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Dismissal of consumer complaints on mere technical grounds, defeats the purpose of ensuring justice: Supreme Court

Vibha Bakshi Gokhale vs. Gruhashilp Constructions
In The Supreme Court of India Civil Appellate Jurisdiction Civil Appeal No. 4767 Of 2019
Bench: Justices Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud & Hemant Gupta
Decided On: May 10th, 2019

Brief facts of the Case:
The Supreme Court has held that dismissal of consumer complaints for marginal delays in filing or other technical grounds only “add to the burden of litigation and defeat the purpose of ensuring Justice”.
 
While setting aside an order of the National Consumer Commission (NCDRC) in the case of Vibha Bakshi Gokhale vs. Gruhashilp Constructions, the Bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Hemant Gupta of Supreme Court of India observed that dismissal of consumer complaints on technical grounds, adds the burden of litigation and defeats the purpose of ensuring justice in the consumer fora. The Apex Court directed the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) to restore a consumer complaint after an appeal was filed by Complainant Vibha Bakshi challenging the Order passed by NCDRC wherein it dismissed the appeal filed by a flat buyer against a construction firm on non filing of rejoinder and evidence.
 
In the said case, Vibha Bakshi, the Complainant had filed a complaint before the National Commission complaining of a deficiency of service on the part of the builder.  The dispute was regarding a residential flat, which was allegedly booked by the Complainant Vibha Bakshi.  However, NCDRC had dismissed the complaint as the Complainant had failed to file a rejoinder and evidence within stipulated time. A bench comprising DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta said that the ground for rejection of the complaint is technical and in disregard of the requirements of substantial justice. The purpose which Parliament sought to achieve by setting up the NCDRC is to protect the rights of consumers to seek access to justice under the Consumer Protection Act 1986. The bench went on saying that they are affirmatively of the view that orders of this nature detract from the true purpose for which the NCDRC has been established. The NCDRC should have borne this in mind instead of rejecting the complaint on a technicality. Such dismissals only add to the burden of litigation and defeat the purpose of ensuring justice in the consumer fora.
 
The bench said that it has also been repeatedly observing that marginal delays are not being condoned by the NCDRC on the ground that the Consumer Protection Act 1986 stipulates a period within which a consumer complaint has to be disposed of. Though the Act stipulates a period for disposing of a consumer complaint, it is also a sobering reflection that complaints cannot be disposed of due to non-availability of resources and infrastructure. In this background, it is harsh to penalise a bona fide litigant for marginal delays that may occur in the judicial process. The consumer fora should bear this in mind so that the ends of justice are not defeated.
 
In view of the fact that the complaint was dismissed on a mere technicality, the Apex Court has set aside the impugned orders passed by National Commission and directed it to restore the complaint which was filed in National Commission through the Complainant Vibha Bakshi.
 
This verdict of Supreme Court will be a big relief to the consumers however, the Supreme Court has not made it clear as to what will be the quantum of marginal delays the Consumer Courts should consider. Such ambiguity can lead to other issues in prospective consumer cases.

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Divya Patwal

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