Manufacturers, and not farmers, have the onus to prove the quality of seeds under Consumer Protection Act, 1986

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): A Division Bench comprising of R.K. Agrawal, J. and M. Shreesha, Member dismissed the revision petition filed against the order of Maharashtra State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission confirming payment of compensation to the respondent/complainant – farmers for supply of inferior quality of seeds by the petitioner manufacturing company.

The respondent had purchased onion seeds from the petitioners and sown the same in their fields. When even after due care, the growth of crop was unsatisfactory, they informed about the same to the petitioner and lodged a formal complaint. An enquiry committee visited the fields of the respondent and made a detailed inspection report observing that the crop failure was on account of inferior quality of seeds. Despite sending a notice to the petitioner, the respondent received no response, constraining him to approach the District Forum seeking direction to for payment of expenses incurred towards the failure of crop along with compensation and costs. After appreciating the evidence on record, District Forum ordered payment of expenses along with compensation and costs. The said order was challenged by the petitioner in State Commission, which confirmed the order of District Forum. It is in this factual background, that the instant revision petition was filed by the petitioner.

Primary contention of revision petitioners was that the State Commission had erred in not appreciating that germination of seeds depends upon environmental factors and crop management practices such as climate, moisture content, temperature, usage of fertilizers and water supply; and that no samples of seeds were sent by the respondent for analysis as mandated by Section 13(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

The Commission relied on judgment of the Apex Court in National Seeds Cooperation Ltd. v M. Madhusudhan Reddy, (2012) 2 SCC 506 and Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd. v Alavalapati Chandra Reddy, (1998) 6 SCC 738, to state that the onus to prove that the seeds manufactured are of good quality lies on the manufacturer as the farmers are not expected to store some of the seeds for future testing. Moreover, as per the Seeds Act, 1966 manufacturer is required to keep a small sample of each batch of seeds for a minimum period of time depending upon the nature of the seeds. Therefore, there was no reason for the petitioner to not have sent the seeds to a laboratory for testing as per Section 13(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act.

Apart from being devoid of merits, the revision petition was also held to be barred by limitation as the same was filed with a delay of 188 days and there was no explanation as to the reason for such delay. As such, the petition was dismissed on both delay as well as merits. [National Horticulture Research & Development Foundation v. Sahebrao Jibhau Deware, Revision Petition No. 279 of 2018, decided on 28-09-2018]

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