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District Forum has no power to extend the time for filing the response to the complaint beyond the p

NEW INDIA ASSURANCE CO. LTD VERSUS HILLI MULTIPURPOSE COLD STORAGE PVT. LTD.

“It goes with the objective sought to be achieved by the Consumer Protection Act, which is to provide speedy justice to the consumer. It is not that sufficient time to file a response to the complaint has been denied to the opposite party. It is just that discretion of extension of time beyond 15 days (after the 30days period) has been curtailed and consequences for the same have been provided under Section 13(2)(b)(ii) of the Consumer Protection Act.”

Learned Attorney General points out that the judgment in Dr. J.J. Merchand & Ors. vs. Shrinath Chaturvedi, reported in [2002(6) SCC 635], has been considered and a different view has been taken in Kailash vs. Nanhku & Ors., reported in [2005(4) SCC 480], on the issue of limitation. The matters, therefore, require consideration.

Whether the District Forum has power to extend the time for filing of response to the complaint beyond the period of 15 days, in addition to 30 days, as envisaged under Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act?

A bare reading of Section 13(2)(a) of the Act makes it clear that the copy of the complaint which is to be sent to the opposite party, is to be with the direction to give his version of (or response to) the case (or complaint) within a period of 30 days. It further provides that such period of 30 days can be extended by the District Forum, but not beyond 15 days.

Sub­Section 2(b)(i) of Section 13 of the Act provides for a complaint to be decided on the basis of the response by the opposite party and the evidence of the complainant and the opposite party, where allegations contained in the complaint are denied or disputed by the opposite party. Sub­Section 2(b)(ii) of Section 13 of the Act provides that where no response is filed by the opposite party, the complaint may be decided ex parte on the basis of evidence brought forth by the complainant. 18 10. Sub­Section 2(c) of Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act further provides that where the complainant fails to appear on the date of hearing before the District Forum, the District Forum may either dismiss the complaint for default or decide it on merits. The aforesaid provision [sub­Section 2(c)] was inserted by Act 62 of 2002, w.e.f. 15.03.2003.

Similarly, Section (3A) of Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act, which was also inserted by Act 62 of 2002, provides for deciding every complaint as expeditiously as possible and endeavour shall be made to decide the complaint within a period of three months from the receipt of notice by the opposite party, and within five months, if the complaint requires analysis or testing of commodities. It also provides that no adjournment shall ordinarily be granted by the District Forum, and if the same is to be granted, costs may be imposed, and further that reasons be recorded if the complaint is disposed of after the time so provided.

From the above, it is clear that as mentioned in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Consumer Protection Act, the District Forum is to provide speedy disposal of consumer disputes. The same has been further reiterated by the legislature by insertion of Section 13(2)(c) and 13(3A) by Act 62 of 2002

It is true that ‘justice hurried is justice buried’. But in the same breath it is also said that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. The legislature has chosen the latter, and for a good reason. It goes with the objective sought to be achieved by the Consumer Protection Act, which is to provide speedy justice to the consumer. It is not that sufficient time to file a response to the complaint has been denied to the opposite party. It is just that discretion of extension of time beyond 15 days (after the 30 days period) has been curtailed and consequences for the same have been provided under Section 13(2)(b)(ii) of the Consumer Protection Act. It may be that in some cases the opposite party could face hardship because of such provision, yet for achieving the object of the Act, which is speedy and simple redressal of consumer disputes, hardship which may be caused to a party has to be ignored.

It has been further contended that the language of Section 13(2) of the Consumer Protection Act is pari materia to Order VIII Rule 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (for short 28 ‘the Code’) and if time can be extended for filing of written submission in a suit under the aforesaid provision of the Code, the same would apply to the filing of response to complaint under the Consumer Protection Act as well, and hence the provision of Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act would be directory and not mandatory.

What would be the commencing point of limitation of 30 days under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986? The question for determination is whether the limitation under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act for filing the response by the opposite party to the complaint would commence from the date of receipt of the notice of the complaint by the opposite party, or the receipt of notice accompanied by a copy of the complaint.

In paragraph 12 of the judgment dated 04.12.2015, of three Judge Bench of this Court, in this very case of NIA vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage (supra), while referring to the commencing point of limitation of 30 days under Section 13(2) of the Consumer Protection Act, it has been held that

“The whole issue centres round the period within which the opponent has to give his version to the District Forum in pursuance of a complaint, 45 which is admitted under Section 12 of the Act. Upon receipt of a complaint by the District Forum, if the complaint is admitted under Section 12 of the Act, a copy of the complaint is to be served upon the opposite party and as per the provisions of Section 13 of the Act, the opposite party has to give his version of the case within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of the copy of the complaint.”

However, another two judge Bench of this Court, by an Order dated 18.01.2017 passed in this very Appeal being Civil Appeal No(s).10941­10942 of 2013, NIA Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage, has expressed the view that the declaration made in Dr. J. J. Merchant’scase to the effect that the said period is to be reckoned from the date of receipt of notice by the opposite party or complaint under the Act, requires a more critical analysis. The bench thus opined that “what is the commencing point of the limitation of 30 days stipulated in Section 13 of the Act is required to be decided authoritatively”. It is thus that this question has been placed before us for an authoritative decision.

Even in Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, subSection (5) of Section 31 provides that “after the arbitral award is 48 made, a signed copy shall be delivered to each party”. An application for setting aside the arbitral award is to be made under Section 34 of the said Act.

“To conclude, the court hold that our answer to the first question is that the District Forum has no power to extend the time for filing the response to the complaint beyond the period of 15 days in addition to 30 days as is envisaged under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act; and the answer to the second question is that the commencing point of limitation of 30 days under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act 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.”

– Karthik K.P

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