Supreme Court urges consumer forum to look into grievance of year-long adjournments
The Supreme Court has urged the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) to ensure timely disposal of cases before it after the top court’s attention was drawn to a matter, which was adjourned by the forum for nearly a year.
The top court did not pass any concrete directions to NCDRC and instead left it to the administrative authority of the forum’s president, justice RK Agrawal, to ensure that allocation of work and disposal of cases take place in a streamlined manner.
“We consider it proper and appropriate to request the president of the NCDRC to look into the grievance and to take an institutional decision on the administrative side,” a division bench headed by justice DY Chandrachud said on Friday.
NCDRC is a body established under the Consumer Protection Act to hear consumer complaints. It hears appeals against various State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commissions established at the state level. The NCDRC, as per the Consumer Protection Act of 2019, is also empowered to hear cases directly if the value of the good or services involved is more than Rs 10 crore. Earlier, it was Rs 1 crore as per the Consumer Protection Act of 1986. Appeals against decisions of NCDRC go to the Supreme Court.
The top court was hearing one such appeal filed by an Uttar Pradesh-based jewellery retailer, LM Jewellers, against an order passed by the forum on February 28, 2020, adjourning a complaint filed by it to January 5, 2021. The petitioner submitted that adjournment of the case for nearly a year defeats the purpose of the Consumer Protect Act which is to ensure speedy resolution of consumer cases.
Petitioner’s counsel, Nikhil Jain, said such orders were being passed by the forum as a matter of routine and a pattern had emerged of granting long adjournments. He pointed out another case in which NCDRC, on February 26, 2020, adjourned the hearing of a case to March 3, 2021, when a request for adjournment was made on the ground that the arguing counsel was unwell.
The Supreme Court noted that the functioning of various tribunals has been hampered due to lack of adequate infrastructure and judges, prompting them to give long adjournments.
“This court is cognizant of the fact that several tribunals suffer from a lack of adequate infrastructure including of judges to discharge adjudicatory functions. Hence, the presiding judges allocate dates on the basis of a realistic assessment of when cases can be disposed of when they are listed for final disposal,” the bench, which also comprised justice KM Joseph, observed.
But it allowed the petitioner to raise the issue before the president of NCDRC so that appropriate steps can be taken to ensure speedy disposal of cases.
“This is an issue on which, it is only proper and appropriate that this court (Supreme Court) should defer to the administrative authority of the president of the NCDRC to ensure that the allocation of work and disposal of cases takes place in a streamlined manner,” the bench said.