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SC: Onus Of Proving Deficiency In Service On the Complainant Under the Consumer Protection Act

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The Supreme Court observed that when a complaint arises from a consumer, the onus of proving that the service was defective was on the complainant.

Facts of the Case

To export groundnut to Greece and the Netherlands, the complainant Dolphin International Ltd. engaged the respondent SGS India Ltd. to inspect the product it procured.

The case has been instituted as the respondents have alleged that the petitioner has failed to provide the quality of service as was decided upon in the contract.

Arguments Advanced 

In response to the consumer complaint (that groundnut inspected by SGS India did not meet the product specifications at the time of loading), the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum directed SGS India to pay Rs.65,74,000/-plus 9 per cent interest.

This was challenged before the Supreme Court.

Observation Made by the Court 

The Supreme Court observed that when a complaint arises from a consumer, the onus of proving that the service was defective is on the complainant.

Justices Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian noted that a deficiency in service cannot be shifted to the opposing party without evidence of the problem.

Court’s Order 

The Court held that because there is no provision in the contract to ensure that goods consigned must meet product specifications at the time of loading a shipment, the appellant cannot be held liable for the change in agricultural produce specifications at the destination port after the shipment has been in transit for two months on high seas.

Further, the Court held that in consumer complaints under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the burden of proof lies with the complainant. Since it is the complainant who has approached the Commission, the opposite party cannot be held responsible for a lack of service without any proof of deficiency.

A deficiency can’t be alleged without attributing fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy to the quality, manner, nature and manner in which any service must be provided by an individual under a contract. Whoever alleges a service deficiency is responsible for proving it. A review of the facts revealed that the complainant failed to establish any intentional fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the respondent’s service.

According to the bench, even if the complainant produced a materially different sample from what was certified by SGS India, the complainant has failed to show that the sample retained by the appellant at the time of consignment was materially different.

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