Landmark Judgements

Consumer fora must eschew technicalities



‘Consumer fora must eschew technicalities’


Subject: Evidence act is not applicable to the consumer fora. There is no need to file a detailed affidavit; even a short affidavit would suffice.


Backdrop: The avowed objective of the Consumer Protection (CP) Act was to afford speedy and affordable justice to consumer, shorn of technicalities, so that consumers would be able to argue their complaints in person without the need of engaging an advocate. It is because of this reason that the Act does not provide any formats for complaints or applications. The Supreme Court has said that technicalities require to be eschewed by the consumer fora and the National Commission has observed that even a letter can be treated as a complaint.


Unfortunately, over the years, the consumer fora are losing sight of the intent and purpose of the Act are often becoming hyper-technical. Some of the retired judges who preside over the consumer fora try to bring in technicalities which they have practised all their lives in the civil courts, and thereby frustrate the consumer movement.


Here, I will deal with some judgments which will illustrate how consumer fora should follow a simple procedure, merely observing the principles of natural justice, devoid of all technicalities. Case Study 1: In the case of S P Aggarwal v/s The Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow (FA No. 478 of 2005 decided on March 31, 2010), the National Commission was required to decide whether the proceedings under the CP Act required a detailed affidavit to be filed in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC), or a short affidavit would suffice.


Aggarwal had filed a complaint before the UP State Commission alleging medical negligence. The State Commission dismissed the complaint because the affidavit filed by the complainant was very short and not in accordance with the provisions contained of Order XIX of the CPC. In appeal, the National Commission observed that the provisions of Order XIX of the CPC cannot be strictly applied to the proceedings before the consumer fora. It held that the State Commission had taken a hyper-technical view in rejecting the affidavit as it had not been prepared in accordance with the provisions of the CPC and the annexures filed along with the affidavit had not been not dealt with in detail as required under the CPC. The National Commission held that the affidavit and the documents filed by the complainant were entitled to due consideration on the basis of the intrinsic value of the documents filed.


After considering the evidence, the National Commission held that the complainant had established medical negligence and for this he was awarded a compensation of Rs 1 lakh.


Case Study 2: In the case of Consumer Education & Research Society & Anr v/s New India Assurance Co Ltd & Ors [I (2008) CPJ 317 (NC), the National Commission held that an over-technical view should not be taken by the fora. A consumer complaint can even be filed by the parent of an aggrieved person or his Power of Attorney holder. A complaint alleging defect in goods or deficiency in service can be entertained on receipt of a letter stating sufficient facts and the cause of action. Technicalities are not to be encouraged because the only procedure prescribed under the Act is to follow the principles of natural justice and to decide the matter after hearing both the parties. The National Commission rued that unfortunately this aspect has been forgotten and some fora still erroneously try to adhere to the procedure prescribed under the CPC or elsewhere.


Case Study 3: In the case of Malay Kumar Ganguly v/s Dr Sukumar Mukherjee & Ors [III (2009) CPJ 17 (SC), the Supreme Court observed that even though the proceedings under the CP Act are judicial proceedings, they are not civil courts. Hence, disputes have to be tried in a summary manner, following the principles of natural justice, and the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act are not applicable to the consumer fora.


Impact: Unnecessary technicalities deter an individual consumer from approaching the consumer fora, thereby frustrating the objective of CP Act. It is hoped that those presiding over the consumer fora make the environment conducive so as to encourage individual consumers to appear in person.

Source: TOI dated 5/7/2010


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