Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and MR Shah, JJ has held that consumer fora has no jurisdiction and/or power to accept the written statement beyond the period of 45 days.
The Court was hearing the case where the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission had confirmed the order passed by the Karnataka State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission rejecting the application seeking condonation of delay in filing the written statement to the consumer complaint. The written version/written statement was filed beyond the prescribed period of limitation provided under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, i.e., beyond the period of 45 days.
As per the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the written version/written statement is required to be filed within 30 days and the same can be extended by a further period of 15 days.
As per the decision of the Constitution Bench in New India Assurance company Limited v. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Private Limited, (2020) 5 SCC 757,
“the District Forum has no power to extend the time to file the response to the complaint beyond the period of 15 days in addition to 30 days as is envisaged under Section 13 of the Act.”
It was, however, submitted by the petitioner that as observed in paragraph 63, the said judgment shall be applicable prospectively only. Therefore, the aforesaid decision shall not be applicable retrospectively to the complaints filed before the said decision.
Refusing the accept the contention, the Court said that as per the decision in J.J. Merchant v. Shrinath Chaturvedi, (2002) 6 SCC 635, which was a three Judge Bench decision, consumer fora has no power to extend the time for filing a reply/written statement beyond the period prescribed under the Act. However, thereafter, despite the above three Judge Bench decision, a contrary view was taken by a two Judge Bench and therefore the matter was referred to the five Judge Bench and the Constitution Bench has reiterated the view taken in the case of J.J.Merchant and has again reiterated that the consumer fora has no power and/or jurisdiction to accept the written statement beyond the statutory period prescribed under the Act, i.e., 45 days in all.
The petitioner had then relied on Reliance General Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Mampee Timbers & Hardwares Pvt. Ltd., 2017 SCC OnLine SC 2027, wherein it was directed that the consumer fora may accept the written statement beyond the stipulated time of 45 days in an appropriate case, on suitable terms, including the payment of costs and to proceed with the matter, keeping in view the fact that the judgment of this Court in the case of New India Assurance Company Limited v. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Private Limited, (2015) 16 SCC 20 has been referred to a larger Bench.
The Court rejected this contention too on the ground that the Court had, in Reliance General Insurance Co. Ltd, specifically mentioned that
“it will be open to the concerned fora to accept the written statement filed beyond the stipulated period of 45 days in an appropriate case, on suitable terms, including the payment of costs and to proceed with the matter.”
Therefore, ultimately, it was left to the concerned fora to accept the written statement beyond the stipulated period of 45 days in an appropriate case.
In the present case, despite sufficient time granted the written statement was not filed within the prescribed period of limitation. Therefore, the Court observed that the National Commission had considered the aspect of condonation of delay on merits also.
[Daddy’s Builders Pvt. Ltd. v. Manisha Bhargava, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 82, decided on 11.02.2021]
*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah
Petitioner’s Counsel: Advocate Ashish Choudhary