New India Assurance Co. Ltd vs Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage … on 4 March, 2020


Supreme Court of India

New India Assurance Co. Ltd vs Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage … on 4 March, 2020

Author: Vineet Saran

                                                                   1

                                                            REPORTABLE
                           IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                            CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                         CIVIL APPEAL NO.10941­10942 OF 2013

         NEW INDIA ASSURANCE CO. LTD.               …..APPELLANT(S)

                                       VERSUS


         HILLI MULTIPURPOSE COLD
         STORAGE PVT. LTD.                         ……RESPONDENT(S)
                                        WITH

                            CIVIL APPEAL NO.8343 OF 2014,

                         CIVIL APPEAL NO.1083­1084 OF 2016,

                         CIVIL APPEAL NO.1085­1086 OF 2016,

                           CIVIL APPEAL NO.4473 OF 2016,

                           CIVIL APPEAL NO.6095 OF 2016,

                           CIVIL APPEAL NO.5485 OF 2016,

                CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1964 OF 2020,
  [ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.20748 OF 2016]


                           CIVIL APPEAL NO.10127 OF 2016,

                           CIVIL APPEAL NO.10129 OF 2016,

                CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1968 OF 2020,
Signature Not Verified

Digitally signed by
JAYANT KUMAR ARORA


  [ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.29264 OF 2016]
Date: 2020.03.04
16:55:50 IST
Reason:



                CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1969 OF 2020,
  [ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.31190 OF 2016]
                                                       2




              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1970 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.36048 OF 2016]


              CIVIL APPEAL NO.10333 OF 2016,

              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1971 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.1300 OF 2017]


              CIVIL APPEAL NO.10858 OF 2016,

              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1972 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.35551 OF 2016]


              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1973 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.34843 OF 2016]


              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1974  OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.21388 OF 2017]


              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1975 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.13951 OF 2017]


              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1976 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.10796 OF 2017]


               CIVIL APPEAL NO.780 OF 2017,

              CIVIL APPEAL NO.4457 OF 2017,

              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1977 OF 2020,
 [ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.151 OF 2017]


             CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1978   OF 2020,
                                                       3

[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.13567 OF 2017]


              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1979 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.3128 OF 2017]


              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1965 OF 2020

[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.25849 OF 2016]

               CIVIL APPEAL NO.2339 OF 2017,

               CIVIL APPEAL NO.4510 OF 2017,

             CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1980 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.7225 OF 2017]


              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1981 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.8435 OF 2017]


               CIVIL APPEAL NO. 5219 OF 2017,

              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1982 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.14346 OF 2017]


            CIVIL APPEAL NO.5574­5575 OF 2017,

              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1983 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.10544 OF 2017]


               CIVIL APPEAL NO.7100 OF 2017,

            CIVIL APPEAL NO.5578­5579 OF 2017,

              CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1984 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.13962 OF 2017]
                                                                    4

                   CIVIL APPEAL NO.10226 OF 2017,

                   CIVIL APPEAL NO.12456 OF 2017,

                CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1985­86 OF 2020,
[ARISING OUT OF SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION [C] NO.36314­36315 OF 2017]




                               JUDGMENT

VINEET SARAN, J.

Leave granted.

2. The reference made to this Constitution Bench relates

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 first question referred is as to 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.

The second question which is referred is as to what would be
5

the commencing point of limitation of 30 days stipulated under

the aforesaid Section.

3. The first question was referred by a two judge Bench of

this Court vide an Order dated 11.02.2016 passed in Civil Appeal

No(s).1083­1084 of 2016, M/s Bhasin Infotech and

Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd. versus M/s Grand Venezia Buyers

Association (Reg), the relevant portion of which is as under:

“There is an apparent conflict
between the decisions of this Court
in Topline Shoes Limited vs.
Corporation Bank
[(2002) 6 SCC 33],
Kailash Vs. Nankhu [(2005) 4 SCC
480], Salem Advocate Bar
Association Vs. Union of India
[(2005) 6 SCC 344] on the one hand
and J.J. Merchant & Ors. Vs.
Shrinath Chaturvedi [(2002) 6 SCC
635 and NIA Vs. Hilli Multipurpose
Cold Storage [2014 AIOL 4615] 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 take the
view that the relevant provisions
including those of Order 8 Rule 1 of
the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 are
directory in nature and the Courts
concerned have the power to extend
time for filing the written statement.
The second line of decisions which
are also of coordinate Benches
6

however takes a contrary view and
hold that when it comes to power of
the Consumer Fora to extend the
time for filing a reply there is no
such power.

Since the question that falls for
determination here often arises
before the Consumer Fora and
Commissions all over the country it
will be more appropriate if the
conflict is resolved by an
authoritative judgment. Further
since the conflict is between
Benches comprising three Judges
we deem it fit to refer these appeals
to a five­Judge Bench to resolve the
conflict once and for all. While we do
so we are mindful of the fact that in
the ordinary course a two­Judge
Bench ought to make a reference to
a three­Judge Bench in the first
place but in the facts and
circumstances of the case and
keeping in view the fact that the
conflict is between coordinate
Benches comprising three Judges a
reference to three Judges may not
suffice.”

4. The other question has been referred by another

Division Bench of this Court by an Order dated 18.01.2017

passed in this very appeal being Civil Appeal No(s).10941­10942

of 2013, NIA Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd, the

relevant portion of the judgment is as under:
7

“……….what is the commencing
point of the limitation of 30 days
stipulated in Section 13 of the Act is
required to be decided
authoritatively. The declaration
made in JJ Merchant’s case that the
said period is to be reckoned from
the date of the receipt of the notice
by the opposite party or complaint
under the Act requires in our humble
opinion, a more critical analysis.”

5. We have heard the learned Counsel for the parties at

length and have carefully gone through the records.

6. In the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the

Consumer Protection Act, in paragraph 4, it has been specifically

provided that the Consumer Protection Act is “To provide speedy

and simple redressal to consumer disputes, a quasi­judicial

machinery is sought to be set up at the district, State and Central

levels…….”. The Preamble of the Consumer Protection Act also

mentions that the Act is “to provide for better protection of the

interests of the consumers”. The nomenclature of this Act also

goes to show that it is for the benefit or protection of the

consumer. From the above, it is evident that the Consumer

Protection Act has been enacted to provide for expeditious
8

disposal of consumer disputes and that, it is for the protection

and benefit of the consumer.

7. Before we proceed to analyse and determine the

questions referred, we may, for ready reference, reproduce the

relevant provisions of the Consumer Protection Act and its

Regulations.

“Section 13. Procedure on
admission of complaint. –
(1) The District Forum shall, on
admission of a complaint, if it
relates to any goods,­

(a) refer a copy of the admitted
complaint, within twenty­one days
from the date of its admission to
the opposite party mentioned in the
complaint 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.

(b)………………….

(c)………………….

(d)………………….

(e)………………….

(f)………………….

(g)………………….

(2) The District Forum shall, if the
complaints admitted by it under
section 12 relates to goods in
9

respect of which the procedure
specified in sub­section (1) cannot
be followed, or if the complaint
relates to any services,­

(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;

(b) where the opposite party, on
receipt of a copy of the complaint,
referred to him under clause (a)
denies or disputes the allegations
contained in the complaint, or omits
or fails to take any action to
represent his case within the time
given by the District Forum, the
District Forum shall proceed to
settle consumer dispute,­

(i) on the basis of evidence
brought to its notice by the
complainant and the opposite
party, where the opposite party
denies or disputes the allegations
contained in the complaint, or

(ii) ex parte on the basis of
evidence brought to its notice by
the complainant where the opposite
party omits or fails to take any
action to represent his case within
the time given by the Forum;

(c) where the complainant fails to
appear on the date of hearing
before the District Forum, the
District Forum may either dismiss
10

the complaint for default or decide
it on merits.

(3) No proceedings complying
with the procedure laid down in
subsections (1) and (2) shall be
called in question in any court
on the ground that the
principles of natural justice
have not been complied with.

1

[(3A) Every complaint shall be
heard as expeditiously as
possible and endeavour shall be
made to decide the complaint
within a period of three months
from the date of receipt of
notice by opposite party where
the complaint does not require
analysis or testing of
commodities and within five
months, if it requires analysis
or testing of commodities:

Provided that no adjournment
shall be ordinarily granted by the
District Forum unless sufficient
cause is shown and the reasons for
grant of adjournment have been
recorded in writing by the Forum:

Provided further that the
District Forum shall make such
orders as to the costs occasioned
by the adjournment as may be
provided in the regulations made
under this Act.

Provided also that in the
event of a complaint being
disposed of after the period so
specified, the District Forum shall
1 Ins. by Act 62 of 2002, sec. 9 (w.e.f. 15­3­2003).
11

record in writing, the reasons for
the same at the time of disposing of
the said complaint.]
2
[(3B) Where during the pendency
of any proceeding before the
District Forum, it appears to it
necessary, it may pass such
interim order as is just and proper
in the facts and circumstances of
the case.]
(4) For the purposes of this section,
the District Forum shall have the
same powers as are vested in a
civil court under Code of Civil
Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908) while
trying a suit in respect of the
following matters, namely:—

(i) the summoning and
enforcing the attendance of any
defendant or witness and
examining the witness on oath;

(ii) the discovery and production
of any document or other material
object producible as evidence;

(iii) the reception of evidence on
affidavits;

(iv) the requisitioning of the
report of the concerned analysis or
test from the appropriate laboratory
or from any other relevant source;

(v) issuing of any commission
for the examination of any witness,
and

(vi) any other matter which may
be prescribed.

5……………….

6……………….

2 Ins. by Act 62 of 2002, Sec. 9 (w.e.f. 15­3­2003).
12

7……………….

Section 15. Appeal. — Any
person aggrieved by an order made
by the District Forum may prefer
an appeal against such order to the
State Commission within a period
of thirty days from the date of the
order, in such form and manner as
may be prescribed:

Provided that the State
Commission may entertain an
appeal after the expiry of the
said period of thirty days if it
is satisfied that there was
sufficient cause for not filing it
within that period;

Provided further that no
appeal by a person, who is
required to pay any amount in
terms of an order of the District
Forum, shall be entertained by the
State Commission unless the
appellant has deposited in the
prescribed manner fifty per cent. of
that amount or twenty­five
thousand rupees, whichever is
less.”

Section­19. Appeals.—Any
person aggrieved by an order made
by the State Commission in
exercise of its powers conferred by
sub­clause (i) of clause (a) of
section 17 may prefer an appeal
against such order to the National
Commission within a period of
13

thirty days from the date of the
order in such form and manner as
may be prescribed:

Provided that the National
Commission may entertain an
appeal after the expiry of the
said period of thirty days if it
is satisfied that there was
sufficient cause for not filing it
within that period:

Provided further that no
appeal by a person, who is
required to pay any amount in
terms of an order of the State
Commission, shall be entertained
by the National Commission unless
the appellant has deposited in the
prescribed manner fifty per cent. of
the amount or rupees thirty­five
thousand, whichever is less.

Section­24A. Limitation period.

(1) The District Forum, the State
Commission or the National
Commission shall not admit a
complaint unless it is filed within
two years from the date on which
the cause of action has arisen.

(2) Notwithstanding anything
contained in sub­section (1), a
complaint may be entertained
after the period specified in
sub­section (1), if the
complainant satisfies the
District Forum, the State
Commission or the National
Commission, as the case may
be, that he had sufficient cause
14

for not filing the complaint
within such period:

Provided that no such
complaint shall be entertained
unless the National Commission,
the State Commission or the
District Forum, as the case may be,
records its reasons for condoning
such delay.”
(emphasis supplied)

Relevant Provisions of the Consumer Protection Regulations,

2005 are reproduced below:

“Reg.­10. Issue of notice.­(1)
Whenever the Consumer Forum
directs the issuance of a notice in
respect of a complaint, appeal or
revision petition, as the case may
be, to the opposite
party(ies)/respondent(s),
ordinarily such notice shall be
issued for a period of 30 days
and depending upon the
circumstances of each case
even for less than 30 days.

(2) When there is a question of
raising presumption of service, 30
days notice shall be required.
(3) Whenever notices are sought to
be effected by a courier service, it
shall be ascertained that the
courier is of repute.

(4) Whenever appointing the
courier for the purpose of effecting
15

service, security deposit may also
be taken.

(5) Along with the notice,
copies of the complaint,
memorandum of grounds of
appeal, petitions as the case
may be and other documents
filed shall be served upon the
opposite
party(ies)/respondent(s).

(6) After the opposite party or
respondent has put in appearance,
no application or document shall be
received by the Registrar unless it
bears an endorsement that a copy
thereof has been served upon the
other side.”

Reg.­14. Limitation.

(1) Subject to the provisions of
sections 15, 19 and 24A, the period
of limitation in the following
matters shall be as follows:­

(i) Revision Petition shall be
filed within 90 days from the date
of the order or the date of receipt of
the order as the case may be;

(ii) Application for setting aside
the ex parte order under section
22A or dismissal of the complaint
in default shall be maintainable if
filed within thirty days from the
date of the order or date of receipt
of the order, as the case may be;

(iii) An application for review
under sub­section (2) of section 22
shall be filed to the National
Commission within 30 days from
16

the date of the order or receipt of
the order, as the case may be;

(iv) The period of limitation for
filing any application for which no
period of limitation has been
specified in the Act, the rules of
these regulations shall be thirty
days from the date of the cause of
action or the date of knowledge.

(2) Subject to the provisions
of the Act, the Consumer
Forum may condone the delay
in filing an application or a
petition referred to in sub­
regulation (1) if valid and
sufficient reasons to its
satisfaction are given.

Reg.­26. Miscellaneous.

(1) In all proceedings before the
Consumer Forum, endeavour shall
be made by the parties and their
counsel to avoid the use of
provisions of Code of Civil
Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908):

Provided that the provisions
of the Code of Civil Procedure,
1908 may be applied which have
been referred to in the Act or in the
rules made thereunder.

(2)………………..

(3)………………..

(4)………………..

(5)………………..

(6)………………..”
(emphasis supplied)
17

Question No. 1: Whether the District Forum has power to

extend the time for filing of response to

the complaint beyond the period of 15

days, in addition to 30 days, as envisaged

under Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer

Protection Act?

8. 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.

9. Sub­Section 2(b)(i) of Section 13 of the Act provides for

a complaint to be decided on the basis of the response by the

opposite party and the evidence of the complainant and the

opposite party, where allegations contained in the complaint are

denied or disputed by the opposite party. Sub­Section 2(b)(ii) of

Section 13 of the Act provides that where no response is filed by

the opposite party, the complaint may be decided ex parte on the

basis of evidence brought forth by the complainant.
18

10. Sub­Section 2(c) of Section 13 of the Consumer

Protection Act further provides that where the complainant fails

to appear on the date of hearing before the District Forum, the

District Forum may either dismiss the complaint for default or

decide it on merits. The aforesaid provision [sub­Section 2(c)] was

inserted by Act 62 of 2002, w.e.f. 15.03.2003. Similarly, Section

(3A) of Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act, which was also

inserted by Act 62 of 2002, provides for deciding every complaint

as expeditiously as possible and endeavour shall be made to

decide the complaint within a period of three months from the

receipt of notice by the opposite party, and within five months, if

the complaint requires analysis or testing of commodities. It also

provides that no adjournment shall ordinarily be granted by the

District Forum, and if the same is to be granted, costs may be

imposed, and further that reasons be recorded if the complaint is

disposed of after the time so provided.

11. From the above, it is clear that as mentioned in the

Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Consumer Protection

Act, the District Forum is to provide speedy disposal of consumer

disputes. The same has been further reiterated by the legislature

by insertion of Section 13(2)(c) and 13(3A) by Act 62 of 2002.
19

12. 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.

13. On the contrary, sub­Section (2)(a) of Section 13 of the

Consumer Protection Act provides for the opposite party to give

his response ‘within a period of 30 days or such extended period

not exceeding 15 days as may be granted by the District Forum’.

The intention of the legislature seems 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
20

response. No further discretion of granting time beyond 45 days

is intended under the Act.

The question of natural justice is dealt with by the

legislature in sub­Section (3) of Section 13 of the Consumer

Protection Act, which clearly provides that “No proceedings

complying with the procedure laid down in the sub­Section (1) and

(2) shall be called in question in any court on the ground that the

principles of natural justice have not been complied with.” The

legislature was conscious that the complaint would result in

being decided ex parte, or without the response of the opposite

party, if not filed within such time as provided under the

Consumer Protection Act, and in such a case, the opposite party

will not be allowed to take the plea that he was not given

sufficient time or that principles of natural justice were not

complied with. Any other interpretation would defeat the very

purpose of sub­Section (3) of Section 13 of the Consumer

Protection Act.

14. 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
21

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.

15. Now, reverting back to the provisions of the Consumer

Protection Act to consider as to whether the provision of sub­

Section 2(a) of Section 13 granting a maximum period of 15 days

in addition to 30 days has to be read as mandatory or not, we

may also consider the other provisions of the Consumer

Protection Act where the legislature intended to allow extension of

period of limitation.

Section 15 of the Consumer Protection Act provides for filing

of an appeal from the order of the District Forum to the State

Commission within a period of 30 days. However, it leaves a

discretion with the State Commission to entertain an appeal filed

after the expiry of the said period of 30 days, if it is satisfied that

there was sufficient cause for not filing it within the stipulated

period. Similarly, discretion for filing an appeal before the

National Commission beyond the period of 30 days has also been

provided under Section 19 of the Consumer Protection Act.
22

Section 24A provides for the limitation period of 2 years for

filing the complaint. However, sub­Section (2) of Section 24A

gives a discretion to entertain a complaint even after the period of

2 years, if there is a satisfactory cause for not filing the complaint

within such period, which has to be recorded in writing.

16. Regulation 14 of the Consumer Protection Regulations,

2005 also deals with limitation. In addition, the same provides for

limitation while dealing with appeals (under Section 15 and 19)

and complaint (under Section 24A). Sub­Regulation (2) of

Regulation 14 provides for condonation of delay for sufficient

reasons to be recorded.

17. The legislature in its wisdom has provided for filing of

complaint or appeals beyond the period specified under the

relevant provisions of the Act and Regulations, if there is

sufficient cause given by the party, which has to be to the

satisfaction of the concerned authority. No such discretion has

been provided for under Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer

Protection Act for filing a response to the complaint beyond the

extended period of 45 days (30 days plus 15 days). Had the

legislature not wanted to make such provision mandatory but

only directory, the provision for further extension of the period for
23

filing the response beyond 45 days would have been provided, as

has been provided for in the cases of filing of complaint and

appeals. To carve out an exception in a specific provision of the

statute is not within the jurisdiction of the Courts, and if it is so

done, it would amount to legislating or inserting a provision into

the statute, which is not permissible.

By specifically enacting a provision under sub­Section

(3) of Section 13, with a specific clarification that violation of the

principles of natural justice shall not be called in question where

the procedure prescribed under sub­Sections (1) and (2) of

Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act has been followed or

complied with, the intention of the legislature is clear that mere

denial of further extension of time for filing the response (by the

opposite party) would not amount to denial or violation of the

principles of natural justice. This provision of Section 13(3)

reinforces the time limit specified in Section 13(2)(a) of the Act.

18. This Court in the case of Lachmi Narain vs Union of

India (1976) 2 SCC 953 has held that “if the provision is couched

in prohibitive or negative language, it can rarely be directory, the

use of peremptory language in a negative form is per se indicative

of the interest that the provision is to be mandatory”. Further,
24

hardship cannot be a ground for changing the mandatory nature

of the statute, as has been held by this Court in Bhikraj

Jaipurai vs Union of India AIR 1962 SC 113=(1962) 2 SCR 880

and Fairgrowth Investments Ltd. Vs Custodian (2004) 11 SCC

472. Hardship cannot thus be a ground to interpret the provision

so as to enlarge the time, where the statute provides for a specific

time, which, in our opinion, has to be complied in letter and

spirit.

This Court, in the case of Rohitash Kumar vs Om

Prakash Sharma (2013) 11 SCC 451 has, in paragraph 23, held

as under:

“23. There may be a statutory
provision, which causes great
hardship or inconvenience to either
the party concerned, or to an
individual, but the Court has no
choice but to enforce it in full rigor.

It is a well settled principle of
interpretation that hardship or
inconvenience caused, cannot be
used as a basis to alter the
meaning of the language employed
by the legislature, if such meaning
is clear upon a bare perusal of the
statute. If the language is plain
and hence allows only one
meaning, the same has to be given
effect to, even if it causes hardship
or possible injustice.”
25

While concluding, it was observed “that the hardship caused to an

individual, cannot be a ground for not giving effective and

grammatical meaning to every word of the provision, if the

language used therein, is unequivocal.”

Further, 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.

19. The contention of the learned Counsel for the

respondent is that by not leaving a discretion with the District

Forum for extending the period of limitation for filing the

response before it by the opposite party, grave injustice would be

caused as there could be circumstances beyond the control of the

opposite party because of which the opposite party may not be

able to file the response within the period of 30 days or the

extended period of 15 days. In our view, if the law so provides,
26

the same has to be strictly complied, so as to achieve the object of

the statute. It is well settled that law prevails over equity, as

equity can only supplement the law, and not supplant it.

This Court, in the case of Laxminarayan R. Bhattad

vs State of Maharashtra (2003) 5 SCC 413, has observed that

“when there is a conflict between law and equity the former shall

prevail.” In P.M. Latha vs State of Kerala (2003) 3 SCC 541,

this Court held that “Equity and law are twin brothers and law

should be applied and interpreted equitably, but equity cannot

override written or settled law.” In Nasiruddin vs Sita Ram

Agarwal (2003) 2 SCC 577, this Court observed that “in a case

where the statutory provision is plain and unambiguous, the court

shall not interpret the same in a different manner, only because of

harsh consequences arising therefrom.” In E. Palanisamy vs

Palanisamy (2003) 1 SCC 123, it was held that “Equitable

considerations have no place where the statute contained express

provisions.” Further, in India House vs Kishan N. Lalwani

(2003) 9 SCC 393, this Court held that “The period of limitation

statutorily prescribed has to be strictly adhered to and cannot be

relaxed or departed from by equitable considerations.”
27

It is thus settled law that where the provision of the Act

is clear and unambiguous, it has no scope for any interpretation

on equitable ground.

20. It is true that ‘justice hurried is justice buried’. But in

the same breath it is also said that ‘justice delayed is justice

denied’. The legislature has chosen the latter, and for a good

reason. It goes with the objective sought to be achieved by the

Consumer Protection Act, which is to provide speedy justice to

the consumer. It is not that sufficient time to file a response to

the complaint has been denied to the opposite party. It is just

that discretion of extension of time beyond 15 days (after the 30

days period) has been curtailed and consequences for the same

have been provided under Section 13(2)(b)(ii) of the Consumer

Protection Act. It may be that in some cases the opposite party

could face hardship because of such provision, yet for achieving

the object of the Act, which is speedy and simple redressal of

consumer disputes, hardship which may be caused to a party has

to be ignored.

21. It has been further contended that the language of

Section 13(2) of the Consumer Protection Act is pari materia to

Order VIII Rule 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (for short
28

‘the Code’) and if time can be extended for filing of written

submission in a suit under the aforesaid provision of the Code,

the same would apply to the filing of response to complaint under

the Consumer Protection Act as well, and hence the provision of

Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act would be

directory and not mandatory.

In this regard, what is noteworthy is that Regulation 26 of

the Consumer Protection Regulation, 2005, clearly mandates that

endeavour is to be made to avoid the use of the provisions of the

Code except for such provisions, which have been referred to in

the Consumer Protection Act and the Regulations framed

thereunder, which is provided for in respect of specific matters

enumerated in Section 13(4) of the Consumer Protection Act. It is

pertinent to note that non­filing of written statement under Order

VIII Rule 1 of the Code is not followed by any consequence of

such non­filing within the time so provided in the Code.

Now, while considering the relevant provisions of the

Code, it is noteworthy that Order VIII Rule 1 read with Order VIII

Rule 10 prescribes that the maximum period of 120 days

provided under Order VIII Rule 1 is actually not meant to be

mandatory, but only directory. Order VIII Rule 10 mandates that
29

where written statement is not filed within the time provided

under Order VIII Rule 1 “the court shall pronounce the judgment

against him, or make such order in relation to the suit as it thinks

fit”. A harmonious construction of these provisions is clearly

indicative of the fact that the discretion is left with the Court to

grant time beyond the maximum period of 120 days, which may

be in exceptional cases. On the other hand, sub­Section (2)(b)(ii)

of Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act clearly provides for

the consequence of the complaint to be proceeded ex parte

against the opposite party, if the opposite party omits or fails to

represent his case within the time given.

It may further be noted that in Order VIII Rule 10 of

the Code, for suits filed under the Commercial Courts Act, 2015,

a proviso has been inserted for ‘commercial disputes of a specified

value’ (vide Act 4 of 2016 w.r.e.f. 23.10.2015), which reads as

under:

“Provided further that no Court
shall make an Order to extend the
time provided under Rule 1 of this
Order for filing the written
statement”

From the above, it is clear that for commercial suits, time for

filing written statement provided under Order VIII Rule 1 is meant
30

to be mandatory, but not so for ordinary civil suits. Similarly, in

our considered view, for cases under the Consumer Protection Act

also, the time provided under Section 13(2)(a) of the Act has to be

read as mandatory, and not directory.

Once consequences are provided for not filing the

response to the complaint within the time specified, and it is

further provided that proceedings complying with the procedure

laid down under sub Section (1) and (2) of Section 13 of the

Consumer Protection Act shall not be called in question in any

Court on the ground that the principles of natural justice have

not been complied with, the intention of the legislature is

absolutely clear that the provision of sub­Section 2(a) of Section

13 of the Act in specifying the time limit for filing the response to

the complaint is mandatory, and not directory.

22. After noticing that there were delays in deciding the

complaints by the District Forum, the legislature inserted sub­

Section (3A) of Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act

providing for a time limit for deciding the complaints. From this it

is amply clear that the intention of the legislature was, and has

always been, for expeditious disposal of the complaints. By

providing for extension of time for disposal of the cases filed, for
31

reasons to be recorded, the legislature has provided for a

discretion to the Forum that wherever necessary, the extension of

the time can be provided for, and where such further extension is

not to be granted [as in the case of Section 13(2)(a)], the

legislature has consciously not provided for the same, so as to

achieve the object of the Act.

23. In SCG Contracts (India) Private Limited vs K.S.

Chamankar Infrastructure Private Limited (2019) 12 SCC

210, this Court, was dealing with a case relating to the filing of

written statement under the Code, in respect of a case under the

Commercial Courts Act, 2015. After noticing the amendments

brought in Order V Rule 1, Order VIII Rule 1 and Order VIII Rule

10 of the Code with regard to ‘commercial disputes of specified

value’ under the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 by way of

insertion of the Provisos in the aforesaid provisions, this Court

held that “….the clear, definite and mandatory provisions of Order

V read with Order VIII Rule 1 and 10 cannot be circumvented by

recourse to the inherent power under Section 151 to do the

opposite of what is stated therein”. It was, thus, held that there

was no scope for enlarging the time for filing of written statement

beyond the period of 120 days in commercial suits, as the
32

provision with regard to such suits would be mandatory, and not

directory. The said judgment has been affirmed by a Bench of

three Judges in Desh Raj vs Balkishan decided on 20.01.2020

in Civil Appeal No.433 of 2020.

24. In Fairgrowth Investments Ltd. Vs Custodian

(2004) 11 SCC 472, this Court was dealing with the provisions of

the Special Court (Trial of Offences Relating to Transactions in

Securities) Act, 1992, and the question was whether the Special

Court has power to condone the delay in filing the petition under

Section 4(2) of the said Act. While holding, that the said

provision would be mandatory, it was held in paragraph 13 as

under:

“13. It is not for the courts to
determine whether the period of 30
days is too short to take into
account the various misfortunes
that may be faced by notified
persons who wish to file objections
under Section 4(2) of the Act nor
can the section be held to be
directory because of such alleged
inadequacy of time.”

Then, after considering the decisions of this Court in Topline

Shoes Ltd. vs. Corporation Bank (2002) 6 SCC 33 and Dr. J. J.

33

Merchant vs. Shrinath Chaturvedi (2002) 6 SCC 635, this

Court held that “the period for filing an objection in Section 4(2) in

the Act is a mandatory provision given the language of the Section

and having regard to the objects sought to be served by the Act.”

25. Certain other cases, which have been referred to by the

learned Counsel for the parties, have, in our considered opinion,

no direct bearing on the facts and issue involved in the present

case relating to the Consumer Protection Act, and thus, the same

are not being dealt with and considered here.

26. We may now deal with the decisions rendered by this

Court, which have been referred to in the Reference Order.

27. Division Bench of this Court has referred this

Question, after observing that there is an apparent conflict

between the decisions of this Court in Topline Shoes (supra);

Kailash Vs. Nanhku (2005) 4 SCC 480 and Salem Advocate

Bar Association vs. Union of India (2005) 6 SCC 344 on the one

hand; and Dr. J. J. Merchant (supra) and NIA vs. Hilli

Multipurpose Cold Storage (2015) 16 SCC 22, on the other

hand.

34

28. In Topline Shoes (supra), a Division Bench of this

Court, while dealing with the provisions of Section 13(2)(a) of the

Consumer Protection Act, has held that the said provision would

be directory and not mandatory. While holding so, the Bench

relied on the principles of natural justice, and also that no

consequence of non­filing of the response to the complaint within

45 days is provided for in the Consumer Protection Act.

In paragraph 8 of the said judgment, this Court held:

“It is for the Forum or the
Commission to consider all facts
and circumstances along with the
provisions of the Act providing time­
frame to file reply, as a guideline
and then to exercise its discretion
as best as it may serve the ends of
justice and achieve the object of
speedy disposal of such cases
keeping in mind the principles of
natural justice as well”.

(emphasis supplied)

It is true that in Clause 4 of the Statement of Objects and

Reasons of the Consumer Protection Act, the legislature provided

that “quasi–judicial bodies will observe the principles of natural

justice”, however, the same is to be observed generally, and not

where the same is specifically excluded. In the said judgment,

sub­Section (3) of Section 13 has neither been referred, nor taken
35

note of. The same mandates that no proceedings complying with

the procedure laid down in sub­Sections (1) and (2) of Section 13

shall be called in question in any Court on the ground that the

principles of natural justice have not been complied with. From

this it is evident that while considering the provisions of Section

13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act, the law mandates that

the principles of natural justice cannot be said to be violated by

adopting the said procedure and that the time of 30 days plus 15

days provided for filing the response to the complaint would be

sufficient and final.

In case of Topline Shoes (supra), this Court was also

of the view that in the Consumer Protection Act, “no consequence

is provided in case the time granted to file reply exceeds the total

period of 45 days”. While observing so, the Bench did not take

into account the provisions of Section 13(2)(b)(ii) of the Consumer

Protection Act, which provides that where the opposite party fails

to file response to the complaint within the specified time

provided in Clause (a), “the District Forum shall proceed to settle

the consumer dispute……… on the basis of evidence brought to its

notice by the complainant……..”. After the said judgment, by

Amendment Act 62 of 2002 (w.e.f. 15.03.2003), the legislature
36

has provided that the District Forum shall proceed to settle the

consumer dispute “ex parte on the basis of the evidence”. The

word “ex parte” has been added by the Amending Act. As we have

observed herein above, the consequence of not filing the response

to the complaint within the stipulated time is thus clearly

provided for in the aforesaid sub­Section, which has not been

noticed by the Bench while deciding the aforesaid case.

29. In the case of Kailash vs. Nanhku (supra), this Court

was dealing with an election trial under the Representation of

People Act, 1951, and while considering the provision under

Order VIII Rule 1 of the Code, it held the same to be directory,

and not mandatory. While holding so, the Court was of the view

that “the consequences flowing from non­extension of time are not

specifically provided” in the Code. The decision in the said case

has no bearing on the question under consideration, as the

present reference before us is under the Consumer Protection Act,

where, as we have already observed, consequences are specifically

provided for.

In passing, in paragraph 35 of the said judgment, the

Bench referred to the case of Topline Shoes (supra), where the

provision of Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act was
37

considered to be directory, and not mandatory. In our view, the

same would not have the effect of affirming the decision of

Topline Shoes (supra) since the Court, in the aforesaid case, was

dealing with the provisions of the Code and not the specific

provisions of Consumer Protection Act.

We are thus of the opinion that Kailash vs Nanhku

(supra) has not overruled the decision in Dr. J. J. Merchant

(supra) with regard to the provision of the Consumer Protection

Act.

30. Again, in the case of Salem Advocates Bar

Association (supra), this Court was dealing with a case under

Order VIII Rule 1 of the Code and in paragraph 20, it has been

held as under:

“20.………The use of the word
“shall” is ordinarily indicative of
mandatory nature of the provision
but having regard to the context in
which it is used or having regard
to the intention of the legislation,
the same can be construed as
directory. The rule in question has
to advance the cause of justice
and not to defeat it. The rules of
procedure are made to advance
the cause of justice and not to
defeat it. Construction of the rule
38

or procedure which promotes
justice and prevents miscarriage
has to be preferred. The rules of
procedure are the handmaid of
justice and not its mistress. In the
present context, the strict
interpretation would defeat
justice.”

Thereafter, the Court proceeded to refer to the provisions of Order

VIII Rule 1, along with Order VIII Rule 10 of the Code. On a

harmonious construction of the said provision, it held that the

provisions of Order VIII Rule 1 of the Code would be directory,

and not mandatory. Relevant paragraph 21 of the said judgment

is below:

“21. In construing this provision,
support can also be had from
Order 8 Rule 10 which provides
that where any party from whom
a written statement is required
under Rule 1 or Rule 9, fails to
present the same within the time
permitted or fixed by the court, the
court shall pronounce judgment
against him, or make such other
order in relation to the suit as it
thinks fit. On failure to file written
statement under this provision,
the court has been given the
discretion either to pronounce
judgment against the defendant or
make such other order in relation
to the suit as it thinks fit. In the
context of the provision, despite
39

use of the word “shall”, the court
has been given the discretion to
pronounce or not to pronounce the
judgment against the defendant
even if the written statement is
not filed and instead pass such
order as it may think fit in relation
to the suit. In construing the
provision of Order 8 Rule 1 and
Rule 10, the doctrine of
harmonious construction is
required to be applied. The effect
would be that under Rule 10
Order 8, the court in its discretion
would have the power to allow the
defendant to file written statement
even after expiry of the period of
90 days provided in Order 8 Rule

1. There is no restriction in Order
8 Rule 10 that after expiry of
ninety days, further time cannot
be granted. The court has wide
power to “make such order in
relation to the suit as it thinks fit”.
Clearly, therefore, the provision of
Order 8 Rule 1 providing for the
upper limit of 90 days to file
written statement is directory”.

As such in our view, the said judgment would hold the

field with regard to Order VIII Rule 1 of the Code and would not

be applicable to cases dealing with the provisions of Section 13(2)

of the Consumer Protection Act, or such other enactment wherein

a provision akin to Section 13(2) is there and the consequences

are also provided.

40

31. The case of Dr. J. J. Merchant (supra) is one relating

to the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, and has been

decided by a Bench of three Judges of this Court (which is after

the decision in the case of Topline Shoes (supra) was rendered).

In this case it has been held that the time limit prescribed for

filing the response to the complaint under the Consumer

Protection Act, as provided under Section 13(2)(a), is to be strictly

adhered to, i.e. the same is mandatory, and not directory. In

paragraph 13 of the said judgment, it has been held that:

“For having speedy trial, this
legislative mandate of not giving
more than 45 days in submitting
the written statement or the
version of the case is required to
be adhered to. If this is not
adhered to, the legislative
mandate of disposing of the cases
within three or five months would
be defeated.

In the said case of Dr. J. J. Merchant (supra), while

holding that the time limit prescribed would be mandatory and

thus be required to be strictly adhered to, this Court also

considered the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the

Consumer Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2002 (which was

subsequently enacted as Act 62 of 2002 and has come in force
41

w.e.f. 15.03.2003). The salient features of the same was “to

provide simple, inexpensive and speedy justice to the

consumers……….” and that “the disposal of cases is to be faster”

and after noticing that “several bottlenecks and shortcomings

have also come to light in the implementation of various provisions

of the Act” and with a view to achieve quicker disposal of

consumer complaints, certain amendments were made in the Act,

which included “(iii) prescribing the period within which

complaints are to be admitted, notices are to be issued to opposite

party and complaints are to be decided”. With this object in mind,

in sub­Section (2)(b)(ii) of Section 13, the opening sentence “on

the basis of evidence” has been substituted by “ex parte on the

basis of evidence”. By this amendment, consequences of not filing

the response to the complaint within the specified limit of 45 days

was to be that the District Forum shall procced to settle the

consumer dispute ex parte on the basis of evidence brought to its

notice by the complainant, where the opposite party omits or fails

to take action to represent his case within time. For achieving

the objective of quick disposal of complaints, the Court noticed

that sub­Section (3A) of Section 13 was inserted, providing that

the complaint should be heard as expeditiously as possible and
42

that endeavour should be made to normally decide the complaint

within 3 months, and within 5 months where analysis or testing

of commodities was required. The Provisos to the said sub­

Section required that no adjournment should be ordinarily

granted and if granted, it should be for sufficient cause to be

recorded in writing and on imposition of cost, and if the

complaint could not be decided within the specified period,

reasons for the same were to be recorded at the time of disposing

of the complaint.

It was after observing so, and considering aforesaid

amendments, this Court held that the time limit of 30 plus 15

days in filing the response to the complaint, be mandatory and

strictly adhered to.

32. The decision of another Bench of three Judges in NIA

vs Hilli Multipurpose Coldstorage (supra), which has been

considered in the referring order was passed by a bench of two

Judges in the same case, after noticing a conflict of views in the

cases of Dr. J. J. Merchant (supra) and Kailash vs Nanhku

(supra).

After considering the provisions of the Code and

Consumer Protection Act, the reference was answered “that the
43

law laid down by a three Judge Bench of this Court in Dr. J. J.

Merchant (supra) should prevail”. In coming to this conclusion,

the following was observed in paragraphs 25 and 26 of the said

judgment:

“25. We are, therefore, of the
view that the judgment delivered
in J.J. Merchant holds the field
and therefore, we reiterate the
view that the District Forum can
grant a further period of 15 days
to the opposite party for filing his
version or reply and not beyond
that.

26. There is one more reason to
follow the law laid down in J.J.

Merchant. J.J. Merchant was
decided in 2002, whereas
Kailash was decided in 2005.
As per law laid down by this
Court, while dealing Kailash, this
Court ought to have respected
the view expressed in J.J.

Merchant as the judgment
delivered in J.J. Merchant was
earlier in point of time. The
aforesaid legal position cannot
be ignored by us and therefore,
we are of the opinion that the
view expressed in J.J. Merchant
should be followed.”

33. Although, after the above decision, no further reference

was required to be made, but still we have proceeded to answer
44

the question referred to this Constitution Bench and are of the

considered opinion that the view expressed by this Court in the

case of Dr. J. J. Merchant (supra) is the correct view.

Question No. 2: What would be the commencing point of

limitation of 30 days under Section 13 of

the Consumer Protection Act, 1986?

34. The question for determination is 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.

35. In paragraph 12 of the judgment dated 04.12.2015, of

three Judge Bench of this Court, in this very 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,
45

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.”

36. However, another two judge Bench of this Court, by an

Order dated 18.01.2017 passed in this very Appeal being Civil

Appeal No(s).10941­10942 of 2013, NIA Vs. Hilli Multipurpose

Cold Storage, has expressed the view that the declaration made

in Dr. J. J. Merchant’s case to the effect that the said period is

to be reckoned from the date of receipt of notice by the opposite

party or complaint under the Act, requires a more critical

analysis. The bench thus opined that “what is the commencing

point of the limitation of 30 days stipulated in Section 13 of the Act

is required to be decided authoritatively”. It is thus that this

question has been placed before us for an authoritative decision.

37. For deciding this question, we may first analyse the

relevant provisions of the Consumer Protection Act and the
46

Regulations framed thereunder. Sub­Sections (2)(a) and (2)(b) of

Section13 of the Consumer Protection Act specify that it is the

copy of the complaint which is to 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, it is clear that it is the copy of

the admitted complaint which is to be served, after which the

period to file the response would commence.

Further, Regulation 10 of the Consumer Protection

Regulations, 2005 also specifies the procedure of issuing notice,

which should be accompanied by copy of the complaint.

Regulation 10(5) clearly mentions that “along with the notice,

copies of the complaint, memorandum of grounds of appeal,

petitions as the case may be and other documents filed shall be

served upon the opposite party(ies)/respondent(s)”. The same

would also make it clear that it is on service of a copy of the

complaint that the period of limitation for filing the response by

the opposite party shall commence.

38. Even in the Code of Civil Procedure, Order VIII Rule 1

prescribes that the written statement shall be filed by the

defendant within 30 days from the receipt of the “summons”.
47

“Summons” has been defined in Order V Rule 1 of the Code and

Rule 2 provides that “Every summon shall be accompanied by a

copy of the plaint.” While considering the aforesaid provisions, a

two judge Bench of this Court in the case of Nahar Enterprises

vs Hyderabad Allwyn Ltd. (2007) 9 SCC 466 has, in paragraph 8,

9 and 10, held as under:

(8) The learned counsel appears to
be correct. When a summons is
sent calling upon a defendant to
appear in the court and file his
written statement, it is obligatory
on the part of the court to send a
copy of the plaint and other
documents appended thereto, in
terms of Order 5 Rule 2 CPC.

(9) Order 5 Rule 2 CPC reads as
under:

“2. Copy of plaint annexed to
summons. – Every summon shall
be accompanied by a copy of the
plaint.”
(10) The learned Judge did not
address itself the question as to
how a defendant, in absence of a
copy of the plaint and other
documents, would be able to file
his written
statement…………………….……..”

39. Even in Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, sub­

Section (5) of Section 31 provides that “after the arbitral award is
48

made, a signed copy shall be delivered to each party”. An

application for setting aside the arbitral award is to be made

under Section 34 of the said Act. The delivery of the award sets in

motion the limitation for challenging the award under Section 34

of the said Act. While interpreting the nature and scope of Section

31(5) of the said Act, a three Judge Bench of this Court in Union

of India vs Tecco Trichy Engineers & Contractors, (2005) 4

SCC 239, has, in paragraph 6, held as under:

(6) Form and contents of the
arbitral award are provided by
Section 31 of the Act. The arbitral
award drawn up in the manner
prescribed by Section 31 of the Act
has to be signed and dated.

According to sub­section (5), “after
the arbitral award is made, a
signed copy shall be delivered to
each party”. The term “party” is
defined by clause (h) of Section 2 of
the Act as meaning “a party to an
arbitration agreement”. The
definition is to be read as given
unless the context otherwise
requires. Under sub­section (3) of
Section 34 the limitation of 3
months commences from the date
on which “the party making that
application” had received the
arbitral award. ……………”

From the above, what we notice is that wherever limitation is

provided, either for filing response/written statement or filing an
49

appeal, it is the copy of the plaint or the order/award which is to

be served on the party concerned after which alone would

commence the period of limitation.

40. Now reverting to the provisions of the Consumer

Protection Act, a conjoint reading of Clauses (a) and (b) of sub­

Section (2) of Section 13 would make the position absolutely clear

that the commencing point of limitation of 30 days, under the

aforesaid provisions, would be from the date of receipt of notice

accompanied by a copy of the complaint, and not merely receipt of

the notice, as the response has to be given, within the stipulated

time, to the averments made in the complaint and unless a copy of

the complaint is served on the opposite party, he would not be in a

position to furnish its reply. Thus, mere service of notice, without

service of the copy of the complaint, would not suffice and cannot

be the commencing point of 30 days under the aforesaid Section of

the Act. We may, however, clarify that the objection of not having

received a copy of the complaint along with the notice should be

raised on the first date itself and not thereafter, otherwise if

permitted to be raised at any point later would defeat the very

purpose of the Act, which is to provide simple and speedy

redressal of consumer disputes.

50

41. 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.

This Judgment to operate prospectively.

The referred questions are answered accordingly.

………………………………..J.

[Arun Mishra]

………………………………..J.

[Indira Banerjee]

………………………………..J.

[Vineet Saran]
51

………………………………..J.

[M. R. Shah]

………………………………..J.

[S. Ravindra Bhat]

New Delhi
Dated: March 4, 2020



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