Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): The Bench of Dinesh Singh (Presiding Member) observed that:

“Consumer has the right to know, before he exercises his choice to patronize a particular retail outlet, and before he makes his selection of goods for purchase, that additional cost will be charged for carry bags, and also the right to know the salient specifications and price of the carry bags.”

In the present matter, petitioner, Big Bazaar (Future Retail Ltd.) was the Opposite Party before the District Forum.

Condonation of Delay

The petition was filed with self-admitted delay of 60 days and the reasons laid down for condonation of delay were with regard to the managerial inefficiency and perfunctory and casual attitude to the law of limitation.

Though the above-stated reasons were illogical and unpersuasive, yet in the interest of justice, delay was condoned in light of providing fair opportunity.

Issue

Charging additional cost (Rs 18 in this case) for ‘carry bags’ to carry the goods purchased by the complainant was concluded as an unfair trade practice on the part of OP by the two Fora below.

hence, OP Co. was directed to refund the cost of ‘carry bags’ and pay compensation of Rs 100 along with the cost of litigation which was Rs 1100 and Rs 5000 to be deposited in the Consumer Legal Aid Account.

Revision Petition

The instant revision petition was filed by the OP Co. under Section 58(1)(b) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 before this Commission.

[The jurisdiction of this Commission under both sections i.e. Section 21(b) of the Act 1986 and Section 58(1)(b) of the Act 2019 is the same (the articulation in both is identical)]

Bench noted the fact that earlier OP was providing ‘carry bags’ made of polythene without charging additional costs and later when it started providing cloth carry bags it started charging additional cost.

In light of the above, the Commission expressed that:

Prominent prior notice / signs / announcement / advertisement / warning to the consumers, before the consumers exercised their choice to make their purchases from the outlets of the Opposite Party Co., that additional cost will be charged for carry bags, was not there.

In the present case, the consumers were not allowed/were not in a position to/did not have prior notice or information to take their own ‘carry bags’. In fact, after the purchase was completed and at the time of making the payment, they were being charged additionally for the cost of ‘carry bags’.

Fora Below

The Forums below appraised the case and returned with concurrent findings of deficiency and unfair trade practice.

Notice issued by Co-Ordinate Benches

The argument made by Senior Counsel, in the hearing on admission on 01-12-2020, that in “similar” cases of other traders notice has been issued by co-ordinate benches of this Commission, is not tenable.

Mere issuance of notice by a co-ordinate bench in “similar” cases of other traders is not a binding precedent.

Cloth Carry Bags

Carry bags of undisclosed specifications were forced on the consumers at the price as fixed by the Opposite Party Co., the consumers were forced to accept the carry bags, of undisclosed specifications, at the price fixed.

Adding to the above, Bench stated that a mere notice at the payment counter or consumer being informed at the payment counter that additional cost will be charged for ‘carry bags’ after the purchase from the store concerned has been made, should not be the case.

“It also cannot be that carry bags of (undisclosed) specifications and of price as fixed by the Opposite Party Co. are so forced on the consumer.

Such notice or information at the time of making payment not only causes embarrassment and harassment to the consumer and burdens him with additional cost but also affects his unfettered right to make an informed choice of patronizing or not patronizing a particular outlet at the initial stage itself and before making his selection of goods for purchase.”

Therefore, the Commission found such practice of disclosing the price of carry bags at the payment counter to be unquestionably ‘unfair trade practice’ under Section 2(1)(r) of the Act 1986 [corresponding Section 2(47) of the Act 2019].

Right to Know

As a matter of Consumer rights, the consumer has the right to know that there will be an additional cost for ‘carry bags’ and also to know the salient specifications and price of the carry bags, before he exercises his choice of patronizing a particular retail outlet and before he makes his selection of goods for purchase from the said retail outlet.

Commission in very clear words expressed that:

“…arbitrarily and highhandedly deviating from its past practice, deviating from the normal, not giving adequate prominent prior notice or information to the consumer before he makes his choice of patronizing the retail outlet, and before he makes his selection for purchase, imposing the additional cost of ‘carry bags’ at the time of making payment, after the selection has been made, forcing carry bags without disclosing their salient specifications at price as fixed by the Opposite Party Co., putting the consumer to embarrassment and harassment, burdening the consumer with additional cost, in such way and manner, is decidedly unfair and deceptive.”

Hence, the Commission directed OP to discontinue its unfair trade practice of arbitrarily and highhandedly imposing an additional cost of carry bags on the consumer at the time of making payment, without prominent prior notice and information before the consumer makes his choice of patronizing its retail outlets and before the consumer makes his selection of goods for purchase, as also without disclosing the salient specifications and price of ‘carry bags’.

The above order is made under Section 39(1)(g) of the 2019 Act.  However, the Commission made it explicitly clear that:
“It is made explicit that the critique apropos the Opposite Party Co. and the order under Section 39(1)(g) of the Act 2019 to the Opposite Party Co. have been made inter alia considering that it is a company with the wherewithal and inter alia considering the way and manner in which it conducts its business of retail. As such, nothing in the critique and in the order made under Section 39(1)(g) of the Act 2019 can be (mis) construed to be made applicable to differently / lesser placed traders, the applicability can only be made on similarly / better-placed traders, similarly / better situate, having similar way and manner of conducting their business.” [Big Bazaar (Future Retail Ltd.) v. Ashok Kumar, 2020 SCC OnLine NCDRC 495, decided on 22-12-2020]


Advocates who appeared before the Commission:

For the Petitioner: Sudhir K. Makkar, Senior Advocate along with Saumya Gupta, Advocate and Yogita Rathore, Advocate.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jharkhand High Court: Sujit Narayan Prasad, J., dismissed the writ petition as a writ petition after issuance of notice under Section 13 (4) of the SARFAESI Act, 2002 is not to be entertained.

The brief facts of the case of the petitioner is that the petitioner has extended with the credit facilities of an amount of Rs 80 Lakhs, a cash credit of Rs 70 Lakhs and a bank guarantee facility of Rs 10 Lakhs. The said account having been declared to be a non-performing asset, therefore, a proceeding has been initiated by issuing a notice under Section 13(2) of the SARFAESI Act, 2002, subsequent thereto, a notice under Section 13(4) of the SARFAESI Act, has also been issued. In course of that stage, the respondent-Bank has entered into a settlement under One Time Settlement Scheme by settling the account. The petitioner after entering into the settlement had started making a payment but the terms and conditions of the One Time Settlement were not been complied with, therefore, the One Time Settlement Scheme was cancelled by the impugned order, against which, the present writ petition has been filed by the petitioner.

The Counsel for the petitioner relied upon the judgement of A-One Mega Mart (P) Ltd. v. HDFC Bank, 2012 SCC OnLine P&H 17328, and submitted that the writ petition may be entertained and appropriate direction by quashing the One Time Settlement may be issued.

The Counsel for the respondent submitted that the proceeding has been initiated under the Debt Recovery Act, 1993 and subsequently the notice under Section 13(2) has also been issued now it is at the stage of the proceeding under Section 13(4) of the Act, 2002.

The Court held that the there is no absolute bar in entertaining the writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India but simultaneously in numerous judgements of the Supreme Court it has been laid down that a writ petition after issuance of notice under Section 13(4) of the Act, 2002 is not to be entertained. In this regard, reliance was placed upon the judgement of State Bank of Travancore v. Mathew K.C., (2018) 3 SCC 85. On the basis of views expressed by the Supreme Court, this Court is of the view that this writ petition is not fit to be entertained, accordingly, dismissed.[Ace Sales & Logistics v. H.D.F.C. Bank Ltd.,  2019 SCC OnLine Jhar 1136, decided on 20-08-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Bench comprising of G.S. Patel, J , has held that the Indian Judiciary system is flexible enough to consider a notice issued through ‘Whatsapp’ or through email admissible in the court of law. It is not necessary for the plaintiff to go through extreme measures like that of a bailiff or through the ‘beat of a drum’ for the notice to be considered as properly served. The defendants were duly notified in the eyes of the court.

The facts in brief are the plaintiff obtained the original rights of a Korean movie for a Hindi remake but soon found the Kannada remake of the film which was made without obtaining the rights of the movie. The plaintiff in this case sent a notice through ‘Whatsapp’ to the defendant. The defendant took the stand that he hadn’t received the notice but the receipt on the delivery of the message was shown. The Court held this method of giving noticeable as valid and also granted temporary and interim injunction against the defendant or any person related to the defendant or working with/ for the defendant by restraining them from making the film available available for showing to the public in any manner or form. [Kross Television India Pvt. Ltd. v. Vikhyat Chitra Production, 2017 SCC OnLine Bom 1433, decided on 27-03-2017]