• New India Assurance Co. Ltd. Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd.

  • New India Assurance Co. Ltd. Versus Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd., Civil Appeal Nos.10941-10942 Of 2013, Judgment Dated- 04.12.2015, ANIL R. Dave, J, Vikramajit Sen, Pinaki Chandra Ghose, Supreme Court Of India.

    Excerpts From The Judgment

    1. While considering Civil Appeal No.D 35086 of 2013, this Court expressed its doubt in relation to the period of limitation Page 2 2 for filing the written statement or giving version of the opponent as per the provisions of Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’). The question was, whether the said issue was governed by the law laid down by this Court in Dr. J.J. Merchant & Ors. v. Shrinath Chaturvedi, [(2002) 6 SCC 635] or Kailash v. Nanhku & Ors. [(2005) 4 SCC 480].  XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

    3. The whole issue centers round the period within which the opponent has to give his version to the District Forum in pursuance of a complaint, which is admitted under Section 12 of the Act. Upon receipt of a complaint by the District Forum, if the complaint is admitted under Section 12 of the Act, a copy of the complaint is to be served upon the opposite party and as per provisions of Section 13 of the Act, the opposite party has to give his version of the case within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of the copy of the complaint.  There is a further provision in Section 13(2)(a) that the District Forum may extend the period, not exceeding 15 days, to the opposite party for giving his version. The relevant Section of the Act reads as under: “13. Procedure on admission of complaint – (1) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (2) The District Forum shall, if the complaint admitted by it under section 12 relates to goods in respect of which the procedure specified in subsection (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; (b) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX” Thus, upon plain reading of the aforestated Section, one can find that the opposite party is given 30 days’ time for giving his version and the said period for filing or giving the version can be extended by the District Forum, but the extension should not exceed 15 days. Thus, an upper cap of days has been imposed by the Act for filing version of the opposite party.

    12. The learned counsel also referred to a judgment delivered in the case of Topline Shoes Ltd. v. Corporation Bank [(2002) 6 SCC 33]. This Court was faced with the same issue in the aforestated case. After discussing the provisions of Section 13(2) of the Act, this Court came to the conclusion that procedural rules should not be considered as mandatory in nature. In the said case, ultimately, this Court came to the conclusion that provision contained in Section 13(2)(a) of the Act is procedural in nature. According to the said judgment, the object behind enactment of the Act is speedy disposal of cases pending before the District Forum and therefore, it has been provided that reply should be filed within 30 days and the extension of time may not exceed 15 days. It has been further observed that no penal consequences have been provided in the case of extension of time beyond 15 days and therefore, the said provision with regard to extension of time beyond a particular limit is directory in nature and that would not mean that extension of time cannot exceed 15 days. Page 10 10 Relying upon the said judgment and the judgment delivered in the case of Kailash (supra), the learned counsel submitted that as Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra) has not been followed in a later case though it was considered in the case of Kailash (supra), the correct legal position would be to treat the said provision with regard to maximum period for filing the reply is directory and not mandatory.

    13. The learned counsel further submitted that some of the provisions of Civil Procedure Code do apply to the District Forum and in the light of the said fact, in his submission, the provisions of Section 13(2)(a) of the Act are merely directory and not mandatory in nature.

    17. We are, therefore, of the view that the judgment delivered in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra) holds the field and therefore, we reiterate the view that the District Forum can grant a further period of 15 days to the opposite party for filing his version or reply and not beyond that..

    19. Our aforestated view has also been buttressed by the view expressed by this Court in the case of Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra Community & Anr. v. State of Maharashtra & Anr. [(2005) 2 SCC 673], wherein a question Page 14 14 had arisen whether the law laid down by a Bench of a larger strength is binding on a subsequent Bench of lesser or equal strength. After considering a number of judgments, a fiveJudge Bench of this Court, finally opined as under : “12. Having carefully considered the submissions made by the learned senior counsel for the parties and having examined the law laid down by the Constitution Benches in the abovesaid decisions, we would like to sum up the legal position in the following terms :- (1) The law laid down by this Court in a decision delivered by a Bench of larger strength is binding on any subsequent Bench of lesser or co-equal strength. (2) A Bench of lesser quorum cannot disagree or dissent from the view of the law taken by a Bench of larger quorum. In case of doubt all that the Bench of lesser quorum can do is to invite the attention of the Chief Justice and request for the matter being placed for hearing before a Bench of larger quorum than the Bench whose decision has come up for consideration. It will be open only for a Bench of coequal strength to express an opinion doubting the correctness of the view taken by the earlier Bench of coequal strength, whereupon the matter may be placed for hearing before a Bench consisting of a quorum larger than the one which pronounced the Page 15 15 decision laying down the law the correctness of which is doubted. (3) The above rules are subject to two exceptions : (i) The abovesaid rules do not bind the discretion of the Chief Justice in whom vests the power of framing the roster and who can direct any particular matter to be placed for hearing before any particular Bench of any strength; and (ii) In spite of the rules laid down hereinabove, if the matter has already come up for hearing before a Bench of larger quorum and that Bench itself feels that the view of the law taken by a Bench of lesser quorum, which view is in doubt, needs correction or reconsideration then by way of exception (and not as a rule) and for reasons given by it, it may proceed to hear the case and examine the correctness of the previous decision in question dispensing with the need of a specific reference or the order of Chief Justice constituting the Bench and such listing. Such was the situation in Raghubir Singh and Hansoli Devi.”

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