Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI): G. Mahalingam (Whole Time Member) held that while directors are not prohibited from trading in units of the schemes managed by the Asset Management Company, they should ensure that such trading conforms to ethical and moral standards and legal norms expected to be complied by a person entrusted with quasi-fiduciary responsibilities.

Unfair trade Practice or Fraudulent?

Whether the redemption of units in some schemes of a mutual fund by a director of the Asset Management Company of the Mutual Fund and his immediate family, at a time when the said schemes were facing significant redemption pressure (schemes were later wound up) and the director was allegedly in possession of material non-public information relating to the same, would fall within the scope of ‘fraudulent’ or ‘unfair trade practice’ as defined under SEBI(Prohibition of Fraudulent and Unfair Trade Practices) Regulations, 2003.

Background

Franklin Templeton Mutual Fund (FT-MF) is s SEBI registered mutual fund. Franklin Templeton Asset Management Company Ltd. (“FT–AMC”) is the Asset Management Company and Franklin Templeton Trustee Services Pvt. Ltd. (“Trustees”) acts as the Trustee of FT–MF.

Vide notice dated 23-04-2020, Trustees informed the unit holders of certain schemes of FT-MF that it was winding up the schemes in conformity with the provisions of Regulation 39(2)(a) of the SEBI (Mutual Fund) Regulations, 1996.

SEBI ordered Forensic Audit/Inspection in terms of Regulation 66 of the Mutual Fund Regulations and found that Noticee’s 1, 2 and 3 had redeemed units in the Impugned Debt Schemes during the period. In view of the same, SEBI issued a Show Cause Notice.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Insider trading Regulations

 Insider Trading Regulations, when they were notified in 1992, primarily sought to prohibit ‘insiders’ connected to the issuer of the security from trading on the basis of superior information obtained during the course of their employment or association with the issuer; whereas the PFUTP Regulations covered other forms of trading done by exploiting information asymmetries by any person, even though he may not be an ‘insider’ or connected to an ‘insider’.

Board noted that Courts have recognized that certain types of trades executed on the basis of superior information would fall within the definition of ‘fraud’ under PFUTP Regulations 2003.

Laws dealing with information asymmetries (PIT Regulations and PFUTP Regulations) essentially seek to address the issues arising out of disparities in access to material information, that is otherwise not legally available to general investors, and to prevent those persons having access to such superior information from exploiting the informational advantage, in order to protect the integrity of the market and maintain investor confidence.

Bench noted that Noticee 1 could reasonably be expected to be privy to material non-public information and it was held that redemption of units was done while being in possession of material non-public information.

Board expressed that the timing of the trades is also crucial circumstantial, evidence in the present matter.

Trades by Noticee  2, who is the wife of Noticee 1, was undertaken on March 23, 2020, and March 24, 2020- i.e. the trades were done in close proximity to the dates when Noticee 1 started redeeming his investments as well as that of Noticee 3. It is further seen that on March 24, 2020, both Noticee 1, on behalf of Noticee 3, and Noticee 2 were redeeming units.

It needs to be borne in mind that Noticee  2 was also experienced finance professional in her own right. Given her experience, she was expected to be aware of the sensitivity of the transactions undertaken by Noticee 1, being a key functionary of the AMC with access to material non-public information and its implications.

Given the facts and circumstances under which Noticee 2 had redeemed the units, it leads the Bench to conclude that such redemptions were done on the basis of material non-public information Noticee  1 had in respect of the Impugned Debt Schemes.

Whether the redemptions can be considered as fraudulent trades?

SEBI held that it found it difficult to hold that redemption of units by the Noticees satisfies the parameters of ‘fraud’ as defined under regulation 2(1)(c) read with regulation 3(a) of the PFUTP Regulations 2003, also the conduct of the Noticees did not satisfy the requirements for sustaining the charge under regulation 4(2)(q) of PFUTP Regulations 2003. 

Whether the redemptions can be considered as an Unfair trade practice? 

‘Unfair trade practice’ is not defined under the PFUTP Regulations 2003.

Supreme Court in the decision of SEBI v. Kanaiyalal Baldevbhai Patel, (2017) 15 SCC 1 has observed that the scope of the term ‘unfair trade practise’ is wider than that of the term ‘fraud’ and activities which do not satisfy the parameters of ‘fraud’ could independently have proceeded under Regulation 4(1) if it can be considered as an ‘unfair trade practice’.

Bench expressed that the primary purpose for having laws prohibiting trading on the basis of asymmetric access to information is to foster confidence in the securities markets. Such trading by directors of a company is also a breach of the fiduciary duty as the insider effectively converted corporate information for private profits to the detriment of the other investors.

SEBI expressed that Regulations 18(25)(B)(vi) and 18(27)(vi), respectively, required the Trustees and the independent directors of the AMC/Trustee to put in place a ‘code of ethics’ which were designed to prevent fraudulent, deceptive or manipulative practices by insiders in connection with personal securities transactions. It was further noted that the AMC had formulated a Policy on Conflict of Interest.

Policy, which listed the obligations of the relevant persons, inter alia, requires employees and directors to “not [participate] in decision making in case person [is] having actual perceived or potential conflicts of interest in the transaction” and also requires them to “pro-actively report any actual perceived or potential conflicts of interest.”

Board added that Noticee 1 being a person having wide experience in securities market, it was expected that his conduct would be line with the quasi-fiduciary responsibility that a director of an AMC owed to the unitholders of the mutual fund.

On making an investment in the impugned debt schemes, Noticee 1 should have upfront declared his investments to AMC and should have sought to recuse himself from any decision related to the Impugned Debt Schemes and should have also refrained himself from accessing any non-public information relating to the schemes, material or non-material.

Therefore, the conduct of Noticee 1 in redeeming units in the Impugned Debt Schemes while in possession of material non-public information was not in line with the high ethical standards expected of a person vested with such quasi-fiduciary responsibilities and the same was also not in compliance with the ‘code of ethics’ and the ‘Conflict of Interest Policy’ of the AMC which clearly spelt out restrictions on dealing in securities while in possession of material non-public information.

Redemption of units by a director of the asset management company of a mutual fund while being privy to material non-public information cannot be considered as fair conduct.

Conclusion

Redemption of units by the Noticee 1 on his own behalf and on behalf of Noticee 3 while being privy to material non-public information was an ‘unfair trade practice’ and in contravention of Regulation 4(1) of PFUTP 2003.

Facts and circumstances and timing of the redemptions made by Noticee 2 lead to a distinct likelihood that the said redemptions were also based on material non-public information passed on by Noticee 1.

Since during the course of proceedings, Noticee 3 expired, proceedings against were abated.

However, since Noticee 1 had done the transactions on behalf of Noticee 3, the directions of disgorgement will be applicable to the corpus standing in the name of Noticee 3 also.

Directions

  1. Noticee 1 and Noticee 2 shall be restrained from accessing the securities market and further prohibited from buying, selling or otherwise dealing in securities, directly or indirectly, or being associated with the securities market in any manner, whatsoever, for a period of one (1) year from the date of this order. During the period of restraint, Noticee 1 and Noticee 2 shall not liquidate their existing holding of securities including the units of mutual funds.
  2. Noticee 1 and Noticee 2 shall jointly and severally transfer the amounts mentioned within a period of forty-five (45) days, from the date of receipt of this order. In case of failure to do so, simple interest at the rate of 12% per annum shall be applicable from the expiry of the said 45 days till the date of actual transfer;
  3. Noticee 1 shall be liable to pay a monetary penalty of Rs 4 crores for the redemptions undertaken on his own behalf and on behalf of Noticee 3, and Noticee 2 shall be liable to pay a monetary penalty of Rs 3 crores for the redemptions from her account, under Section 15HA of the SEBI Act, 1992;
  4. Noticee 1 and Noticee 2 shall pay their respective penalties within a period of forty-five (45) days, from the date of receipt of this order. In case of failure to do so, simple interest at the rate of 12% per annum shall be applicable from the expiry of the said 45 days till the date of actual payment.

[Franklin Templeton Mutual Fund, In Re.,  2021 SCC OnLine SEBI 131, decided on 7-06-2021]

Case BriefsDistrict CourtTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, U.T. Chandigarh: The Coram of Justice Raj Shekhar Attri (President) and Padma Pandey, Rajesh K. Arya (Members) observed that a service provider cannot state that it was not obliged to provide any record/bills to the consumer, since a person who is spending hefty amount to receive the services has the right to know where, how and in what manner the money was spent.

Complainant had paid an amount of Rs 27 lakhs to the OPs for the construction of a residential house.

Regarding the completion of work, the complainant asked the OPs to provide the details of the bill, but to no avail and as a result, the complainant hired a professional to assess the work done.

After the assessment, it was found that the value of completion of work done by the OPs came to be Rs 16,77,629 whereas they received an amount of Rs 27 lakhs. Due to which the complainant stopped the work.

OPs extracted Rs 10,22, 371 extra from the complainant causing him financial loss and also failed to complete the construction work as per the agreement and demanded more amount.

In view of the above background, the Complainant sought directions to OPs to refund the excess amount.

OP’s Pleading

Opposite Parties pleaded that as per the agreement, the complainant was liable to pay an amount of Rs 62,84,800, Since 60% of the work was completed, the complainant was supposed to pay an amount of Rs 37,73, 880, out of which only Rs 27 lakhs were paid. OPs also submitted that the person who did the assessment was not an expert. Also, the complainant befooled the OP that his loan was going to get sanctioned and hence the OPs should continue the construction work, even in the absence of payment of remaining amount.

OPs also submitted that they were not obliged to provide the detail of bills for the said construction work.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Moot Question: Whether the OPs had received an excess amount from the complainant towards partial construction work of house done on his plot or not?

Bench opined that to come to any definite conclusion, an independent person qualified in the said field was required to be appointed to give his report resultantly, a Local Commissioner was appointed.

Unfair Trade Practice

Commission noted from the report of the Local Commissioner that through the material in the building and structure raised was as per the required specifications, yet the value of work which has been done at the site came to be Rs 15,04,630 only, whereas, on the other hand, the opposite parties have already received an amount of Rs 27 lacs from the complainant, which act clearly amounts to adoption of unfair trade practice.

Deficiency in Service

Adding to its analysis, Bench also stated that the complainant was right in seeking bills from the OPs. In fact, by not providing the bill, OPs were deficient in providing service.

OPs cannot wriggle out of the situation by stating that they were not obliged to provide any record/bills to the complainant, as the same was not agreed to between the parties, because every person who is shredding hefty amount from his pocket towards the services being provided to him, has the right to know as to how, where and in what manner, the same has been utilized.

Conclusion

Commission directed OPs to refund the amount of Rs 11, 95, 370 received in excess along with 12% interest within a period of 30 days.

To pay compensation for causing mental agony and harassment and also cost of litigation, in lumpsum, to the tune of Rs 50,000/-, to the complainant, within a period of 30 days

If the complainant had availed housing loan from any bank/financial institution for making payment towards price of plot in question, it shall have the first charge on the amount payable, to the extent, the same was due to be paid by the complainant. [Mubarak Masih v. Gautam Construction Company, Complaint Case No. 57 of 2019, decided on 27-05-2021]


Advocates before the Commission:

Abhishek Bhateja, Advocate for the complainant.

N.K. Nagar, Advocate for the opposite parties.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (DSCDRC): Coram of Dr Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal (President) and Anil Srivastava (Member) decided on the question whether if a car is purchased for the personal use of a company’s Vice President, would the acquisition of such a car come under the Consumer Protection Act.

Present complaint was filed against Mercedes Benz India Private Limited and T&T Motors Limited.

As per the facts of the matter, complainant 1 had purchased a ‘Mercedes Benz C 220’ Car from OP 2 for the personal use of Complainant 2, being Vice president of the company. The said car broke down during the rainfall in Delhi and was sent to OP 3 for repair.

However, till the finding of the present complaint, the complainants received more than five estimates for repair of the said car from the opposite parties, which in total amounted to more than the value of the car.

The car was not delivered by the OPs even after the lapse of 3 months due to which the complainants raised grievances to the OPs, alleging manufacturing defect in the vehicle resulting in deficiency of service and unfair trade practice.

OPs contended that the complainants cannot be stated to be a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act 1986 as the said car was purchased by the company for its Vice president and the same amounted to commercial purpose.

Further, it was added that the vehicle was used in violation of the instructions contained in Owner’s manual and due to negligence, the car broke down.

Cause for delay in repairing was due to the late approval by the Insurance company.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Whether Complainants are consumer or not?

 Bench referred to the decision of National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in Crompton Greaves Limited v. Daimler Chrysler India Private Limited, 2016 SCC OnLine NCDRC 2121 wherein it was observed that, If a car or other goods are purchased or the services are hired or availed by a company for the personal use of its directors or employees, the purpose behind such acquisition is not to earn profits or to advance the business activities of the company. 

The acquisition of the goods or the hiring or availing of services, in order to bring the transaction within the purview of section 2 (1) (d) of the Consumer Protection Act, therefore, should be aimed at generating profits for the company or should otherwise be connected or interwoven with the business activities of the company. The purpose behind such acquisition should be to promote, advance or augment the business activities of the company, by the use of such goods or services.

Hence, relying on the above-settled proposition of law, Commission in the present matter held that complainants are a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 as the said car was purchased for the personal use of the complainant 2 and the purpose behind such purchase was not to earn profits or to advance the business activities of the company.

Deficiency of Service

 OPs failed to show any documentary evidence that the car broke down due to negligence on the part of the complainants or due to the violation of instructions contained in Owner’s manual, hence Commission was in consonance with the contention of the complainants that the said car suffered from some manufacturing defects which were suppressed by the OPs.

Complainant 2 was put to great inconvenience and remained without a vehicle for 4 months.

Bench directed the OP 2 to pay Rs 2,50,000 to the complainants as compensation for inconvenience, mental agony and harassment faced by the complainants and Rs 50,000 as litigation costs. [CJ DARCL Logistics Ltd. v. Mercedes Benz India (P) Ltd., Complaint No. 584 of 2013, decided on 05-05-2021]


Advocates before the Commission:

Manu Beri, Counsel for the Complainant.

Rabiya Thakur, Counsel for OP-1.

Counsel for OP-3.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): C. Viswanath (Presiding Member) expressed that:

Law is settled that illegal and forceful means cannot be adopted by Banks to seize any property.

The present revision petition was filed by the petitioners against the order dated 31-10-2011 of the West Bengal State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission wherein the appeal filed by the petitioners was dismissed.

Complainant had purchased a ten-wheeler truck financed by OP 1 and accordingly OP 1 through OP 2. Further, the complainant entered into an agreement with OP 1and accordingly both OP 1and 2 sanctioned a loan of Rs 9,15,000.  The Complainant was supposed to repay a sum of Rs 11,57,700 in 47 instalments.

Thereafter, when it came to the notice of the Complainant that the Registration Certificate bore the name of Opposite Party 3 as a joint registered owner, on enquiry, Opposite Party 3 informed him that he had incurred an expenditure of Rs 45,000 from his own pocket in order to get the loan sanctioned in favour of the Complainant and as and when the Complainant would repay the same, he would take necessary steps to remove his name from the Registration Certificate.

Later, although the Complainant paid Rs 45,000 to Opposite Party 3 in two instalments, Opposite Party 3 took no steps to delete his name from the Registration Certificate. Further, Opposite Party 3 detained the vehicle by force and removed its tyres to render it defunct. According to the Complainant, Opposite Parties, in collusion with each other, seized the vehicle.

Decision

Bench stated that it is not understood as to why respondent 2/OP 3 took possession of the vehicle and removed its tyres and later on said to have voluntarily handed over the possession of the vehicle to the petitioners.

The Petitioners could not place any evidence as to any notice having been given to the Complainant for seizure of the vehicle nor any notice of auction of the vehicle.

Commission expressed that District Forum rightly held “we do not see any reason to accept the contention of Opposite Party 2 that they did not take possession of the vehicle in question by force.”

State Commission observed that the vehicle was auctioned without issuing any prior notice to the Complainant.

Law is settled that illegal and forceful means cannot be adopted by Banks to seize any property. Due notice had to be given for seizure of the vehicle and following the established procedure the vehicle could be seized and later auctioned.

 While concluding the bench decided that the petitioners in collusion with respondent 2/OP 3 adopted illegal and unfair means in seizure of the vehicle which amounted to unfair trade practice.

Jurisdiction of this Commission under Section 21 (b) is very limited. This Commission is not required to re-appreciate and reassess the evidences and reach its own conclusion. The Court can intervene only when the petitioner succeeds in showing that the Fora below has wrongly exercised its jurisdiction or there is a miscarriage of justice.

 Referring to the decision of Supreme Court in Rubi (Chandra) Dutta v. United India Insurance Co. Ltd. (2011) 11 SCC 269 and Lourdes Society Snehanjali Girls Hostel v. H&R Johnson (India) Ltd., (2016) 8 SCC 286, Commission did not find any infirmity or illegality in the impugned order. [Manager, IndusInd Bank Ltd. v. Abani Kanta Das,  2021 SCC OnLine NCDRC 14, decided on 11-01-2021]


Advocates for the parties:

For the Petitioner: Rana Ranjit, Advocate
For the Respondent 1: Somraj Gangopadhyay, Advocate

Case BriefsDistrict Court

State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission, Odisha (SCDRC): Dr D.P. Choudhury (President) modified the compensation amount awarded to a Law Student in light of being subjected to ‘Deficiency of Service’ and ‘Unfair Trade by ‘Amazon’.

The instant appeal was filed under Section 15 of the erstwhile Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

Factual Matrix

While the appellant was in his first year of law school, the OP had floated an offer for sale of a Laptop without Laptop Bag for Rs 190 against the price of Rs 23,499.

OP had confirmed for placing of the order and two hours after receiving the confirmation, the appellant received a phone call from the OP’s Customer Care Service Department stating that the subject order stood cancelled due to the price recession issue.

Since the complainant was in need of a laptop to prepare his project, he raised an objection for such cancellation.

On not receiving any response from the OP, complainant issued a legal notice.

Deficiency in Service

Appellant had to purchase another laptop but suffered from mental agony for such cancellation, hence filed a complaint alleging the deficiency in service and unfair trade practice.

Complainant claimed compensation of Rs 50,000 and Rs. 10,000 towards litigation cost.

District Forum had allowed the complaint partly by directing the OP to pay compensation of Rs 10,000 for mental agony and to pay Rs 2,000 towards the cost of litigation.

Hence, the aforesaid impugned order was challenged by the complainant/appellant stating that the District Forum committed error in law by not deciding to direct to pay Rs 50,000 as compensation.

Analysis, Decision and Law

Bench observed that “When there is an advertisement made for offer placed by the OP and made the offer as per the material available on record and complainant placed the order and same got confirmed, the agreement is complete.”

Another aspect to be noted was that, when the OP had allowed Rockery Marketing at his platform as per written version, the responsibility of the OP could not be lost sight of.

Since there was a breach of contract by OP, OP is held to be liable to pay the damages.

Commission agreed with District Forum’s observation that OP not only negligent in providing service but was also involved in unfair trade practice.

Taking all the factors discussed above for consideration, Bench concluded that compensation awarded should be of Rs 30,000 for unfair trade practice and punitive damages of Rs 10,000. Further, with regard to the cost of litigation Rs 5000 needs to be awarded.

On failing to make the above payments to the complainant within 30 days, the said amounts will carry interest at the rate of 12% per annum.

In view of the above, the appeal was disposed of. [Supriyo Ranjan Mahapatra v. Amazon Development Centre India (P) Ltd., First Appeal No. 492 of 2018, decided on 11-01-2021]


Read More:

District Consumer Forum directs ‘Amazon’ to pay compensation for “deficiency in services”

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-Judge Bench of Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, JJ., observed that

“Developer cannot compel the apartment buyers to be bound by the one-sided contractual terms contained in the Apartment Buyer‘s Agreement.”

Judgment passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission is in Challenge

Appellant-Developer challenged the decision of NCDRC wherein refund of the amounts deposited by the Apartment Buyers was directed on account of inordinate delay in completing the construction and obtaining the Occupation Certificate.

Issues for Consideration:

  • Determination of the date from which the 42 months period for handing over possession is to be calculated under Clause 13.3, whether it would be from the date of issuance of the Fire NOC as contended by the Developer; or, from the date of sanction of the Building Plans, as contended by the Apartment Buyers;
  • Whether the terms of the Apartment Buyer‘s Agreement were one-sided, and the Apartment Buyers would not be bound by the same;
  • Whether the provisions of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 must be given primacy over the Consumer Protection Act, 1986;
  • Whether on account of the inordinate delay in handing over possession, the Apartment Buyers were entitled to terminate the agreement, and claim a refund of the amounts deposited with interest.

Analysis

Bench made a pointwise analysis of the instant matter wherein in the first issue, the point of controversy was whether the 42 months’ period is to be calculated from the date when the Fire NOC was granted by the authority concerned as contended by the Developer; or, the date on which the Building Plans were approved as contended by the Apartment Buyers.

In accordance with Section 15 of the Haryana Fire Safety Act, 2009, it is mandatory for a Builder/Developer to obtain the approval of the Fire Fighting Scheme conforming to the National Building Code of India, and obtain a ‘No objection Certificate’ before the commencement of construction.

Clause 13.3 of the Apartment Buyer’s Agreement provides that the 42 months’ period has to be calculated from the date of approval of Building Plans and/or fulfilment of the pre-conditions imposed thereunder.

Bench opined that it was a mandatory requirement under the Haryana Fire Safety Act, 2009 to obtain the Fire NOC before the commencement of construction activity. The said requirement was stipulated in the sanctioned Building Plans, as also in the Environment Clearance.

 The 42 months‘ period in Clause 13.3. of the Agreement for handing over possession of the apartments would be required to be computed from the date on which Fire NOC was issued, and not from the date of the Building Plans being sanctioned.

In the instant matter, there was a delay of approximately 7 months in obtaining the fire NOC by Developer.

Whether the terms of the Apartment Buyer’s Agreement are one-sided?

Court observed on perusal of the clauses mentioned in the Agreement that the said clauses were wholly one-sided terms of the Agreement Buyer’s Agreement, which were entirely loaded in favour of the Developer and against the allottee at every step.

For the said issue, Court held that the terms of the Apartment Buyer‘s Agreement are oppressive and wholly one-sided, and would constitute an unfair trade practice under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

Incorporation of one-sided and unreasonable clauses in the Apartment Buyer’s Agreement constitutes an unfair trade practice under Section 2(1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act.

Whether primacy to be given to RERA over the Consumer Protection Act?

Bench expressed that this Court has upheld the applicability of provisions of Consumer Protection Act as an additional remedy, despite the existence of remedies under special statutes, including the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

In the decision of  Emaar MGF Land Ltd. v. Aftab Singh, (2019) 12 SCC 751, it was held that the remedy under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is confined to the Complaint filed by a Consumer as defined by the Act, for defects and deficiency caused by the service provider.

In a recent decision of this Court in Imperia Structures Ltd. v. Anil Patni, (2020) 10 SCC 783, it was held that remedies under the Consumer Protection Act were in addition to the remedies available under special statutes. The absence of a bar under Section 79 of the RERA Act to the initiation of proceedings before a fora which is not a civil court, read with Section 88 of the RERA Act makes the position clear. Section 18 of the RERA Act specifies that the remedies are “without prejudice to any other remedy available”.

Whether the Apartment Buyers are entitled to terminate the Agreement or refund of the amount deposited with Delay Compensation?

Answering this issue, the Court categorised the buyer/allottees into two categories:

  • Apartment Buyers whose allotments fall in Phase 1 of the project comprised in Towers A6 to A10, B1 to B4, and C3 to C7, where the Developer has been granted occupation certificate, and offer of possession has been made
  • Apartment Buyers whose allotments fall in Phase 2 of the project, where the allotments are in Towers A1 to A5, B5 to B8, C8 to C11, where the Occupation Certificate has not been granted so far.

For category 1, it was held that such allottees (barring an exception) were obligated to take possession of the apartments, since the construction was completed, and possession offered on 28-06-2019, after the issuance of Occupation Certificate on 31-05-2019. The Developer is however obligated to pay Delay Compensation for the period of delay which has occurred from  27-11-2018 till the date of the offer of possession was made to the allottees.

So far category 2 is concerned, it was held that such allottees are entitled to refund of entire amount deposited by them, along with compensation and interest.

In view of the above discussion, civil appeals were disposed of. [Ireo Grace Realtech (P) Ltd. v. Abhishek Khanna, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 14, decided on 11-01-2021]

Law made Easy

[Disclaimer: This note is for general information only. It is NOT to be substituted for legal advice or taken as legal advice. The publishers of the blog shall not be liable for any act or omission based on this note]

The interest of the consumer has to be kept in the forefront and the prime consideration that an essential commodity ought to be made available to the common man at a fair price must rank in priority over every other consideration.”

Y.V. Chandrachud, J. in Prag Ice & Oil Mills v. Union of India, (1978) 3 SCC 459

 Introduction

“An Act to provide for protection of the interests of consumers and for the said purpose, to establish authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumers’ disputes and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”

The long title of the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (“2019 Act”) in the least number of words explains the whole and sole purpose of the Act. While the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 had nearly the same long title, but being around three decades old, did not inculcate the needful things that would have solved the problems of the modern and technology-dependent consumers, which is why a need was felt to replace the whole Act with a new one and bring a fundamental change.

The Parliament passed the Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 on 06-08-2019 to replace the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The President of India gave its accent to the 2019 Act on 09-08-2019 and the same came into force on 20-07-2020. The 2019 Act has been enacted for the purpose of providing timely and effective administration and settlement of consumer disputes and related matters.

Related Read:

Substantial portion of Consumer Protection Act, 2019 along with related Rules to come into force on 20th July, 2020

Consumer Protection Act, 2019 comes into force from today

Brief History of Consumer Protection Act in India

Consumer Protection has always been a matter of great concern. In ancient India, effective measures were initiated to protect consumers from crimes in the market place. Ancient law-givers ably described various kinds of unfair trade practices and also prescribed severe punishments for wrongdoers. Mainly, acts of adulteration and false weights and measures were seriously dealt with.

In the medieval period, some Muslim rulers developed well-organized market mechanisms to monitor prices and the supply of goods to the markets. During the British period, the modern legal system was introduced in India and many laws were enacted to protect the interests of consumers generally.

Some of the laws which were passed during the British regime concerning consumer interests were: the Contract Act of 1872, the Sale of Goods Act of 1930, the Penal Code of 1860, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940, the Usurious Loans Act of 1918, and the Agriculture Procedure (Grading and Marketing Act) of 1937. These laws provided specific legal protection for consumers.

Today, the civil justice system is tainted with deficiencies that discourage the consumer from seeking legal recourse. However, the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, which provided easy access to justice, had brought a legal revolution in India as a result of its cost-effective mechanisms and popular support. However, with the gradual advancements in technology, the age-old 1986 Act was unable to keep up with the grievances of the modern consumer. Thus, a need was felt to substitute the old Act which resulted in the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

Key features of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019

  • The new Act which was drafted keeping in mind the needs of the modern consumers incorporates new terminologies which had no place in the old Act. Under Section 2(1)advertisement” is defined as any audio or visual publicity, representation, endorsement or pronouncement made by means of light, sound, smoke, gas, print, electronic media, internet or website and includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper, invoice or such other documents; which means that now a consumer who is aggrieved due to some kind of misleading advertisement can approach the authorities concerned seeking relief.
  • A provision for a minor being a consumer has been introduced under Section 2(5)(vii) of the Act where the parent or legal guardian can approach the authorities through the minor seeking relief.
  • A new clause of “product liability action[Section 2(35)] has been added with definition of “complaint” under Section 2(6)(vii) which lies against the product manufacturer [Section 2(36)], product seller [Section 2(37)] or product service provider [Section 2(38)] as the case may be.
  • Under the new Act, “consumer” is defined under Section 2(7) as a person who “buys any goods for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any user of such goods other than the person who buys such goods for consideration paid or promised or partly paid or partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment, when such use is made with the approval of such person, but does not include a person who obtains such goods for resale or for any commercial purpose” or “hires or avails of any service for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any beneficiary of such service other than the person who hires or avails of the services for consideration paid or promised, or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment, when such services are availed of with the approval of the first mentioned person, but does not include a person who avails of such service for any commercial purpose.”

Thus, a consumer will now mean any person who “buys any goods” and “hires any services” which shall include both online and offline transactions through electronic means, teleshopping, direct selling or multi-level marketing.

  • The most important feature of the new Act definitely being the rights of the consumer under Section 2(9), which includes,
    • the right to be protected against the marketing of goods, products or services which are hazardous to life and property;
    • the right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods, products or services, as the case may be, so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices;
    • the right to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of goods, products or services at competitive prices;
    • the right to be heard and to be assured that consumer’s interests will receive due consideration at appropriate fora;
    • the right to seek redressal against unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumers; and
    • the right to consumer awareness.
  • Section 2(10) and 2(11) of the Act talk about “defect” and “deficiency” “Defect” means any fault, imperfection or shortcoming in the quality, quantity, potency, purity or standard which is required to be maintained by or under any law for the time being in force or under any contract, express or implied or as is claimed by the trader in any manner whatsoever in relation to any goods or product and the expression “defective” shall be construed accordingly; whereas “deficiency” means any fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance which is required to be maintained by or under any law for the time being in force or has been undertaken to be performed by a person in pursuance of a contract or otherwise in relation to any service and includes—(i) any act of negligence or omission or commission by such person which causes loss or injury to the consumer; and

(ii) deliberate withholding of relevant information by such person to the consumer.

  • The new additions include “e-commerce” Section 2(16), “electronic service provider” Section 2(17) along with the prescribed liabilities in relation to internet frauds. This has broadened the scope of the Act and it looks after the better protection of the rights of e-consumers and also enables them to proceed against e-commerce websites in the event of any infringement or violation.
  • Thereafter, a series of new terminologies have been added to Section 2 of the Act, for example a brand new concept of “product liability” has been included in the new Act which has been defined under Section 2(34) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 as “the responsibility of a product manufacturer or product seller, of any product or service, to compensate for any harm caused to a consumer by such defective product manufactured or sold or by deficiency in services relating thereto;” and in lieu of which the concepts of “product liability action”, “product manufacturer” etc. have also been included in the Act.

Central Consumer Protection Authorities

One of the major drawbacks of the previous Act was that there were no protection authorities in order to keep check, regulate and address the grievances of the consumers in an effective and speedy manner. Chapter III of the 2019 Act provides with the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) which has been added in order to regulate matters relating to violation of rights of consumers, unfair trade practices and false or misleading advertisements which are prejudicial to the interests of public and consumers and to promote, protect and enforce the rights of consumers as a class. Central Authority shall consist of a Chief Commissioner and such number of other Commissioners as may be prescribed, to be appointed by the Central Government to exercise the powers and discharge the functions under this Act. It will consist of an investigation wing headed by a Director-General for the purpose of conducting inquiry or investigation under this Act as may be directed by the Central Authority.

An appeal to an order passed by the CCPA on this issue can be filed before the National Commission within a period of 30 days from the date of the receipt of such order.

How to make a complaint?

Section 17 states that a complaint relating to violation of consumer rights or unfair trade practices or false or misleading advertisements which are prejudicial to the interests of consumers as a class, may be forwarded either in writing or in electronic mode, to any one of the authorities, namely, the District Collector or the Commissioner of Regional Office or the Central Authority.

The Central Authority under Section 21 has been provided with the powers to issue directions and penalties against false or misleading advertisements.

Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (CDRC)

Chapter IV of the Act deals with the Establishment, Qualifications, Jurisdiction, Manner of Complaint, Proceedings etc. regarding the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. CDRC is empowered to resolve complaints with respect to unfair and restrictive trade practices, defective goods and services, overcharging and goods which are a hazard to life and safety. It has to be set up at three levels, i.e. the District, State and National levels (commissions). In comparison to the old Act, the jurisdictions of the commissions have been enhanced.

      District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (previously known as the District Forum):

District Commission shall consist of a President and not less than two and not more than such number of members as may be prescribed, in consultation with the Central Government. The District Commission now has the jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the value of the goods and services paid as consideration does not exceed one crore rupees. Section 34(2)(d) categorically states that the complaint can now also be instituted in a District Commission within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the complainant resides or personally works for gain, apart from filing in the jurisdiction where the other side actually or voluntarily resides, or carries a business, or has a branch office or personally works for gain.

      State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (previously known as the State Commission):

The State Commission shall have jurisdiction to entertain the complaints where the consideration exceeds one crore rupees but does not exceed ten crore rupees.

      National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (previously known as the National Commission):

The National Commission shall have the jurisdiction to entertain complaints where the consideration paid exceeds ten crore rupees.

The jurisdiction in which the complaint is to be filed is now on the basis of the value of the goods and services paid, which was not the case in the 1986 Act where it was on the value of the goods and services and the compensation, if any, claimed. A great emphasis has been placed on mediation which will be dealt with further.

Mediation

The Act has introduced a new chapter (Chapter V) on mediation as an alternate dispute resolution mechanism in order to resolve the consumer dispute in a much faster way without having to approach the Commissions. Thus, in the events where the mediation is successful in whole, the terms of such agreement shall be reduced into writing accordingly. Where the dispute is settled only in part, the Commission shall record the statement of the issues which have been settled, and shall continue to hear the remaining issues involved in the dispute. In case of unsuccessful mediation the respective Commission shall within seven days of the receipt of the settlement report, pass a suitable order and dispose of the matter accordingly.

Offences and Penalties

Section 21(2) and Section 89 of the 2019 Act provides the Central Authority with the power to impose a penalty in respect of any false or misleading advertisement, by a manufacturer or an endorser, it may, by order, impose on manufacturer or endorser a penalty which may extend to ten lakh rupees. Apart from this, a separate chapter (Chapter VII) for offences and penalties has been introduced where detailed penalties and punishments have been mentioned in relation to non-compliance, or manufacturing for sale or storing, selling or distributing or importing products that are adulterated or spurious.

Related Rules and Regulations

  • The Consumer Protection (E-Commerce) Rules, 2020 which are mandatory and are not advisories, lay down all the important information relating to the e-commerce entities keeping in mind both the consumer and the product/service provider. Key highlights are:
    • E-commerce entities according to Rule 5 are required to provide information to consumers, relating to return, refund, exchange, warranty and guarantee, delivery and shipment, modes of payment, grievance redressal mechanism, payment methods, security of payment methods, charge-back options and country of origin.
    • These platforms will have to acknowledge the receipt of any consumer complaint within 48 hoursand redress the complaint within one month from the date of receipt. They will also have to appoint a grievance officer for consumer grievance redressal.
    • Sellers cannot refuse to take back goods or withdraw services or refuse refunds,if such goods or services are defective, deficient, delivered late, or if they do not meet the description on the platform.
    • The rules also prohibit the e-commerce companies from manipulating the priceof the goods or services to gain unreasonable profit through unjustified prices.
  • As per the Consumer Protection (Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions) Rules, 2020 which came into force on 20th July 2020, the amount of fee payable for filing the complaint in the District Commission up to Rs 5 lakhs has been made Nil according to Rule 7.
  • The credit of the amount due to unidentifiable consumers will go to the Consumer Welfare Fund(CWF).
  • State Commissions will furnish information to the Central Government on a quarterly basis on vacancies, disposal, the pendency of cases and other matters.
  • Apart from these general rules, there are Central Consumer Protection Council Rules, provided for the constitution of the Central Consumer Protection Council(CCPC).
    • It will be an advisory body on consumer issues, headed by the Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution with the Minister of State as Vice Chairperson and 34 other members from different fields.
    • It will have a three-year tenure and will have Minister-in-charge of consumer affairs from two States from each region: North, South, East, West, and North-East Region.

Conclusion

The 2019 Act is a much required change in favor of the consumers considering the current age of digitization. It empowers them with clearly defined rights and dispute resolution process which will enable them to get their grievance addressed with a fast track mechanism.

In order to have a better understanding of the concepts have a glance over some of the landmark judgments given by our Courts according to the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 which is now repealed but the guidelines laid down in those cases helped in framing the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

  • The Delhi High Court while examining the concept of advertisement decided the case of,

 Horlicks Ltd. v. Zydus Wellness Products Ltd., 2020 SCC OnLine Del 873

The High Court passed an interim order restraining Zydus from telecasting its advertisement comparing Complan to Horlicks on the grounds that the same was misleading and disparaging. The Court relied on various judgments on misleading advertisements, disparagement and law governing publication of advertisements on television. Major decisions were:

Dabur (India) Ltd. v.  Colortek (Meghalaya) (P) Ltd., 2010 SCC OnLine Del 391

The Delhi High Court culled out the principles governing disparagement in the advertisements and held:

On the basis of the law laid down by the Supreme Court, the guiding principles for us should be the following:

(i) An advertisement is commercial speech and is protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

(ii) An advertisement must not be false, misleading, unfair or deceptive.

(iii) Of course, there would be some grey areas but these need not necessarily be taken as serious representations of fact but only as glorifying one’s product.

To this extent, in our opinion, the protection of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is available. However, if an advertisement extends beyond the grey areas and becomes a false, misleading, unfair or deceptive advertisement, it would certainly not have the benefit of any protection.

 Pepsi Co. Inc. v. Hindustan Coca Cola Ltd., 2003 SCC OnLine Del 802

In Pepsi Co. it was held that certain factors had to be kept in mind while deciding the question of disparagement. Those factors were:

(i) Intent of the commercial,

(ii) Manner of the commercial, and

(iii) Story line of the commercial and the message sought to be conveyed.

These factors were amplified or restated in the following terms:

“(1) The intent of the advertisement – this can be understood from its story line and the message sought to be conveyed.

(2) The overall effect of the advertisement – does it promote the advertiser’s product or does it disparage or denigrate a rival product?

In this context it must be kept in mind that while promoting its product, the advertiser may, while comparing it with a rival or a competing product, make an unfavorable comparison but that might not necessarily affect the story line and message of the advertised product or have that as its overall effect.

(3) The manner of advertising – is the comparison by and large truthful or does it falsely denigrate or disparage a rival product? While truthful disparagement is permissible, untruthful disparagement is not permissible.”

Related Read:

Advertisement to Misleading Advertisement | Horlicks Ltd. v. Zydus Wellness Products

The complainant/respondent had participated in Mc Donald’s widely published scheme ‘Mc Donald’s Mein Khao Har Bar Prize Le Jao’ by placing two separate orders worth Rs 81. It was alleged by the complainant that Connaught Plaza Restaurants Ltd. (CPRL) a franchisee running Mc Donald restaurants has indulged in unfair trade practices by not giving the assured prizes as per the scheme, rather put the participants under the obligation to make a further purchase of a minimum Rs 20 in order to avail free French Fries. Also, the complainant had to send two SMS giving the coupon numbers, for which Rs 3 per SMS were charged. Moreover, the details of the entire scheme with its terms and conditions and the result of the winners were also concealed from the participating customers. Therefore, the complainant filed a consumer complaint before the District Forum praying to declare the scheme as unfair trade practice and that Connaught Plaza Restaurants Ltd. be directed to disclose the entire scheme and winners of the prizes. The District Forum allowed the complaint and awarded compensation and costs to the complainant of Rs. 10,000 and Rs.2,000.

Aggrieved, CPRL filed an appeal before the State Commission, but the State Commission modified the order of the District Forum by enhancing the compensation and awarding punitive damages to the tune of  Rs. 2,00,000 and Rs. 10,00,000.

CPRL then appealed before the NCDRC. The NCDRC held that no proof had been filed by the complainant that CPRL had collected the SMS charges or that it had an agreement with the Telecom Company/Service provider on sharing of SMS charges. Thus, the order of the State Commission could not be sustained on those grounds. On the other hand, it held that it is also true that the scheme was an unfair trade practice followed by Connaught Plaza Restaurants Ltd. This fact having been established by the concurrent findings given by the District and the State Commission. The complainant and other similar customers who may not have come forward to file a complaint need to be granted relief. Partly allowing the appeal, the NCDRC reduced the amount of compensation to Rs. 30,000 and costs to Rs. 70,000 respectively.

  • The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in the recent case of, Ernakulam Medical Centre P.R. Jayasree, 2020 SCC Online NCDRC 490 observed that,

“Releasing a dead body by a hospital to an unrelated third person unquestionably constitutes ‘deficiency in service’ within the meaning of Section 2(1)(g) and (o) of Consumer Protection Act, 1986.”

Related Read:

NCDRC | Releasing a dead body by a hospital to an unrelated third person unquestionably constitutes ‘deficiency in service’ within the meaning of S. 2(1) (g) & (o) of Consumer Protection Act, 1986

  • Recently, the Supreme Court in a judgment laid emphasis on the role of NCDRC in Union of India N.K. Srivastava, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 636, wherein the Court had dismissed an appeal which had aroused from an order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. The complaint alleged medical negligence against Sarvodaya Hospital and Safdarjung Hospital. The NCDRC allowed the revision of Sarvodaya Hospital. While exonerating it of the finding of medical negligence, it held Safdarjung Hospital liable to pay the compensation of Rs 2 lakhs imposed by the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

The District Forum had dismissed the consumer complaint stating that there was no deficiency on the part of Sarvodaya Hospital in referring the complainant to a specialized facility. An appeal was filed before the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission by the original complainant. The SCDRC, by its judgment concluded that Sarvodaya Hospital was guilty of medical negligence and directed it to pay a sum of Rs 2 lakhs as compensation and costs quantified at Rs 20,000. However, the complaint was held not to be maintainable against Safdarjung Hospital. A revision was filed against the judgment of the SCDRC by Sarvodaya Hospital before the NCDRC which allowed the revision and came to the conclusion that Sarvodaya Hospital was not guilty of medical negligence, however, the NCDRC elaborated on the question as to whether Safdarjung Hospital had been correctly exonerated. The NCDRC held that though the complainant had not filed a revision against the order of the SCDRC specifically holding that Safdarjung Hospital was not amenable to the jurisdiction of the consumer fora, he was not precluded from challenging a finding which was adverse to him in the revision petition. On these facts, the NCDRC sustained the finding of medical negligence against Safdarjung Hospital and directed it to pay compensation quantified at Rs 2 lakhs.


† Editorial Assistant (Legal)

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 BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

 Securities Exchange Board of India: G. Mahalingam, Whole-time member retrained the promoters of the Dewan Housing Finance Limited i.e. DHFL from accessing the securities market.

Dewan Housing Finance Limited (“DHFL”) was incorporated on April 11, 1984, and registered with National Housing Bank (NHB) under Section 29A of the National Housing Bank Act, 1987 has been carrying on the business of providing loans to retail customers for construction or purchase of residential property, loans against property, etc.

The equity shares of the Company are listed on BSE Limited and NSE Limited. The Company had issued Non-Convertible Debentures (NCDs) through public issue as well as private placements, which are listed on the stock exchange(s)and had more than Rs. 24000 crores worth of outstanding NCDs issued through the public issue as on May 31, 2019.

On January 29, 2019, Cobrapost, a media portal, published an article alleging that the promoters of the Company- Mr Kapil Wadhawan and Mr Dheeraj Wadhawan, had siphoned off more than Rs. 31,000 crores of public money primarily through grants and advances to shell companies pursuant to which DHFL issued a press release stating that the allegations are baseless.

On November 20, 2019, Reserve Bank of India (“RBI”) vide its Order superseded the Board of Directors of DHFL and appointed Shri. R Subramaniakumar as the Administrator and later filed an application to initiate corporate insolvency resolution process (“CIRP”) under Section 227 of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (“IBC”) and National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai Bench admitted the application and confirmed the appointment of Shri R Subramaniakumar as the administrator. Grant Thornton India LLP (“Transaction Auditor”) was appointed to assist the RP in conducting a transaction audit of the Company which filed an initial report stating that certain transactions entered into by DHFL during the period FY 2006-07 to FY 2018-19 are fraudulent in nature, as per Section 66 of the IBC.

Observations made in the initial report

  1. DHFL has entered into certain fraudulent transactions, which were shown as bonafide transactions in its published financial statements as well as corporate announcements disseminated in the public domain.
  2. The Company had created a ‘logical partition’ in the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Software used for bookkeeping and loan management purposes to store data pertaining to only one branch – Bandra, which was a virtual branch having a parallel set of books of accounts maintained by the Company and all the loan accounts presented in the said module appeared to be non-genuine.
  3. Out of Rs 23,815 crores shown as disbursed to Bandra Book entities in the accounts of the Company, only Rs 11,755.79 crores was actually disbursed to 91 entities, but was shown as 2, 60,315 home loan accounts in the books of the company.
  4. On verifying the financial statements of 50 of the said 91 entities it was noted that 34 entities had invested a portion of the loan amount received from the lender in companies which were linked to the promoters of DHFL having weak financial strength. These loans were unsecured and given without taking any collateral.
  5. The report concluded that the Company suffered a notional loss of Rs 3,348 crores as the interest charged on such loans was lower than the interest charged for other similar entities by the Company in the normal course of business.

Order by the Board

The Board observed that financial statements of a company are relied upon by debt investors for assessing the financial health and repayment capacity of the Company and hence their investment decisions would have been sullied by these fraudulent misstatements. The interests of investors who bought equity shares of the Company during this period have also been prejudiced because the financial statements of the company did not state the true and fair picture of the affairs of the Company

The Board relied on Regulation 12A(a), (b) and (c) of the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 and Regulation 4(1) of SEBI, Regulation 4(2)(f) and Regulation 4(2)(k)  (Prohibition of Fraudulent and Unfair Trade Practices) Regulations, 2003 (“SEBI PFUTP Regulations, 2003”) which provides as under-

12A. No person shall directly or indirectly—

(a) use or employ, in connection with the issue, purchase or sale of any securities listed or proposed to be listed on a recognized stock exchange, any manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance in contravention of the provisions of this Act or the rules or the regulations made thereunder;

(b) employ any device, scheme or artifice to defraud in connection with issue or dealing in securities which are listed or proposed to be listed on a recognised stock exchange;

(c) No person shall directly or indirectly engage in any act, practice, course of business which operates or would operate as fraud or deceit upon any person, in connection with the issue, dealing in securities which are listed or proposed to be listed on a recognised stock exchange, in contravention of the provisions of this Act or the rules or the regulations made thereunder.

4. Prohibition of manipulative, fraudulent and unfair trade practices

(1) Without prejudice to the provisions of regulation 3, no person shall indulge in a manipulative, fraudulent or an unfair trade practice in securities markets.”

Regulation 4(2)(f) of SEBI PFUTP Regulations, 2003

“Dealing in securities shall be deemed to be a manipulative, fraudulent or an unfair trade practice if it involves knowingly publishing or causing to publish or reporting or causing to report by a person dealing in securities any information relating to securities, including financial results, financial statements, mergers and acquisitions, regulatory approvals, which is not true or which he does not believe to be true prior to or in the course of dealing in securities.”

Regulation 4(2)(k) of SEBI PFUTP Regulations, 2003

“Dealing in securities shall be deemed to be a manipulative, fraudulent or an unfair trade practice if it involves disseminating information or advice through any media, whether physical or digital, which the disseminator knows to be false or misleading and which is designed or likely to influence the decision of investors dealing in securities.

The Board thus held that the interest of investors who take the decision of investing in the securities of the Company on the basis of financial position of the Company and disclosures made in the financial statements have been, prima facie, affected adversely due to the aforesaid transactions entered into by the Company and the consequent fraudulent misstatements in the financial statements of the Company and have violated Section 12A(a), (b) and (c) of the SEBI Act, 1992, Regulation 3(b), (c), (d), (d), Regulation 4(1) and Regulation 4(2)(f), (k) and (r) of the SEBI PFUTP Regulations, 2003 and Rakesh Kumar Wadhawan and Kapil Wadhawan have prima-facie violated Regulation 4(1) and other related provisions of the SEBI LODR Regulations, 2015.

The Board thus restrained the defaulting promoters from accessing the securities market and are prohibited them from buying, selling or otherwise dealing in securities in any manner whatsoever, either directly or indirectly and associating themselves with any listed public company and any public company as directors/ promoters which intends to raise money from the public or any intermediary registered with SEBI.

In view of the above, the order was passed without any prejudice to Direction(s) or Order that may be passed by NCLT during CIRP of the Company under IBC, 2016.[Dewan Housing Finance Corporation Ltd., In Re., 2020 SCC OnLine SEBI 138, decided on 22-09-2020]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): Anup K. Thakur (Presiding Member) addressed a consumer complaint alleging unfair trade practice and deficiency of service.

As per the complaint, small contagious plots of different landowners were developed by the OP. On the said plots, multi-storied buildings consisting of composite flats were constructed as per duly approved and sanctioned by the Kolkata Municipal Authority.

Complainants purchased their respective flats paying full consideration as per the market rate and executing and registering the conveyance deed.

After several complaints, the OPs failed to provide the amenities and facilities assured by them. OPs also failed to provide a Completion Certificate which a statutory requirement as per the KMC rules.

Unfair Trade Practices

Complainants sought from the OPs common amenities and facilities. Later the complainants discovered that the playground promised belonged to a local club and the pond contiguous to the complex was described by OPs as their own and shown as a beautified lake in the brochure advertisement.

Analysis & Decision

On perusal of the facts and contentions, the bench stated that the complainants have not been able to establish their complaint. Though the OPs may have indulged in unfair trade practice yet this does not help the complainant’s case.

Maintainability of the complaint

  • The complainants do not constitute a uniform group rather they own flats on different floors in different blocks and premises.

Complainants chose to come together in the present consumer complaint on some basis undoubtedly but it is not clear what the basis might have been.

In an earlier order, the Commission stated that the consumer complaint listed certain facilities that were to be provided as a common one, hence the issue of maintainability of joint complaint stood settled.

Common Facilities

  • Complainant’s stated that with the payment of the full consideration for the flat all common facilities were also automatically paid for.

Whereas OPs stated that some common facilities such as stairs, etc. indeed included in the consideration but other than these extra facilities had to be paid for.

Even the AdvocateCommisisoner’s report on the behest of the State Commission stated that some extra common facilities had already been provided and more facilities could be provided if the complainants were willing to pay for the same.

Brochure and Newspaper Advertisement

  • Bench observed that a lot was promised to the complainants by way of amenities, undoubtedly to attract customers. The fact that some of the amenities promised were not part of the deal was not disclosed by the OP.

Further, the said act was misleading and therefore an unfair trade practice.

The fact that the brochure and the advertisement differed with respect to the amenities offered and further the descriptions of the said amenities and facilities in the Agreement for Sale and the Conveyance Deed also differed does give the impression that OPs were far too casual in the present matter.

In view of the above, OPs are guilty of unfair trade practice within the meaning of Section 2(1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

But the bench on noting that the complainants themselves agreed to purchase their respective flats on payment of consideration and on due execution and registration of the conveyance deed, stated that the complainants ought to have known what they were purchasing.

Why is their a joint complaint?

Commission finds suspicion with regard to filing a joint complaint and states that this may be only to pressurize the OPs into paying some compensation and/or not insisting upon extra payments for the extra facilities and amenities.

No deficiency of service can be attributed to the OP

A reading of Section 403 of the KMC Act, 1980 makes it clear that it was incumbent on both the OP as well as the complainant to not occupy the premises in the absence of a completion certificate, in view of the said, complainant and the OP are in violation of the law.

Commission dismissed the consumer complaint as the complainants failed to establish their case as the Agreement of Sale as provided by the OP also clearly stated that common facilities mentioned were under the scope of “extra facilities and amenities” and the complainant/purchaser had to pay and extra sum for that.

Hence, the complainants should have been aware of the factum of extra payment for extra facilities.

Complainants in response to the brochure saw the flat, checked the price and bought the flat which appears to be an outright sale of flats.

In view of the above, no question of deficiency of service or unfair trade practice as it would be simply a case of buyer purchasing a falt on ‘as is’ basis, if not then the complainants ought to have known what they were purchasing

Therefore, the consumer complaint was dismissed. [Debashis Sinha v. R.N.R Enterprise, 2020 SCC OnLine NCDRC 429, decided on 21-08-2020]


Counsel for the complainants: Varun Dev Mishra, Advocate with Mrinmoi Chatterjee Advocate

Counsel for the OPs: Shiva Shankar Banerjee, Advocate with Madhurima Ghosh, Advocate with Sankar Sarkar, in person

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): Prem Narain (Presiding Member) upheld the State Commission’s order partly and confirmed that the promotional scheme by Mc Donalds — ‘Mc Donald’s Mein Khao Har Bar Prize Le Jao’  was an unfair trade practice.

Present revision petition was filed against the Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission’s decision.

Facts

Complainant in the year 2005 had participated in OP’s widely published scheme ‘Mc Donald’s Mein Khao Har Bar Prize Le Jao’ by placing two separate orders worth Rs 81.

It was alleged that the complainant did not find any terms and conditions on the notice board of OP, instead found a leaflet of another scheme ‘McDonald’s Ghar Bulao Sab Lucky Ban Jao !’.

Further, on OP’s manager’s advice, complainant had sent two SMS on 8888 giving the coupon nos., for which Rs 3 per SMS were charged. 

In view of the above stated facts, complainant alleged that OP indulged into unfair trade practices by not giving the assured prizes as per the scheme.

Moreover, the details of the entire scheme with terms and conditions and the result of the winners were also concealed from the participating customers, therefore, the complainant filed a consumer complaint before the District Forum praying to declare the scheme as unfair trade practice and a direction was sought against OP to disclose the entire scheme, winners of the prizes.

Refund of the amount collected in lieu of premium SMS charges levied as well as refund of Rs 81 and Rs 6 for SMS with cost and compensation was also demanded.

District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum had awarded Rs 10,000 as compensation and Rs 2000 as cost to the complainant.

Aggrieved by the above Order, complainant filed the present revision petition.

Decision

Bench stated that the scheme was run by the OP to promote the sale of products of the OP by giving various offers to consumers of the OP.

Supreme Court decision of Lourdes Society Snehanjali Girls Hostel v. H&R Johnson (India) Ltd. , (2016) 8 SCC 286, was also cited, wherein it was held that,

“The National Commission has to exercise the jurisdiction vested in it only if the State Commission or the District Forum has either failed to exercise their jurisdiction or exercised when the same was not vested in them or exceeded their jurisdiction by acting illegally or with material irregularity. In the instant case, the National Commission has certainly exceeded its jurisdiction by setting aside the concurrent finding of fact recorded in the order passed by the State Commission which is based upon valid and cogent reasons.”

Complainant failed to file any proof with regard to the collection of SMS charges by the OP or OP’s agreement with the Telecom Company/Service provider on sharing of SMS charges.

“It can only be presumed that the OP facilitating income of the Telecom Company/ service provider by encouraging the customers of Telecom company/ service provider to make use of the services of commercial SMS, will definitely get some benefits out of the increased earnings of the Telecom company/ service provider.”

However, the Commission stated that without any proof of the above stated, State Commission’s award to the complainant cannot be sustained.

Another observation in view of the facts stated, OP’s scheme was unfair trade practice as established by the fora below and hence complainant and other customers subjected to the same scheme need relief.

While partly allowing the revision petition, Commission allowed compensation of Rs 30,000 to be paid to the complainant and an amount of Rs 70,000 to be deposited with Consumer Welfare Fund. [Connaught Plaza Restaurants Ltd. v. Kapil Mitra, Revision Petition No. 2731 of 2016, decided on 04-08-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Redressal Commission (NCDRC): Justice V.K. Jain (Presiding Member) while dismissing the revision petition filed by Yash Raj Films with regard to allegations of unfair trade practice & deficiency being placed upon them, stated that,

“I Fail to understand the logic behind including a song in the promo but excluding it while exhibiting the movie, unless the intention of the producer is to deceive the viewer by making him believe that the song would form part of the movie while knowing it very well that the said song would not be a part of the movie when it is exhibited in cinema halls.”

The reason behind the complaint filed by the complainant was that she decided to watch the movie “FAN” on watching the promos of the movie. When the complainant watched the movie, the song “Jabra Fan” was missing due to which she felt cheated and deceived and later she approached the District Forum.

Complaint filed on being dismissed by the District Forum, complainant approached the State Commission wherein it the petitioner was directed to pay a compensation of Rs 10,000 to the complainant.

Petitioner had submitted that the song “Jabra Fan” was shown on TV Channels as a promotional trailer of the film and it had been disclosed to the public at large by way of press interviews that the said song wouldn’t be a part of the movie.

Being aggrieved by the State Commission’s order, petitioner approached the NCDRC.

Question for consideration that arose was, whether the complainant can be said to be a consumer within the meaning of Section 2(1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act or not.

“Consumer means a person who buys goods or hires or avails services for consideration.”

Complainant paid the price of the ticket to the exhibitor. The price of the ticket received by the exhibitor, after excluding the tax component, is shared between the exhibitor, distributor and producer of the movie. Therefore, it cannot be accepted that the complainant was not a consumer.

Term unfair trade practice is defined in Section 2(1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act and it includes the practices enumerated in the said Clause though the aforesaid Clause is not exhaustive and there can be practices other than those specified therein which amount to an unfair method or unfair or deceptive practice.

Commission held that the practice of including a song in the promo of a film shown widely on TV Channels but excluding the said song while exhibiting the movie, in my opinion, constitutes an unfair trade practice.

Exclusion of a song from the movie will also constitute a deficiency, as defined in Section 1(g) of the CP Act, if the song is impliedly promised, but is later omitted while exhibiting the movie.

Thus, in the above view, the revision petition is dismissed. [Yash Raj Films (P) Ltd. v. Afreen Fatima Zaidi, 2020 SCC OnLine NCDRC 24, decided on 18-02-2020]

Case BriefsDistrict Court

District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, U.T. Chandigarh: The Bench of Rattan Singh Thakur (President) and Surjeet Kaur and Suresh Kumar Sardana (Members) recorded a firm finding in the present case against the footwear brand “BATA”, stating that it involved in “unfair trade practice.”

In the present case, the complainant stated that, on visiting the shop premises of “BATA”/OP in order to purchase a pair of shoes. The complainant’s bill on purchasing a pair of shoes came out to be of Rs 402. Cashier of “OP” handed over the shoes in a paper carry bag bearing the advertisement name of the shop “BATA”. Complainant stated that it had no intention to purchase the carry bag and it was OP’s duty to provide the carry bag. But complainant was forced to pay for the same.

Hence the complainant submitted that it was unfair trade practice and prayed for punitive damages.

Opposite Party has contested that for the purpose of environmental safety, the complainant was given carry bag at the cost of Rs 3.

The forum stated that if the OP is an environmental activist, he should have given the carry bag to the complainant free of cost. It was a gain of OP. By employing unfair trade practice, OP is minting a lot of money from all customers.

Thus, the forum was of the view that the present complaint deserves to succeed against the OP and further directed OP with the following directions-

  • To provide free carry bags to all customers forthwith who purchase articles from its Shop and stop unfair trade practice i.e. to charge for carry bag;
  • To refund to the complainant the amount of Rs 3 wrongly charged for the paper carry bag;
  • To pay Rs 3,000/- to the complainant towards compensation for mental and physical harassment;
  • To pay Rs 1,000 as litigation expenses;
  • By way of punitive damages, to deposit Rs 5,000 in the “Consumer Legal Aid Account”

Certified copies of the above order were directed to be sent free of cost. [Dinesh Parshad v. Bata (I) Ltd., Consumer Complaint No. CC/64/2019, Order date 09-04-2019]