Supreme Court: In a case where it was alleged that more than one consumer cannot institute a complaint unless they come within the definition of the word “complainant” of Section 2(5) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 and also satisfy the requirements of Section 38(11) read with Order I Rule 8 CPC, the bench of Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian*, JJ has held that it is wrong to contend that wherever there are more consumers than one, they must only take recourse to Order I Rule 8 CPC, even if the complaint is not on behalf of or for the benefit of, all the consumers interested in the matter.

Relevant Provisions

Section 2(5) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 reads as under:

“(5) “complainant” means—

(i) a consumer; or

(ii) any voluntary consumer association registered under any law for the time being in force; or

(iii) the Central Government or any State Government; or

(iv) the Central Authority; or

(v) one or more consumers, where there are numerous consumers having the same interest; or

(vi) in case of death of a consumer, his legal heir or legal representative; or

(vii) in case of a consumer being a minor, his parent or legal guardian;

35. Manner in  which  complaint  shall  be  made.­

(1) A complaint, in relation to any goods sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered or any service provided or agreed to be provided, may be filed with a District Commission by—

(c)  one or more consumers, where there are numerous consumers having the same interest, with the permission of the District Commission, on behalf of, or for the benefit of, all consumers so interested.

38. Procedure on admission of complaint.

(11)  Where the complainant is a consumer referred to in sub-clause (v) of clause (5) of section 2, the provisions of Order I Rule 8 of the First Schedule to the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908) shall apply subject to the modification that every reference therein to a suit or decree shall be construed as a reference to a complaint or the order of the District Commission thereon.


The Court agreed to the fact that the definition of the word “complainant” is little misleading. It, however, explained,

“There may be cases where only “a few consumers” and not “numerous consumers” have the same interest. There is nothing in the Act to prohibit these few consumers from joining together and filing a joint complaint.”

It is true that Section 2(5)(i) uses the expression “a consumer”. If the vowel “a” and the word “consumer” appearing in Section 2(5)(i) are to be understood to exclude more than one person, it will result in a disastrous consequence while reading Section 2(5)(vi). Section 2(5)(vi) states that in the case of death of a consumer, “his legal heir or legal representative” will be a complainant. Unless the words “legal heir” and “legal representative” are understood to mean ‘legal heirs’ and ‘legal representatives’, a meaningful reading of the provision may not be there.

The Court also took note of Section 13(2) of the General Clauses Act, 1897, which provides that words in the singular shall include the plural and vice versa in all Central Acts and Regulations, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context. Hence, it said that,

“We cannot read anything repugnant in the subject or context of Section 2(5) or 35(1)(c) or 38(11) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 to hold that the word in the singular, namely, “consumer” will not include the plural.”

Further, a joint complaint stands in contrast to a complaint filed in a representative capacity. For attracting the provisions of Section 35(1)(c), the complaint filed by one or more consumers should be on behalf of or for the benefit of numerous consumers having same interest. It does not mean that where there are only very few consumers having the same interest, they cannot even join together and file a single complaint but should take recourse only to independent and separate complaints.

Explaining by way of an example, the Court said,

“… a case where a residential apartment is purchased by the husband and wife jointly or by a parent and child jointly. If they have a grievance against the builder, both of them are entitled to file a complaint jointly. Such a complaint will not fall under Section 35(1)(c) but fall under Section 35(1)(a). Persons filing such a complaint cannot be excluded from Section 2(5)(i) on the ground that it is not by a single consumer. It cannot also be treated as one by persons falling under Section 2(5)(v) attracting the application of Order I Rule 8 CPC read with Section 38(11).”

Therefore, the proper way of interpreting Section 35(1) read with section 2(5), would be to say that a complaint may be filed by:

  1. a single consumer;
  2. a recognised consumer Association;
  3. one or more consumers jointly, seeking the redressal of their own grievances without representing other consumers who may or may not have the same interest;
  4. one or more consumers on behalf of or for the benefit of numerous consumers; and
  5. the Central Government, Central Authority or State Authority.

Further, it must be remembered that the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act are in addition to and not in derogation of the provisions of any other law for the time being in force, by virtue of Section 100. Even Section 38 which prescribes the procedure to be followed by the Commission for enquiring into the complaint, does not expressly exclude the application of the provisions of CPC. Though Sub-sections (9), (11) and (12) of Section 38 make specific reference only to a few provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, the principle behind Order I Rule 1 enabling more than one person to join in a suit as plaintiff is not expressly excluded.

[Brigade Enterprises Ltd. v. Anil Kumar Virmani, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1283, decided on 17.12.2021]


For appellant: Senior Advocate Jayant Bhushan,

For Respondent: Senior Advocate Ajit Kumar Sinha

For intervenors: Advocate Omanakuttan K. K.

*Judgment by: Justice V. Ramasubramanian

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