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Thursday, December 10, 2015


Three Judges Bench of Supreme Court, answering a reference to it in New India Assurance Co. Ltd. Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd., has reiterated that the District Consumer Forum can grant a further period of 15 days (after the expiry of initial 30 days) to the opposite party for filing his version or reply and not beyond that.

The issue is within which time the opponent has to give his version to the District Forum in pursuance of a complaint filed by the complainant to the consumer forum under the provisions of section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act.

13. Procedure on admission of complaint – (1) ...............
(2) The District Forum shall, if the complaints admitted by it under Section 12 relates to goods in respect of which the procedure specified in sub-section (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) ---------------

 In this case, a three judge bench of Apex Court had held “there is legislative mandate to the District Forum or the Commissions to dispose of the complaints as far as possible within prescribed time of three months by adhering strictly to the procedure prescribed under the Act. The opposite party has to submit its version within 30 days from the date of the receipt of the complaint by him and Commission can give at the most further 15 days for some unavoidable reasons to file its version.”

 In this case, another Three judges bench, held that limit of 90 days, as prescribed by the proviso to Rule 1 of Order 8 of the Civil Procedure Code, is not mandatory,but directory in nature, and further time for filing reply can be granted, if the circumstances are such that require grant of further time for filing the reply. In this case, Dr JJ Merchant case was also discussed and it was held that the observations made in that case, to the extent it deal with the Rule 1 of Order 8 of CPC was obiter.

The Apex court said that since the issue discussed in Dr J.J. Merchant case is identical to the issue in the present case, it holds the field and not the latter view in Kailash case, since it deals with CPC provisions.

Also the law laid down in the Dr. J.J. Merchant case was decided on 2002, which is earlier in time and will prevail, but even a Bench of coordinate strength of this Court, which had decided the case of Kailash (decided on 2005) was bound by the view taken by a three-Judge Bench in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant. As per the law laid down the subsequent Court ought to have respected the view expressed by the earlier Court. The established legal positions which are summarized below cannot be ignored:

(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 above said 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.

Prepared by: S. Hemanth