Follow simple procedure in deciding cases
Pushpa Girimaji

Twelve years ago, in its order in the case of V.P.Sant vs Delhi Development Authority, the highest consumer court in the country had emphasised the need for courts to follow a simple procedure while deciding cases. "The redressal agencies (constituted under the consumer protection law) are not civil courts which are bound by the Code of Civil Procedure," the apex court had said.

Then again in the case of Shankar Prasad vs Peerless General Finance Investment Company, it reiterated this point and said that courts should move away from hyper technicalities while adjudicating on complaints.

The advice, it seems, is yet to percolate down to the courts in the country because last month the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission was forced to remind the lower courts once again that they are not civil courts bound by the Civil Procedure Code. The provocation for this remark came from the way the courts at the district and the state-level had dismissed a complaint merely on the ground that the parents of the consumer had filed the case.

Instead of deciding the case on facts as required under the Consumer Protection Act, the state commission had gone into the "the principles of subrogation or assignment" and held that the father or mother of an aggrieved person or his power of attorney is not entitled to file a complaint. It is no wonder that consumers feel that they need a lawyer to file a case before the consumer court.

Ironically, it was a very simple and straight-forward case of an insurance company repudiating a claim pertaining to a damaged television set covered under the householders’ policy. Instead of filing the case himself, the policy holder had given a power of attorney to his parents to take up the case on his behalf. Accordingly, a complaint was filed by the Consumer Education and Research Society, Ahmedabad, as well as the mother and father of the policy holder before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Ahmedabad (Rural).

The forum, instead of looking at the facts of the case, dismissed it on the ground that the father or mother of an aggrieved person or his power of attorney is not entitled to file a complaint. In response to the appeal filed by the parents, the state commission, too, held a similar view and dismissed it by relying on "the principles of subrogation or assignment."

While setting aside the orders of the lower courts, the national commission regretted that the courts were adopting procedures prescribed under the Civil Procedure Code as followed by the regular courts of law and not the principles of natural justice as provided under the Consumer Protection Act. Said the commission:’’ It is hoped that before passing such an order, the state commission would be careful."

Observed the commission:’’ Unfortunately, in the present case, an over-technical view has been taken by the state commission and the district forum in dismissing the complaint by holding that the father/mother of an aggrieved person or his power of attorney is not entitled to file complaint under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. This is erroneous. It is to be reiterated that under the Act, technicalities are not to be encouraged because the only procedure, which is prescribed under the Act, is to follow the principles of natural justice and to decide the matter after hearing both the parties".

Said the commission further:" Repeatedly, it has been observed that complaints alleging defects in goods or deficiency in service can be entertained on receipt of a letter stating sufficient facts and the cause of action. If required, it can be entertained after recording the statement of the complainant, and if grounds are made out, notice is required to be issued to the opposite party. This is forgotten, and we still erroneously try to adhere to the procedure prescribed under the C.P.C. or elsewhere."

It directed the insurance company to pay Rs 10,000, assessed to be the value of the television set that was destroyed and also pay an interest of 10 per cent on the amount till the date of payment.

The Consumer Protection Act came into being in 1986. It is a sad commentary on the functioning of the courts that even two decades later, they have to be reminded about the procedure that they ought to or ought not to follow.