A Party Cannot Get More Than 45 Days For Replying To A Complaint In A Consumer Forum: Supreme Court

The National Commission or the State Commission is empowered to follow the said procedure. From Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 it is apparent that on receipt of the complaint, the opposite party is required to be given notice directing him to give his version of the case within a period of 30 days or such extended period not exceeding 15 days as may be granted by the District Forum or the Commission. For having speedy trail, this legislative mandate of not giving more than 45 days in submitting the written statement or the version of the case is required to be adhered to. If this is not adhered to, the legislative mandate of disposing of the cases within three or five months would be defeated


REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NOS.10941-10942 OF 2013
NEW INDIA ASSURANCE CO. LTD. …..APPELLANT
VERSUS
HILLI MULTIPURPOSE COLD
STORAGE PVT. LTD. …..RESPONDENT
WITH
C A NOS.10943-10944 OF 2013, C.A. NO.1774 OF 2014,
SLP (C) NO.2833 OF 2014 & SLP (C) Nos.11257-11258 OF
2014.
J U D G M E N T
ANIL R. DAVE, J.
1. While considering Civil Appeal No.D 35086 of 2013, this
Court expressed its doubt in relation to the period of limitation 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]. The following order
was passed by this Court in the aforestated Civil Appeal on
29th November, 2013:
“1. Heard Mr. Vahanvati, learned Attorney
General, in support of these appeals. Mr. Guru
Krishna Kumar, learned senior counsel, appears for
the respondent(s).
2. Learned Attorney General points out that the
judgment in Dr. J.J. Merchand & Ors. vs. Shrinath
Chaturvedi, reported in [2002(6) SCC 635], has
been considered and a different view has been taken
in Kailash vs. Nanhku & Ors., reported in [2005(4)
SCC 480], on the issue of limitation. The matters,
therefore, require consideration.
3. Delay condoned.
4. The appeals are admitted.

5. Since this point of law requires to be resolved,
we request the Hon’ble the Chief Justice to place
these appeals before a larger Bench …………………”
2. In the aforestated circumstances, these matters have
been placed before this three-Judge Bench so as to ascertain
whether the law laid down in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant
(supra) still holds the field or whether the law has been
changed in view of the later judgment delivered by this Court
in the case of Kailash (supra).
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)
…………………….
(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) ………………………………………………………….”
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
45 days has been imposed by the Act for filing version of the
opposite party.
4. The question arose in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant
(supra) whether the Forum can grant time beyond 45 days to
the opposite party for filing its version. After considering the
aforestated section in the light of the object with which the Act
has been enacted, a three-Judge Bench of this Court came to
the conclusion that in no case period beyond 45 days can be
granted to the opposite party for filing its version of the case.
5. Without discussing the aforestated three-Judge Bench
Judgment in detail, we now turn to another judgment which
has been referred to by the referring Bench. The other
judgment which has been referred to is Kailash (supra),
which pertains to Election Law. The issue involved in the said
case was whether time limit of 90 days, as prescribed by the
proviso to Rule 1 of Order 8 of the Civil Procedure Code, is
mandatory or directory in nature. The said issue had arisen
in an election matter where the written statement was not filed by the concerned candidate within the period prescribed under the relevant Election Law and the issue was whether in the
Election trial, delay caused in filing the written statement
could have been condoned.
6. After considering the provisions of Order VIII Rule 1 of
the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and several other judgments
pertaining to grant of time or additional time for filing written
statement or reply, in the interest of justice, this Court came
to the conclusion that the provisions of Order VIII Rule 1
C.P.C. are not mandatory but directory in nature and
therefore, in the interest of justice, further time for filing reply
can be granted, if the circumstances are such that require
grant of further time for filing the reply.
7. The judgment delivered in the case of Kailash (supra) is
later in point of time and while considering the said judgment,
judgment delivered in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra)
had also been considered by this Court.

8. In the aforestated circumstances, we have now to
consider whether in a case under the provisions of the Act,
where a complaint has been filed and the opposite party has
not filed its version to the case within 30 days or within
extended period of 45 days, which at the most could have been
granted by the District Forum, the version given by the
opposite party can be accepted.

9. The learned counsel appearing for the complainant
submitted that the view expressed by the three-Judge Bench
of this Court in Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra) is absolutely just
and proper and is on the subject, with which facts of the
present case are concerned. The said case also deals with the
provisions of Section 13(2)(a) of the Act, whereas case of
Kailash (supra) pertains to an Election trial and under a
different Act.

10. According to the learned counsel appearing for the
complainant, in the instant case, in fact, there is no conflict
between the two judgments referred to hereinabove as the
judgment delivered in Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra) was prior in
time and was on the subject of the Act. Looking at the
contents of the said judgment, it is clear that the said
judgment also pertains to the provisions with regard to grant
of time for filing version of the opposite party before the
District Forum. Once a judgment has been delivered by a
three-Judge Bench on the same subject and on the same
section, according to the learned counsel, there was no need to
re-consider the same.

11. On the other hand, the learned counsel appearing for the
other side contended that as per the view expressed in the
case of Kailash (supra), the District Forum can grant time
beyond 15 days to the other side for giving its version or reply.
The learned counsel submitted that the marginal note to
Section 13 of the Act reads “procedure on completion of
complaint’. Thus, the provisions incorporated in Section 13 of
the Act are merely procedural and are directory in nature, as
observed by this Court in the case of Kailash (supra).

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.

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.
14. The learned counsel also submitted that if further time is
not granted, irreparable damage would be caused to the other
side and in a case where the other side/respondent is staying
at a distant place, it might not be possible for the
respondent/other side to file its version even within 45 days
and therefore, in the interest of justice, the view expressed in
the case of Kailash (supra) should be accepted.
15. Upon hearing the concerned counsel and upon perusal of
both the judgments referred to hereinabove, which pertain to
extension of time for the purpose of filing written statement,
we are of the opinion that the view expressed by the three-
Judge Bench of this Court in Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra)
should prevail.
16. In the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra), which is on the
same subject, this Court observed as under:
“13. The National Commission or the State
Commission is empowered to follow the said
procedure. From the aforesaid section it is
apparent that on receipt of the complaint, the
opposite party is required to be given notice
directing him to give his version of the case within a
period of 30 days or such extended period not
exceeding 15 days as may be granted by the District
Forum or the Commission. For having speedy trail,
this legislative mandate of not giving more than 45
days in submitting the written statement or the
version of the case is required to be adhered to. If
this is not adhered to, the legislative mandate of
disposing of the cases within three or five months
would be defeated.
14. For this purpose, even Parliament has
amended Order 8 Rule 1 of the Code of Civil
Procedure, which reads thus:
“1. Written statement. – The defendant shall,
within thirty days from the date of service of
summons on him, present a written statement
of his defence:
Provided that where the defendant fails to
file the written statement within the said
period of thirty days, he shall be allowed to file
the same on such other day, as may be
specified by the court, for reasons to be
recorded in writing, but which shall not be
later than ninety days from the date of service
of summons.”
15. Under this Rule also, there is a legislative
mandate that written statement of defence is to be
filed within 30 days. However, if there is a failure to
file such written statement within the stipulated
time, the court can at the most extend further
period of 60 days and no more. Under the Act, the
legislative intent is not to give 90 days of time but
only maximum 45 days for filing the version of the
opposite party. Therefore, the aforesaid mandate is
required to be strictly adhered to.”
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..
18. There is one more reason to follow the law laid down in
the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra). Dr. J.J. Merchant
(supra) was decided in 2002, whereas Kailash (supra) was
decided in 2005. As per law laid down by this Court, while
deciding the case of Kailash (supra), this Court ought to have
respected the view expressed in Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra) as
the judgment delivered in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant
(supra) was earlier in point of time. The aforestated legal
position cannot be ignored by us and therefore, we are of the
opinion that the view expressed in Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra)
should be followed.
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
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 five-
Judge 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
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.”

20. In view of the aforestated clear legal position depicted by
a five-Judge Bench, the subject is no more res integra. Not
only this three-Judge Bench, but even a Bench of coordinate
strength of this Court, which had decided the case of Kailash
(supra), was bound by the view taken by a three-Judge Bench
in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra).

21. In view of the aforestated legal position, we are of the
view that the law laid down by a three-Judge Bench of this
Court in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant (supra) should prevail.
The Reference is answered accordingly.
…………………………………..J.
(ANIL R. DAVE)
…………………………………..J.
(VIKRAMAJIT SEN)
……………………………………J.
(PINAKI CHANDRA GHOSE)
NEW DELHI
DECEMBER 04, 2015.

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