Consumer Fora Cannot Accept Reply or Written Statement to Consumer Complaint After 45 Days: Supreme Court

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Excerpt

This case concerns the dispute of whether the written statement/reply can be accepted by the consumer fora beyond the stipulated period of 45 days. 

Brief Facts 

This appeal was filed against the impugned order dated 04.09.2020 passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi (National Commission), by which the National Commission dismissed the appeal against the order of the Karnataka State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (State Commission). 

The order passed by the State Commission,  rejected the application filed by the petitioners (M/s. Daddy’s Builders Pvt. Ltd. & Another) seeking condonation of delay in filing the written statement/ written version to the consumer complaint. There existed no dispute regarding the fact that the written statement was filed beyond the prescribed period of limitation provided under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 ( the Act) i.e., beyond the period of 45 days. 

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It was also not in dispute that as per the provisions of the Act, the written statement has to be filed within 30 days and the same can be extended by a further period of 15 days. The order passed by State Commission was affirmed by the National Commission. Thus, this Special Leave Petition. 

The Argument of the Parties

It was submitted that in the case of New India Assurance Company Limited vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Private Limited (2020), it was held that the District Forum has no power to extend the time to file a complaint beyond 15 days in addition to 30 days as under Section 13 of the Act. It was argued that as observed in para 63 of the judgment, the judgment should be applied prospectively and not retrospectively. 

The application for a delay came up for consideration before the state Commission on 26.09.2018. On this date, the judgment of the Court in the case of Reliance General Insurance Co. Ltd. v. M/s. Mampee Timbers & Hardware Pvt. Ltd., was directing the consumer to accept the written statement beyond the stipulated time of 45 days in an appropriate case, on suitable terms, including the payment of costs, and to proceed with the matter. 

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The New India Assurance Case was even referred to the larger Bench. 

Observation by the Court

The Court observed that the issue of whether the state commission can condone the delay beyond 45 days is no longer res integra as opined by the Constitution Bench in the New India Assurance case. The aforesaid judgment shall not apply to the complaint which was filed before the said judgment or to the application for condonation of delay filed before the said judgment, as argued by the petitioners. 

The three-Judge Bench of Supreme Court in the case of JJ Merchant v. Shrinath Chaturvedi (2002), held that the Consumer fora has no power to extend the time for filing a written statement beyond the prescribed period under the Act. Despite, a contrary view being held by the two-judge bench, a five-judge bench reiterated the ruling of the JJ Merchant case. 

Relying on the judgment of the Reliance General Insurance case, it was concluded that it was left to the consumer to accept the written statement beyond the stipulated period of 45 days in an appropriate case. 

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The National Commission observed that despite granting sufficient time the written statement was not filed within the prescribed period of limitation. Thus, the National Commission has considered the aspect of condonation of delay on merits also. 

Given the earlier judgment in the cases of JJ Merchant and New Assurance Company Ltd, the Consumer for a has no power to condone the delay in filing the written statement beyond the period of 45 days and the Supreme Court found no reason to interfere with the impugned order passed by National Commission. 

The Decision of the Court 

From the reasons stated above, it was concluded that the consumer has no power to accept the reply/written statement beyond the prescribed period of limitation. 

The present special leave petition was dismissed accordingly. 

Click here to view full judgment.


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