In what will help speed up decisions in consumer cases, Supreme Court has ruled that a party will not get more than 45 days for replying to a complaint in a consumer forum. The court said this period cannot be extended under any circumstances.
Underlining that Consumer Protection Act, 1986, aims at providing expeditious relief to consumers against unfair trade practices and deficiency in services, a three-judge bench led by Justice Anil R Dave held that no party shall henceforth be given more than 45 days to adduce explanation to a complaint. If a party fails to do so, the right to submit a written statement shall be closed and the case may be decided straightaway in the complainant’s favour.
The bench, also comprising Justices Vikramjit Sen and P C Ghose, elucidated the legal position after a two-judge bench came across a few conflicting judgments of the apex court and referred the matter to the larger bench in November 2013 for a clarification on the point of law.
Interpreting Section 13(2)(a) of the Act, the bench said Monday that this provision has to be given a strict interpretation in view of the legislative mandate, which wanted a speedy disposal of these cases, preferably within six months.
On receiving the complaint, the court said, the opposite party is required to be given notice directing him to give his version within 30 days. This time can be extended by another 15 days. This extension may be granted by a District Forum or State or National Consumer Commission. The bench concurred with the view of a coordinate bench in 2002, noting that it had given the correct interpretation of law that a limitation period of 45 days shall apply in consumer cases for filing replies to complaints.