Wel­fare as­so­ci­a­tions also have the right to com­plain against de­fi­cient ser­vices

There should be no re­stric­tions on the na­ture of com­plaint filed by a recog­nised con­sumer as­so­ci­a­tion against a builder, says con­sumer fo­rum

HT Estates - - HTESTATES - Su­nil Tyagi

In an ear­lier col­umn, we had dis­cussed the rel­e­vance of ‘com­mer­cial pur­pose’ un­der the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act, 1986, to de­ter­mine whether an ag­grieved party is a ‘con­sumer’ and is en­ti­tled to take seek help through the dis­pute res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nism as pro­vided un­der the Act. The Act pro­vides that any con­sumer dis­pute may be brought be­fore the ap­pro­pri­ate con­sumer dis­putes re­dres­sal agency, namely, the dis­trict fo­rum, the state com­mis­sions, and the Na­tional Con­sumer Dis­putes Re­dres­sal Com­mis­sion by a con­sumer in case of de­fi­ciency or de­fects in goods and ser­vices pro­vided or agreed to be pro­vided to them.

The Act makes it abun­dantly clear that those who can file a com­plaint be­fore an ap­pro­pri- ate con­sumer dis­pute re­dres­sal fo­rum/com­mis­sion are: a ( i) con­sumer ( ii) a recog­nised con­sumer as­so­ci­a­tion (iii) the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment or any state gov­ern­ment ( iv) one or more con­sumers where there are nu­mer­ous con­sumers hav­ing the same in­ter­est and (v) in case of death of a con­sumer, his or her le­gal heir or rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

A re­cent case which came for the con­sid­er­a­tion of the Na­tional Con­sumer Dis­putes Re­dres­sal Com­mis­sion was in the mat­ter of Lo­tus Panache Wel­fare As­so­ci­a­tion ver­sus Gran­ite Gate Prop­er­ties Pri­vate Lim­ited and four oth­ers.

One of the griev­ances of the com­plainant so­ci­ety was that the op­po­site party after re­ceiv­ing 90% of the to­tal con­sid­er­a­tion of the apart­ment had dis­con­tin­ued the con­struc­tion of the project and di­verted the funds col­lected from the apart­ment buy­ers to other projects launched un­der a dif­fer­ent brand name. Although the project was to be com­pleted in 2013, the said date was uni­lat­er­ally ex­tended. The com­plainant so­ci­ety on be­half of the apart­ment buy­ers prayed to the Com­mis­sion for var­i­ous re­liefs to be given to them.

How­ever, the op­po­site party filed an ap­pli­ca­tion seek­ing re­jec­tion and dis­missal of the com­plaint, say­ing a vol­un­tary con­sumer or­gan­i­sa­tion could only seek re­lief which was g en­eral i n na­ture. A so­ci­ety which had no priv­ity (re­la­tion­ship recog­nised by law) of con­tract with them, can­not claim re­lief of the na­ture sought in the com­plaint. It was also stated in the re­ply that some mem­bers of the com­plainant so­ci­ety were likely to ben­e­fit from the out­come of the lit­i­ga­tion even though they might not be con­sumers on ac­count of hav­ing made spec­u­la­tive in­vest­ments.

It was also al­leged in the ap­pli­ca­tion that there were some mem­bers who had not made timely pay­ments to the op­po­site party.

The Com­mis­sion, how­ever, ob­served on pe­rusal of the rel­e­vant pro­vi­sion of the Act that there were no re­stric­tions on the na­ture of com­plaint filed by a recog­nised con­sumer as­so­ci­a­tion. Even an in­di­vid­ual case of de­fi­ciency in ser­vice can be taken up by a recog­nised con­sumer as­so­ci­a­tion by way of a com­plaint be­fore a con­sumer fo­rum.

The very fact that the Act per­mits such an as­so­ci­a­tion to file a com­plaint even on be­half of a con­sumer who is not its mem­ber clearly in­di­cates that such an as­so­ci­a­tion has the same rights as a con­sumer with com­plaints against de­fi­cient or de­fec­tive ser­vices.

The Com­mis­sion also opined that, in the present case, if the re­liefs claimed were un­con­nected to each other be­ing founded on dif­fer­ent causes of ac­tion, there could be valid ob­jec­tion to the main­tain­abil­ity of the com­plaint on the ground of mis­join­der of the causes of ac­tion. But, where the re­liefs claimed were of the same na­ture and against the same per­son, such an as­so­ci­a­tion was com­pe­tent to file a com­plaint for and on be­half of all the per­sons ap­proach­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion in this re­gard.

The Com­mis­sion ob­served that the re­liefs claimed by the com­plainant as­so­ci­a­tion were com­mon in na­ture since they would give iden­ti­cal ben­e­fits to a num­ber of apart­ment buy­ers who had booked apart­ments in the Lo­tus Panache project of the op­po­site party and were ag­grieved on ac­count of the de­lay in com­ple­tion of the con­struc­tion and other de­fi­cien­cies al­leged in the com­plaint. There­fore, the com­plaint by the recog­nised con­sumer as­so­ci­a­tion was main­tain­able in re­spect of the re­liefs sought in the com­plaint.

The Com­mis­sion, there­fore, found no merit in the ap­pli­ca­tion filed by the op­po­site party and dis­missed the same.

ISTOCK

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