Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi, JJ has held that a construction worker who is registered under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 19961 and is a beneficiary of the Scheme made under the Rules framed pursuant to the enactment, is a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.

The Court explained that the workers who are registered under the provisions of the Act of 1996 are beneficiaries of the schemes made by the Board. Upon registration, every worker is required to make a contribution to the fund at such rate per month as may be prescribed by the State government. It said that as per the statutory scheme, the services which are rendered by the Board to the beneficiaries are not services which are provided free of charge so as to constitute an exclusion from the statutory definition contained in Section 2(1)(o) and Section 2(d)(ii) of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.

“The true test is not whether the amount which has been contributed by the beneficiary is adequate to defray the entire cost of the expenditure envisaged under the scheme. So long as the service which has been rendered is not rendered free of charge, any deficiency of service is amenable to the fora for redressal constituted under the Consumer Protection Act 1986.”

Noticing that as per the definition contained in Section 2(1)(d), a ‘consumer’ includes not only a person who has hired or availed of service but even a beneficiary of a service, the Court held that the registered workers are clearly beneficiaries of the service provided by the Board in a statutory capacity.

The Court concluded by saying that public accountability is a significant consideration which underlies the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.

“The evolution of jurisprudence in relation to the enactment reflects the need to ensure a sense of public accountability by allowing consumers a redressal in the context of the discharge of non-sovereign functions which are not rendered free of charge.”

[Joint Labour Commissioner and Registering Officer v. Kesar Lal, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 327, decided on 17.03.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court (Constitution Benches)

Supreme Court: The 5-judge bench of Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ has held 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, 1986.

The bench was answering the reference relating to the grant of time for filing response to a complaint under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 wherein the answers to the following questions were sought:

  • whether Section 13(2) (a) of the Consumer Protection Act, which provides for the respondent/opposite party filing its response to the complaint within 30 days or such extended period, not exceeding 15 days, should be read as mandatory or directory; i.e., whether the District Forum has power to extend the time for filing the response beyond the period of 15 days, in addition to 30 days.
  • what would be the commencing point of limitation of 30 days stipulated under the aforesaid Section.

Answering the first question,  the Court held that the decision rendered by a 3-judge bench in Dr. J. J. Merchant v. Shrinath Chaturvedi, (2002) 6 SCC 635, to be correct in law, wherein it was held that the time limit prescribed for filing the response to the complaint under the Consumer Protection Act, as provided under Section 13(2)(a), is to be strictly adhered to, i.e. the same is mandatory, and not directory.

Considering the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2002 i.e. quick disposal of cases, the Court in the said verdict noticed that sub­Section (3A) of Section 13 was inserted, providing that the complaint should be heard as expeditiously as possible and that endeavour should be made to normally decide the complaint within 3 months, and within 5 months where analysis or testing of commodities was required. It was further noticed,

“The Provisos to the said sub-Section required that no adjournment should be ordinarily granted and if granted, it should be for sufficient cause to be recorded in writing and on imposition of cost, and if the complaint could not be decided within the specified period, reasons for the same were to be recorded at the time of disposing of the complaint.”

Answering the second question, the bench explained that a conjoint reading of Clauses (a) and (b) of sub-Section (2) of Section 13 would make the position absolutely clear that the commencing point of limitation of 30 days, under the aforesaid provisions, would be from the date of receipt of notice accompanied by a copy of the complaint, and not merely receipt of the notice, as the response has to be given, within the stipulated time, to the averments made in the complaint and unless a copy of the complaint is served on the opposite party, he would not be in a position to furnish its reply. Thus, mere service of notice, without service of the copy of the complaint, would not suffice and cannot be the commencing point of 30 days under the aforesaid Section of the Act.

The Court, further, clarified that,

“the objection of not having received a copy of the complaint along with the notice should be raised on the first date itself and not thereafter, otherwise if permitted to be raised at any point later would defeat the very purpose of the Act, which is to provide simple and speedy redressal of consumer disputes.”

It, hence, held that 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.

[New India Assurance v. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd., 2020 SCC OnLine SC 287, decided on 04.03.2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

The First Session of the Parliament after the 2019 General Elections, the most productive session in the longest time was conducted. In total 30 Bills have been passed this session in 35 sittings.

Bills passed by both the houses of the Parliament are listed below:

  1. The Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  2. The Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  3. The Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  4. The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Bill, 2019
  5. The Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  6. The Dentists (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  7. The Aadhar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  8. The Central Universities (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  9. The National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  10. The New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Bill, 2019
  11. The Appropriation (No. 2) Bill, 2019
  12. The Finance (No. 2) Bill, 2019
  13. The Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  14. The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  15. The Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2019
  16. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019
  17. The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  18. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  19. The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  20. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  21. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019
  22. The Codes on Wages, 2019
  23. The Repealing and Amending Bill, 2019
  24. The Airport Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  25. The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  26. The National Medical Commission Bill, 2019
  27. The Consumer Protection Bill, 2019
  28. The Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Bill, 2019
  29. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019.
  30. The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2019

Legislations relating to almost all walks of socio and economic activities have been passed. 30 Bills have been passed by both the Houses of Parliament in this Session which is a record in single first/effective Session after the constitution of new Lok Sabha.

Most important business transacted during this Session is the abrogation of certain provisions from Article 370 and Presidential Orders thereunder.  This will ensure equal opportunities to all sections of Society in Jammu & Kashmir particularly with the restoration of applicability of the provisions of the Constitution of India and all socio-economic legislations thereby ensuring rule of law and equity.  Further, for ensuring better administration and for curbing terrorism, the State of Jammu & Kashmir has been reorganized with the formation of two Union Territories – Jammu &Kashmir and Ladakh. 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: After a 3-member committee headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Arijit Pasayat, filed it’s report on the facilitating infrastructural improvements in National/State Consumer Fora, the 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and AM Khanwilkar and Dr. DY Chandrachud, JJ asked the Central Government to file a comprehensive status report indicating compliance with the directions issued by the Court on 21 November 2016 within six weeks. The committee had submitted the report on March 4, 2017.

On 21.11.2016, the Court had issued the following directions:

  • The Union Government shall for the purpose of ensuring uniformity in the exercise of the rule making power under Section 10(3) and Section 16(2) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 frame model rules for adoption by the state governments. The model rules shall be framed within four months and shall be submitted to this Court for its approval;
  • The Union Government shall also frame within four months model rules prescribing objective norms for implementing the provisions 24 of Section 10(1)(b), Section 16(1)(b) and Section 20(1)(b) in regard to the appointment of members respectively of the District fora, State Commissions and National Commission;
  • The Union Government shall while framing the model rules have due regard to the formulation of objective norms for the assessment of the ability, knowledge and experience required to be possessed by the members of the respective fora in the domain areas referred to in the statutory provisions mentioned above. The model rules shall provide for the payment of salary, allowances and for the conditions of service of the members of the consumer for a commensurate with the nature of adjudicatory duties and the need to attract suitable talent to the adjudicating bodies. These rules shall be finalized upon due consultation with the President of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, within the period stipulated above;
  • Upon the approval of the model rules by this Court, the state governments shall proceed to adopt the model rules by framing appropriate rules in the exercise of the rule making powers under Section 30 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986;
  • The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is requested to formulate regulations under Section 30A with the previous approval of the Central Government within a period of three months from today in order to effectuate the power of administrative control vested in the National Commission over the State Commissions under Section 24(B)(1)(iii) and in respect of the administrative control of the State Commissions over the District fora in terms of Section 24(B)(2) as explained in this Judgment to effectively implement the objects and purposes of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

Requesting Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh to assist the Court in the matter, the Court fixed 30.01.2018 as the next date of hearing. [State of Uttar Pradesh v. All U.P. Consumer Protection Bar Association, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1488, order dated 15.12.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Madan B. Lokur and P.C. Pant, JJ held that a Trust cannot file a complaint under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 as a Trust is not a person and therefore not a consumer.

The bench took note of the various definition provisions under the Act to come to the conclusion that a Trust does not fall under the category of a ‘complainant’ as defined under Section 2(b) of the Act. The Court also considered the definition of ‘consumer’ under Section 2(d) of the Act which included the word ‘person’. The Court said that ‘person’ as per Section 2(m) of the Act includes a firm whether registered or not; a Hindu undivided family; a co-operative society; every other association of persons. However, it does not include ‘Trust’.

Hence, the Court held that based on a plain and simple reading of the provisions, a Trust cannot be a complainant and cannot file a consumer dispute under the provisions of the Act. [Pratibha Pratisthan v. Manager, Canara Bank, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 202, decided on 07.03.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Showing concern over the deficiency of infrastructure in the adjudicatory fora constituted under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the 3-judge bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ and Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao, JJ gave the following directions:

  • The Union Government shall for the purpose of ensuring uniformity in the exercise of the rule making power frame model rules for adoption by the state governments and also the model rules prescribing objective norms for implementing the provisions of Section 10(1)(b), Section 16(1)(b) and Section 20(1)(b) in regard to the appointment of members respectively of the District fora, State Commissions and National Commission, within four months and submit to this Court for its approval;
  • The Union Government shall while framing the model rules have due regard to the formulation of objective norms for the assessment of the ability, knowledge and experience required to be possessed by the members of the respective fora in the domain areas referred to in the statutory provisions mentioned above. The model rules shall provide for the payment of salary, allowances and for the conditions of service of the members of the consumer fora commensurate with the nature of adjudicatory duties and the need to attract suitable talent to the adjudicating bodies. These rules shall be finalized upon due consultation with the President of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, within the period stipulated above;
  • Upon the approval of the model rules by this Court, the state governments shall proceed to adopt the model rules by framing appropriate rules in the exercise of the rule making powers under Section 30 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986;
  • The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission shall formulate regulations under Section 30A with the previous approval of the Central Government within a period of three months in order to effectuate the power of administrative control vested in the National Commission over the State Commissions under Section 24(B)(1)(iii) and in respect of the administrative control of the State Commissions over the District fora in terms of Section 24(B)(2) as explained in this Judgment to effectively implement the objects and purposes of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

The Court had, on 14.01.2016, constituted a committee headed by Former Justice Arijit Pasayat to examine the condition prevalent in respect of the matter at hand. The Committee, in it’s enquiry report, had submitted that “the fora constituted under the enactment do not function as effectively as expected due to a poor organizational set up, grossly inadequate infrastructure, absence of adequate and trained manpower and lack of qualified members in the adjudicating bodies. Benches of the state and district fora sit, in many cases for barely two or three hours every day and remain non-functional for months due to a lack of coram. Orders are not enforced like other orders passed by the civil courts. The state governments have failed to respond to the suggestions of the Committee for streamlining the state of affairs.” [State of U.P. v. All U. P. Consumer Protection Bar Association, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1291, decided on 21.11.2016]