Power of District Forum to Grant extension beyond 45 days, for filing reply in consumer complaints Case Law New India Assurance co. Ltd. vs Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd
NEW INDIA ASSURANCE CO. LTD. …..APPELLANT(S)
HILLI MULTIPURPOSE COLD STORAGE PVT. LTD ……RESPONDENT(S)
Issues Before the court
whether Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act, which provides 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 has power to extend the time for filing the response beyond the period of 15 days, in addition to 30 days.
what would be the commencing point of limitation of 30 days stipulated under the aforesaid Section.
- A bare reading of Section 13(2)(a) of the Act makes it clear that the copy of the complaint which is to be sent to the opposite party, is to be with the direction to give his version of (or response to) the case (or complaint) within a period of 30 days. It further provides that such period of 30 days can be extended by the District Forum, but not beyond 15 days.
- Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act clearly contemplates where time can be extended by the District Forum, and where it is not to be extended. Like, under subsection (3A) of Section 13, despite the best efforts of the District Forum, in situations where the complaint cannot be decided within the period specified therein, the same can be decided beyond the specified period for reasons to be recorded in writing by the District Forum at the time of disposing of the complaint. Meaning thereby that the same would not be mandatory, but only directory. The phrase “endeavour shall be made”, makes the intention of the legislature evident that the District Forum is to make every effort to decide the case expeditiously within time, but the same can also be decided beyond the said period, but for reasons to be recorded.
- The maximum period of 45 days, as provided under the Consumer Protection Act, would not mean that the complainant has a right to always avail such maximum period of 45 days to file its response. Regulation 10 of the Consumer Protection Regulations, 2005 clearly provides that ordinarily such notice to the opposite party to file its response shall be issued for a period of 30 days, but the same can be even less than 30 days, depending upon the circumstances of each case.
- It has been held by this Court in the case of Popat Bahiru Govardhane vs Special Land Acquisition Officer (2013) 10 SCC 765 that the law of limitation may harshly affect a particular party but it has to be applied with all its vigour when the statute so prescribes and that the Court has no power to extend the period of limitation on equitable grounds, even if the statutory provision may cause hardship or inconvenience to a particular party.
- In case of NIA vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage (supra), while referring to the commencing point of limitation of 30 days under Section 13(2) of the Consumer Protection Act, it has been held that “The whole issue centres round the period within which the opponent has to give his version to the District Forum in pursuance of a complaint, which is admitted under Section 12 of the Act. Upon receipt of a complaint by the District Forum, if the complaint is admitted under Section 12 of the Act, a copy of the complaint is to be served upon the opposite party and as per the provisions of Section 13 of the Act, the opposite party has to give his version of the case within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of the copy of the complaint.”
To conclude, we hold that our answer to the first question is that the District Forum has no power to extend the time for filing the response to the complaint beyond the period of 15 days in addition to 30 days as is envisaged under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act; and the answer to the second question is that the commencing point of limitation of 30 days under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act would be from the date of receipt of the notice accompanied with the complaint by the opposite party, and not mere receipt of the notice of the complaint.