The complainant bears the burden of showing that there was a service defect: SC

The complainant bears the burden of showing that there was a service defect: SC

The burden of proof will transfer to the respondent in the complaint if the complainant is able to discharge its initial onus, according to a Bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian.

The onus of proof that there was a fault in service is on the complainant in complaints under the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, the Supreme Court underlined on Wednesday (SGS India Ltd. v. Dolphin International).

The burden of proof will transfer to the respondent in the complaint if the complainant is able to discharge its initial onus, according to a Bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian.

“The burden of proof in civil procedures is on the person who would lose if no evidence is presented by the opposite side,” the Court explained.

As a result, it overturned a decision of the National Consumer Dispute Redress Commission (NCDRC) ordering the appellant, SGS India Ltd., to pay the respondent, Dolphin International, a sum of 65.74 lakh plus 9% interest.

The complainant hired the appellant, testing, inspection, and certification organisation that tests the quality and quantity of a variety of items, to inspect groundnut acquired by the complainant with the aim of exporting it.

The appellant was in charge of inspecting samples and certifying them in terms of certain groundnut characteristics. Both sets of consignments were certified by the appellant, one to Piraeus, Greece, and the other to Rotterdam, Netherlands.

When the consignments arrived at their destinations, however, they were discovered to be defective.

The issue with the Greece shipment was the size/count of peanuts. In the case of the Netherlands, the shipment that arrived at its destination had greater levels of Aflatoxin.

Senior Counsel Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing the appellant, stated that the appellant had no obligation or assurance outside of India and that they were solely responsible for the quantity, quality, weight, and packaging of the consignment at the time of shipment.

The appellant was simply in charge of supervising the weighing and packing of the peanuts, as well as certifying their quality and amount, and had no control or accountability once the consignment departed the Indian port, according to the plaintiffs.

It was also mentioned that there were orders to tape the containers for fumigation, but that the tapes were to be removed following fumigation. As a result, air could enter the container, causing discrepancies in the reports at the final destination port.

It was also claimed that after 212 months of transportation between Indian and Greek ports, the size of groundnut is vulnerable to a minor variation. As an agricultural item, such variance could be caused by natural factors such as weather, moisture, humidity, temperature, and even storage conditions.

It was argued that the NCDRC had made no findings of service failure in relation to the appellant’s inspection in the Indian Territory.

In the case of the Netherlands shipment, the appellant provided certificates with a disclaimer that no responsibility can be assumed for the probable effects of future development of Aflatoxin-producing moulds depending on storage and/or shipping conditions.

The Court agreed with the argument, finding that the NCDRC order is unsustainable since it is based on a faulty interpretation of the law and facts.

The Court emphasised that in complaints under the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, the complainant has the burden of proof of service failure.

Because the complaint was the one that addressed the NCDRC in this case, the opposite party cannot be held liable for a service failure without proof of deficiency.

The complainant has pointed to samples taken at the time of consignment shipping to the Netherlands, but the appellant has not produced a report of such samples to assert that the appellant is inadequate in delivering services, the Court said.

The complainant had the initial burden of proof of a deficiency in service, but after failing to show that the result of the sample retained by the appellant at the time of consignment was materially different from what was certified by the appellant, the burden of proof did not shift to the appellant,” the Bench held.

It further pointed out that the appellant’s orders to quality-check the groundnuts do not imply that the appellant was under any obligation to ensure that the requirements stipulated at the port of loading were met at the port of destination.

The appellant has validated the weight, packing, quality, and quantity of the consignment at the port of loading, according to the Bench. There is no accusation that the appellant’s product was defective in terms of weight, packing, quality, or quantity.

It cannot be maintained that the appellant was obligated to send in air-tight containers once it was directed that the tapes be removed following fumigation.

The appellant had no obligation to verify that the consignment would have the same product specifications at the destination port as it had at the loading port. Only if the complainant can show that the certificate given by the appellant at the time of dispatch and the samples sent to the complainant or his agents are fundamentally different may there be a failure of service. The appellant cannot be judged deficient in service in the absence of such proof,” the judgement concluded.

As a result, the Court granted the appeal, finding that the NCDRC had made a legal error in drawing an unfavourable inference against the appellant.

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I am Ms. Aparna Mallik work to ensure social inclusion and justice, good governance, and citizen’s right. I am currently pursuing B.A LL.B (hons) from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar. I have a keen interest on in legal drafting and research writing and constitutional law. My motive is to work for the social benefits of people and ensuring legal Aid to underprivileged person. I prefer legal writing as it develops eloquence, enhances neuroplasticity, and confidence. It's a bridge to understanding other people as you convey a message. I hope to get opportunities to work on social cause and people’s personal rights and contribute to the same.