A three-judge Bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Suryakant, and Justice Vikram Nath has held that applications for condonation of delay of more than 45 days in filing a written statement by a party to the complaint under the Consumer Protection Act filed before 4th March 2020 would have no impact of the judgment of a Constitution Bench in the case of New India Assurance Company Limited v. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Private Limited.
The Constitutional Bench in the aforementioned case vide its judgment dated 4th March 2020 had held that the limitation period under Section 13(2) of the Act could not be extended beyond the statutorily prescribed period of 45 days.
Advocate Mr. Salil Paul appeared for the Appellants before the Supreme Court.
An appeal was preferred by the Appellants-Complainants assailing the judgment of NCDRC which had condoned the delay of 100 days in filing a written statement by the Respondent. The order of NCDRC was passed before the judgment of Constitution Bench i.e., before 4th March 2020.
In this case, the Appellants had filed a consumer complaint on 3rd December 2018 before the NCDRC based on two insurance policies. The claim was due to the fire that occurred at the factory of the Appellant. The Respondent filed a written statement on 23rd September 2019 together with an IA for condonation of delay of 100 days.
The NCDRC condoned the delay subject to the Respondent paying costs of Rs. 50,000.
The Appellants contended before the Supreme Court that given the judgment of the Constitution Bench in New India Assurance Company Limited, a delay in excess of the period prescribed under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act i.e., 30 days extendable to 15 days could not have been condoned.
While the Respondent argued that the decision in New India Assurance Company Limited has been given prospective effect and before the decision of the Constitution Bench, in this case, the decision in Reliance General Insurance Company Limited v. Mampee Timbers and Hardwares Private Limited would apply, which had held that the written statements filed beyond 45 days were permitted to be accepted in appropriate cases.
It was further argued that in the present case, the NCDRC had exercised discretion while condoning the delay, prior to the decision of the Constitution Bench.
The Apex Court made a reference to the case of Bhasin Infotech and Infrastructure Private Limited v. Grand Venezia Buyers Association where a two-judge Bench of the SC had permitted parties to file written statements beyond the prescribed limitation period subject to the payment of appropriate costs.
The Bench further made a reliance on Daddy's Builders Private Limited v. Manisha Bhargava, where the SC had observed that ultimately it was left to the concerned fora to accept written statements beyond the statutory time period of 45 days in suitable cases.
The Court further observed, "The Consumer protection Act 1986 and its successor are social welfare legislations designed to protect the interests of consumers."
The Court also held that the Constitution Bench in New India Assurance Company Limited considered it appropriate to give prospective effect to its decision the case. In this context, the Court further noted –
"Thus, the decision in Daddy's Builders (supra) would not affect applications that were pending or decided before 4 March 2020. Such applications for condonation would be entitled to the benefit of the position in Reliance General Insurance Company Limited (supra) which directed consumer fora to render a decision on merits."
The Bench additionally added that having regard to the prospective effect of the judgment in New India Assurance Company Limited and the orders of this Court in Reliance General Insurance Company Limited no case for interference is made against the order of the NCDRC allowing the application for condonation of delay on merits.
Accordingly, the Court disposed of the appeal.