17 May 2023 3:45 AM GMT
The Supreme Court has held that when a few consumers who have the same interest seeking the same relief file a joint complaint without any larger public interest involved, it need not be filed in a representative capacity in compliance with Order 1 Rule 8 CPC of the Code of Civil Procedure as required under Section 13(6) of the Consumer Protection Act.In the matter at hand, an association...
The Supreme Court has held that when a few consumers who have the same interest seeking the same relief file a joint complaint without any larger public interest involved, it need not be filed in a representative capacity in compliance with Order 1 Rule 8 CPC of the Code of Civil Procedure as required under Section 13(6) of the Consumer Protection Act.
In the matter at hand, an association of allottees of flats had filed a complaint before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, against the builder of a housing project due to delay in completion of the project. Individual affidavits were also filed by the allottees before the Commission. Upholding the right of multiple complainants having similar interest to file a single complaint, the Court observed that “a pedantic and hyper-technical approach would cause damage to the very concept of consumerism”.
A division bench comprising of Justice J K Maheshwari and Justice M M Sundresh observed that
“The need for the application of Order I Rule 8 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (hereinafter referred to as “CPC”), which speaks of a plaintiff representing the other public as a whole would be required only in a case involving a complaint under Section 12(1)(c) of the 1986 Act. In other words, it does not have any application when similarly placed complainants jointly make a complaint seeking the very same relief. In such a case, there is no question of Order I Rule 8 CPC being complied with as they do not represent the others, particularly when there is no larger public interest involved. Such complainants seek reliefs for themselves and nothing beyond.”
The registration of the association of allottees has been challenged by the builder before the District Registrar of Societies on the ground that its bye-laws did not conform with the Haryana Registration and Regulation of Societies Act, 2012 (HRRS Act). The builder argued before the Apex Court that the complaint of the association was not maintainable as the registration of the association was non existent.
However, the Court held that Section 2(1)(b)(i) (Definition of Complainant) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 Act can be interpreted to mean multiple "consumers".
"Upon a conjoint reading of the aforesaid provisions, Section 2(1)(b)(i) of the 1986 Act would be interpreted to mean “consumers”
The Court also observed that as individual affidavits were filed, the complaint would fall under Section 12(1)(a) (Manner in which complaint shall be made by a consumer) of the 1986 Act and that there was no need to go into the issue of whether the case would come under Section 12(1)(b) of the 1986 Act (Manner in which complaint shall be made by a consumer association).
“The 2019 Act facilitates the consumers to approach the forums by providing a very flexible procedure. It is meant to encourage consumerism in the country. Any technical approach in construing the provisions against the consumer would go against the very objective behind the enactment.” the Court observed.
In this connection, the judgment referred to Brigade Enterprises Ltd. v. Anil Kumar Virmani (2021) which held that consumers having similar interests can file a joint complaint and that they need not file in a representative capacity. Reference was also made to the recent decision National Insurance Co. Ltd. v. Harsolia Motors And Ors. 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 313 which advocated against adopting a technical approach in interpreting Consumer Protection Act.
The appeal was filed by an association of allottees of flats against the builder of a housing project. The appellant association is registered under the Haryana Registration and Regulation of Societies Act, 2012. The appellant approached the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission on behalf of multiple allottees of flats. Their grievance was that the builder had not fulfilled its responsibility to finish the promised flats within the agreed timeline and had not compensated the allottees for the delays caused by the builder.
The pleadings were completed before the Commission, which also included individual affidavits of the allottees.
Meanwhile, the builder filed a complaint with the District Registrar of Societies alleging that the aims and objectives in the byelaws of the association did not conform with the HRRS Act. Subsequently the District Registrar forwarded the matter to the State Registrar of Haryana. The State Registrar instructed the appellant to modify its byelaws within six months failing which its registration would be cancelled. The appellant made amendments to the bye laws which was registered by the District Registrar, Gurugram.
However, the association also filed an appeal before the Registrar General, Haryana. In 2019, the Commission adjourned the proceedings in light of the appeal before the Registrar General. The appellant placed on record the amended bye-laws before the Registrar General in the appeal and requested for a grant of stay. The Registrar General subsequently passed an order restraining any cancellation of registration of the association.
Subsequently, the appellant filed an application before the Commission for revival of the proceedings, placing on record the amended bye-laws and the order of stay granted by the Registrar General.
Later, the District Registrar, Gurugram held that the six months granted for amendment had expired and put the amendments on hold. The Registrar General, Haryana dismissed the appeal filed by the association. However, the association’s registration was not cancelled. The association challenged the orders passed by the State Registrar and the Registrar General, Haryana which is pending before the High Court of Punjab & Haryana.
National Commission passed an order adjourning the matter awaiting orders in the writ petition before Punjab & Haryana, High Court, which was appealed before the Apex Court.
Sr. Adv. Narendra Hooda appearing on behalf of the appellant(allottees) argued that the matter before the High Court had no connection with the proceedings before the National Commission. It was argued that individual affidavits were filed by the allottees, and the National Commission ought not to have adjourned the matter sine die.
Adv. Debesh Panda appearing on behalf the respondent(builder) argued that registration of the association was non-existent and hence the complaint before the Commission was not maintainable.
The Apex Court allowed the appeal and held that the issue of registration and byelaws of the association had no relevance in the proceedings before the Commission in light of the fact that individual affidavits have been filed by the allottees before the Commission. The Apex Court directed the National Commission to expeditiously hear the matters on merits.
Case Title: Alpha G184 Owners Association V. Magnum International Trading Company Pvt. Ltd.
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 442
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