Dis­missal of con­sumer com­plaints on mere tech­ni­cal grounds de­feats the pur­pose of en­sur­ing jus­tice: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court has held that dis­missal of con­sumer com­plaints for mar­ginal de­lays in fil­ing or other tech­ni­cal grounds only “adds to the bur­den of lit­i­ga­tion and de­feats the pur­pose of en­sur­ing jus­tice.”

While set­ting aside an or­der of the Na­tional Con­sumer Dis­putes Re­dres­sal Com­mis­sion (NCDRC) in the case of Vibha Bak­shi Gokhale ver­sus Gruhashilp Con­struc­tions, the SC bench com­pris­ing of Jus­tice DY Chan­drachud and Jus­tice He­mant Gupta di­rected NCDRC to re­store a con­sumer com­plaint af­ter an ap­peal was filed by com­plainant Vibha Bak­shi chal­leng­ing the or­der passed by NCDRC wherein it dis­missed the ap­peal filed by a flat buyer against a con­struc­tion firm on the ba­sis of non-fil­ing of re­join­der and ev­i­dence.

In the said case, the com­plainant had filed a com­plaint be­fore the Na­tional Com­mis­sion com­plain­ing of a de­fi­ciency in ser­vice on the part of the builder. The dis­pute was re­gard­ing a res­i­den­tial flat that was al­legedly booked by the com­plainant. How­ever, NCDRC had dis­missed the com­plaint as the com­plainant had failed to file a re­join­der and ev­i­dence within the stip­u­lated time.

The SC bench said that the ba­sis for re­jec­tion of the com­plaint was tech­ni­cal and in dis­re­gard of the re­quire­ments of sub­stan­tial jus­tice. The bench em­pha­sised that they were af­fir­ma­tively of the view that or­ders of this na­ture de­tracted from the true pur­pose for which the NCDRC was es­tab­lished. The NCDRC should have borne this in mind in­stead of re­ject­ing the com­plaint on a tech­ni­cal­ity.

Al­though the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act stip­u­lates a pe­riod for dis­pos­ing of a con­sumer com­plaint, it is also a sober­ing re­flec­tion that com­plaints can­not be dis­posed of due to non-avail­abil­ity of re­sources and in­fra­struc­ture. Against this back­ground, it is harsh to pe­nalise a bona fide lit­i­gant for mar­ginal de­lays that may oc­cur in the ju­di­cial process. The con­sumer fora should bear this in mind so that the ends of jus­tice are not de­feated.

While this verdict will be a big re­lief for con­sumers, the Supreme Court is yet to make it clear as to what will be the quan­tum of mar­ginal de­lays the con­sumer courts should con­sider. Such am­bi­gu­ity can lead to other is­sues in prospec­tive con­sumer cases.

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