NCDRC Cannot Pass Order For Amending Complaint In View Of The Mandate of Sections 13(2) and 22 of CPA: Supreme Court
A three-judge Bench of Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud, Justice Suryakant and Justice Vikram Nath in the Judgment rendered on 9th December'21 has held that National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) cannot pass an order for amending the complaint as it is for the Complainant to decide as to whether the complaint should be amended or whether it would pursue the option of proceeding with the pleadings as they stand. In this context, the Court further observed -
"Whether the pleading in the nature of a plaint in a civil suit or a complaint before the consumer forum should be amended is a matter for the plaintiff or, as the case may be, the complainant to determine."
Advocate on Record Mr. Mohit D. Ram appeared for the Appellant, while Advocate on Record Mr. Amit Kumar Singh appeared for the Respondent before the Court.
The Supreme Court was hearing an appeal against an order passed by the NCDRC which directed the Appellant to file an amended complaint and Respondent No 1 to file a written statement.
In this case, the Appellant instituted a consumer complaint before NCDRC on 28th September 2019 with the grievance that the first respondent had failed to settle the insurance claim of the appellant arising out of the two alleged storms which damaged the solar power plants of the Appellants. On 17th October 2019, NCDRC admitted the complaint and was directed to issue notice to the Respondent under section 13(2) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Notice of the complaint was served upon the Respondent on 5th November 2019 but the Respondent did not file its written statement within the stipulated time. But on 6th March 2020, Respondent No 1 filed an interim application seeking to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it was premature. Incidentally, on the same day, Respondent No 1 issued a letter repudiating the claim of the appellant.
In response to the IA, the appellant raised the plea that the right to file the written statement had been barred in view of the judgment of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in New India Assurance Company Limited v Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Private Limited. NCDRC directed the Appellant to file an amended complaint and has granted an opportunity to the first Respondent to file a written statement.
The Counsel for the Appellant contended that the First Respondent failed to file the written statement within the outer limit which is prescribed by Section 13(1) (as made applicable to the NCDRC by the provisions of Section 22 ). It was further contended that the opportunity provided to the Respondent to file a written statement had come at the behest of violation of law that mandates submission of the written statement within a period of 45 days.
On the other hand, counsel for Respondent argued that the relief which was sought in the complaint was for the insurer to settle the claim by making the payment of the claim. It was admitted that no written statement has been filed but the claim was repudiated on 6th March 2020, the relief which was sought in the complaint worked itself out and therefore the complaint has been rendered infructuous.
The Supreme court noted that the error in the order of the NCDRC was to compel the appellant to amend the complaint, as a consequence of which, it granted permission to the first Respondent to file a written statement to the amended complaint.
The Bench further observed, "The party which moves the forum is dominus litis and is entitled to decide whether or not to amend the pleading or to pursue the complaint, as it stands".
Accordingly, the Court set aside the order of the NCDRC, which directed the appellant to amend their complaint and granted liberty to the Appellant to undertake the actions mentioned below -
(i) to pursue the complaint as it stands without any amendment; or
(ii) to seek an amendment to the complaint; or
(iii) to withdraw the complaint with liberty to file a fresh complaint to challenge the alleged act of repudiation.
Thus, the Court disposed of the appeal.