cyber Crime Wing, Economic Offences Wing (EOW), Social Service wing of police, Women’s Cell, Senior Citizens’ Cell etc.

2. GOVT. AND ADMINISTRATION OFFICES. The recommendatory and decision-making powers of the Minister, Secretary of the Department etc. can be extremely useful. Each ministry and department is a forum e.g. Investors can complain against a company to Ministry of Corporate Affairs.

3. HEADS OF LICENSING AUTHORITIES e.g. Joint Secretary of Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for bad advertisements, Assistant Engineer Building Proposal Department (Municipal Corporation) for buildings

4. DEPARTMENTAL VIGILANCE OFFICER (DVO) of each department, bank etc.

5. VIGILANCE ORGANIZATIONS e.g. Bureau of Industrial Standards (BIS), Department of Weights & Measures, Food & Drugs Administration (FDA)

6. TRIBUNALS e.g. Income Tax Tribunal, Sales Tax Tribunal etc. (Presided over by Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (CCIT), Chief Commissioner of Sales Tax etc.

7. APPELLATE AUTHORITIES especially RTI First Appellate Authority and Information Commission

8. GOVT. REGULATORS e.g. Investors can complain to Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Electricity Consumers can complain to Maharashtra Elecricity Regulatory Commission (MERC). Mobile consumers can complain to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Bank depositors and borrowers can complain to Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

9. TRADE GUILDS e.g. Advertising Standard’s Council of India (ASCI) for bad advertisements, Indian Medical Council (IMC) for medical malpractices by doctors, Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) for fraudulent practices by architects etc.

10. OMBUDSMAN e.g. Insurance Ombudsman of IRDA, Banking Ombudsman of RBI, Ombudsman of individual newpapers for fairness in reporting, advertising etc.

11. LOK AYUKTA, LOK PAL and other bodies set up by govt. to receive public complaints such as Maharashtra Corruption Eradication Committee



14. OTHER COMMISSIONS such as Women’s Commission, Minorities Commission, Child Rights Commission etc.

15. MEDIATOR / ARBITRATOR appointed by parties. (Arbitration is covered under Arbitration & Conciliation Act 1996.)



18. JUVENILE JUSTICE NATIONAL DESK and other mechanisms set up under Juvenile Justice Act 2000

19. HIGH COURT -- APPELLATE SIDE as authority to hear appeals against lower courts, tribunals etc.)

20. HIGH COURT -- ORIGINAL SIDE as authority to hear Writ Petition, Public Interest Litigation etc.

21. CONSUMER COURT for taking up consumer related issues.

22. COOPERATIVE COURT for matters concerning cooperative societies of all sorts e.g. housing, cooperative banks, marketing cooperatives, etc.

23. FAMILY COURT for divorce, child support and child custody issues, etc.


25. CONSUMER GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL CELL of each Public Sector Unit, Public Limited Company etc.

26. GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL CELLS FORMED BY NGOs for women’s protection etc.

27. MEDIA & JOURNALISTS if your complaint has strong elements of public interest. Media helps to build up public pressure, which sometimes compels the authorities to act.

28. ADVISORS. Lawyers and experts who give legal advice, secretarial services etc. for filing complaints

29. GOVERNMENT INSIDERS e.g. MLAs, MPs, ministers etc. whose word matters, rightly or wrongly. Also retired officers etc who can put in a “friendly word” and speed up the action.

30. NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL, which exercises tremendous clout for policy decisions in public interest issues

31. LOK SABHA & RAJYA SABHA COMMITTEE ON PETITIONS, which exercise great influence in policy making in matters of public interest

32. NGOs, ASSOCIATIONS, CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE and other pressure groups help to amplify a citizen’s battle against companies or government, especially in matters of public interest

To approach any of these forums, there is a different requirement. Each issue or problem may have aspects that are relevant to one or more of these forums. Forget the limitations of these forums such as corruption, bureaucratic red-tape, pendency etc; let us first take care of our own limitations, and learn to complain in the proper ways to each forum.

YOU, MY FRIEND, ARE THE KEY TO YOUR OWN SUCCESS. Are you able to analyze the problem realistically, without too much emotion and ego? Are you able to free up enough time and mental energy from your day-to-day work for implementation of your various ideas? Are you passionate enough to devote serious time and money, day after day, week after week, year after year? Can you speak up confidently before your chosen forums for justice?

In the end, this makes the difference between winning and losing. This will determine your success in resolving private problems as well as public-interest issues.

Warm Regards,


98215 88114

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