consumers beware!

Timely resolution of the complaint is a right

If the opposite party fails to take any action to represent the case within the stipulated time, the court has to proceed ex parte on the basis of the evidence brought to its notice by the complainant. This is the law

Timely resolution of the complaint is a right

Photo for representaion only. - File photo

Pushpa Girimaji

Last fortnight, you answered a question on the limitation period for appeals under the Consumer Protection Act. My query is similar but on the time limit set for the opposite party to file a response to a complaint. Following admission of my complaint pertaining to a defective wedding lehenga sold to me, the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum sent a notice, along with a copy of my complaint, to the shopkeeper. Four months have already passed, but he is yet to file his response and the forum goes on giving him more time to do so. This is delaying the resolution of my complaint. What should be my response here?

Section 38 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, lays down the procedure that the consumer courts have to follow once the complaint is admitted. Accordingly, within 21 days from the date of admission of the complaint, the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission should send a copy of the complaint to the opposite party, directing him to give his version within 30 days or such extended period not exceeding 15 days.

If the opposite party fails to take any action to represent his case within that time, the court has to proceed ex parte on the basis of the evidence brought to its notice by the complainant. This is the law. So request the District Commission to proceed with your case ex parte. The Supreme Court has laid down that consumer courts do not have the power to extend the time given to the opposite party to submit his version beyond the stipulated 45 days. The law, as laid down by the Supreme Court, is binding on all courts, including the consumer courts. I must also mention that the Supreme Court referred to the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 in this judgment, but the 2019 law that replaced it has similar provisions.

Where can I find this order of the Supreme Court? Please give the gist of the judgment

An online search for New India Assurance Company Ltd Vs Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Private Ltd (Civil Appeal No 10941¬10942 of 2013) will fetch you this extremely important judgment of the five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, delivered on March 4, 2020.

The court in this case specifically looked at the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act to determine whether the consumer courts had the power or the discretion to extend the time limit for filing the response beyond 45 days. Its authoritative decision was that they did not have it. “The intention of the legislature seems to be very clear that the opposite party would get the time of 30 days, and in addition another 15 days at the discretion of the forum to file its response. No further discretion of granting time beyond 45 days is intended under the Act,” the apex court said.

Prohibiting consumer courts from going beyond what is permitted under the law, the Supreme Court warned: “To carve out an exception in a specific provision of the statute is not within the jurisdiction of the courts, and if it is so done, it would amount to legislating or inserting a provision into the statute, which is not permissible.”

The apex court also clarified that the commencing point of limitation of 30 days would be from the date of receipt of the notice accompanied with the complaint by the opposite party, and not mere receipt of the notice of the complaint.

Responding to the contention that not providing any discretion to the consumer courts would result in great injustice in cases where the delay occurred as a result of circumstances beyond the control of the opposite party, the Supreme Court said: “In our view, if the law so provides, the same has to be strictly complied, so as to achieve the object of the statute. It is well settled that law prevails over equity, as equity can only supplement the law, and not supplant it”. It also clarified from its reading of the various provisions of the law that the denial of extension of time to the opposite party and resolving the case ex parte would not give rise to the plea that the principles of natural justice were not complied with.

This is an extremely important judgment and upholds the right of the consumer to get timely resolution of complaints.

Tribune Shorts


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