A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justices Arun Mishra, MR Shah, Vineet Saran, Indira Banerjee and Ravindra Bhat reserved its verdict on the issue of whether Consumer Courts can grant time to the opposite party to file a reply beyond a total period of 45 days, as mandated under Section 13(2) (a) of the Consumer Protection Act.
The petitioners averred that that such extension of the time period as against what is stipulated, would not cause any grave illegality. The time period mentioned in the Act was directory in nature and not mandatory, it was argued. Advocate Vikas Mehta, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, argued that Order 8 Rule 1 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) must be applied in the present case.
- The Consumer Protection Act requires the opposite party to submit its reply within 30 days or such extended period not exceeding 15 days as granted by the consumer forum.
- It was averred that vide Topline Shoes v. Corporation Bank, the Supreme Court had authoritatively decided that reply filed by the OP beyond 45 days would not be rejected.
- Mehta submitted that the interpretation must be neither too liberal nor too strict, and that discretion must be available to the consumer courts to extend periods for filing reply.
- It was argued by the petitioners that disallowing such an extension would be antithetical to the principles of natural justice, that “Procedure established by law and due process of law are two different things. Does the limitation on time to file reply hit at due process? Why should two warring parties be given different rights?”
- Section 13(2) (a) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 clearly states that:
(2) The District Forum shall, if the 4[complaints admitted] by it under section 12 relates to goods in respect of which the procedure specified in sub-section (1) cannot be followed, or if the complaint relates to any services,—
(a) refer a copy of such complaint to the opposite party directing him to give his version of the case within a period of thirty days or such extended period not exceeding fifteen days as may be granted by the District Forum;
Justice Arun Mishra observed, “We have to interpret in terms of progressive understanding.” Justice M R Shah added more perspective to the idea of progressive understanding of provisions of law. He noted that allowing an extension would mean denial of speedy justice, which was now an expansive right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Justice Arun Mishra stated, that “How can there be a violation of principles of natural justice when time has already been granted under clauses (1) & (2) of Section 13, Consumer Protection Act, 1986?”
Edited by J. Madonna Jephi
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje