The Supreme Court, last week, issued directions to ensure speedy resolution of disputes and utilization of alternate dispute resolution mechanisms by the consumer fora.
In order to achieve the object of providing speedy remedy to a consumer, the Bench comprising Justice A.K. Goel and Justice U.U. Lalit opined that steps can be taken under Section 24B of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It observed that since the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) has administrative control over all the State Commissions, it is competent to introduce monitoring mechanism for speedy disposal of cases.
It therefore directed the NCDRC to consider this aspect and formulate an appropriate action plan. Besides, it observed that the Commission may also consider the use of video conferencing facility for examining expert witnesses wherever necessary.
The Court further referred to Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which lays down the mechanism for settlement of disputes outside the Court. “Even though strictly speaking, the said provision is applicable only to civil courts, there is no reason to exclude its applicability to Consumer Fora having regard to the object of the said provision and the object of the consumer protection law. Accordingly, we are of the view that the said provision ought to be duly invoked by the Consumer Fora,” it then observed, requesting the NCDRC to issue appropriate directions in this regard.
The Bench clarified that it would be open to the NCDRC and the State Commission to coordinate with the National Legal Services Authority and the State Legal Services Authorities.
The Court was hearing an Appeal challenging an order passed by the NCDRC, wherein it had rejected the complaint filed by a husband alleging death of his wife due to medical negligence. The Appeal, filed by the legal representatives of the couple, had contended that surgery was performed on the deceased woman at a nursing home which did not have an ICU.
The Apex Court agreed with this contention, observing, “We however, find that neither the State Commission nor the National Commission have examined the plea of the appellant that the operation should not have been performed at a nursing home which did not have the ICU when it could be reasonably foreseen that without ICU there was post operative risk to the life of the patient. There was no serious contest to this claim by the opposite parties.”
It, however, did not remand the matter back for fresh adjudication, considering the fact that the matter had been pending for the last 23 years. It then directed the accused doctor to pay a sum of Rs. 5 lakh to the heirs of the deceased, directing him to deposit the said amount with the State Commission within 3 months.