• Ms Arushi Singh

New India Assurance Co. Ltd Vs Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd (C.A. No.10941­-10942/2013)

CASE

New India Assurance Co. Ltd Vs Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd


CITATION

Civil Appeal No.10941­-10942 Of 2013


CORAM

Supreme Court of India (Civil Appellate Jurisdiction)

Constitution Bench - Hon’ble Justice Vineet Saran (author), Hon’ble Justice M.R. Shah, Hon’ble Justice Arun Mishra, Hon’ble Justice Aniruddha Bose, Hon’ble Justice Indira Banerjee


ALSO KNOWN AS

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POINT OF CONSIDERATION

Whether Section 13(2) (a) of the Consumer Protection Act, which provided for the respondent/opposite party filing its response to the complaint within a specified time, should be read as mandatory or directory?


FACTS

  1. The reference made to the Constitution Bench related to the grant of time for filing response to a complaint under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (for short “the Act”). The question referred was, as to whether Section 13(2) (a) of the Consumer Protection Act, which provided for the respondent/opposite party filing its response to the complaint within 30 days or such extended period, not exceeding 15 days, should be read as mandatory or directory, i.e., whether the District Forum had power to extend the time for filing the response beyond the period of 15 days, in addition to 30 days.

  2. It was observed by the top court that there was an apparent conflict between the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court in Topline Shoes Limited vs. Corporation Bank (2002), Kailash Vs. Nankhu (2005), Salem Advocate Bar Association Vs. Union of India (2005) on the one hand and J.J. Merchant & Ors. Vs. Shrinath Chaturvedi (2002) and NIA Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage (2014) on the other in so far as the power of the Courts to extend time for filing of written statement/reply to a complaint is concerned. The earlier mentioned line of decisions took the view that the relevant provisions including those of Order 8 Rule 1 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908(which dealt with filing of written statement within 120 days) were directory in nature and the Courts concerned had the power to extend time for filing the written statement. The second line of decisions which were also of coordinate Benches however took a contrary view and held that when it came to power of the Consumer Fora to extend the time for filing a reply there was no such power.

  3. Section 13 (2) (b) of CPA is reproduced below –

“Section 13. Procedure on admission of complaint.

(2) (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;…”



ISSUES RAISED & RATIO

  • Whether the Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act, which provided for the respondent filing its response to the complaint within 30 days or such extended period, not exceeding 15 days, should be read as mandatory or not?

The court explained that a bare reading of Section 13(2)(a) of the Act made it clear that the copy of the complaint, which had to be sent to the opposite party, had to be with the direction to give his response to the complaint) within a period of 30 days. It further provided that such period of 30 days could be extended by the District Forum, but not beyond 15 days.


The court held that the intention of the legislature seemed to be very clear that the opposite party would get the time of 30 days, and in addition another 15 days at the discretion of the Forum to file its response. No further discretion of granting time beyond 45 days was intended under the Act.


To reach the above conclusion, the Court juxtaposed Section 13(2)(a) with Section 15 and Section 19 of the Act which provided for filing of an appeal from the order of the District Forum to the State Commission beyond a period of 30 days and filing an appeal before the National Commission beyond the period of 30 days, respectively, at the discretion of the concerned authorities. Since such discretion was explicitly provided under the Act, had the legislature envisaged similar discretion under Section 13(2)(a), they would have explicitly recognised it. In the absence of explicit discretion, it was natural that the 45 (30 + 15) days period became mandatory and not merely discretionary.


  • Whether the limitation under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act for filing the response by the opposite party to the complaint would commence from the date of receipt of the notice of the complaint by the opposite party, or the receipt of notice accompanied by a copy of the complaint?

Sub−Sections (2)(a) and (2)(b) of Section 13 of the Act specified that it was the copy of the complaint which was to be given to the opposite party directing him to give his version of the case within a period of 30 days or such extended period, not exceeding 15 days. As such, from the aforesaid provision itself, the court clarified that it was clear that it was the copy of the admitted complaint, which was to be served, after which the period to file the response would commence.


IMPORTANT CASES REFERRED

  1. Topline Shoes Limited vs. Corporation Bank, (2002) 6 SCC 33

  2. Kailash Vs. Nankhu (2005) 4 SCC 480,

  3. Salem Advocate Bar Association Vs. Union of India (2005) 6 SCC 344

  4. J.J. Merchant & Ors. Vs. Shrinath Chaturvedi, (2002) 6 SCC 635

  5. NIA Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage, 2014 AIOL 4615


The author is a LL.B Graduate of University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGSIPU, New Delhi


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