This article is written by Akhilandeswari Bonam, a student of Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam, Tirupati.
Civil Appeal Number 7975 of 2001
AIR 2002 SC 2931; 2006(6) SCC 635
M.B.Shah, Bisweshwar Prasad Singh, H.K. Sema.
201, 203, 304-A IPC.
Brief Facts and Procedural History
Appellants filed a suit before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (National Commission) under Miscellaneous petition number 53 of 2000. In 1993 a suit filed under original petition number 252 of 1993 before Commission, appellants prayed that complaint filed for alleged medical negligence be either dismissed as according to the complicated questions of law and facts arise which can best be decided by the civil court or in the alternative the proceeding be stayed during the pendency of criminal prosecution pending against them in criminal court at Mumbai. This application was rejected by the commission.
In 1993 the complainants filed an original petition against appellants before the National Commission alleging that his son (complainant son) aged 21 years was admitted in the Branch Candy Hospital in Mumbai on 4.8.1992 for the operation of slip disc as he was suffering from backache. He died on 29.8.1992 in the hospital itself, the complainant attributed this as medical negligence.
The complainant had also filed a criminal complaint against doctors (appellants) before the Metropolitan Magistrate under sections 201,203 and 304-A IPC before filing a complaint in the National Commission. This prosecution is also pending. The Commission rejected the application by holding that there is no universal rule of law, to continue civil proceedings while the criminal proceedings are pending. The Commission also observed that there was an unexplained delay in moving such application at this stage and therefore, the case requires to be decided at the earliest.
Learned senior counsel submitted the aspects which influence the direction to the complainant to approach the Civil court. Learned counsel for the parties also submitted the reasons for the delay.
There is an inordinate delay of about nine years in the disposal of the complaint. However, if this contention is accepted, the purpose and object of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 would be frustrated. One of the main objects of the act is to provide a speedy, efficacious, alternative, and simple remedy to consumer disputes. Quasi-judicial machinery also constituted for dealing with these disputes on the principles of natural justice. Before enactment of this act, the complainants were required to approach the civil court for securing justice, where the decision takes years to decide a dispute.
Learned counsel for the parties submitted that in the present case, there is a delay of more than nine years in the disposal of the complainant. For that purpose, they made a grievance that matters are frequently adjourned on one or other ground without following the procedure prescribed under 13 of the Consumer Protection Act and rule 14 of the Rules. The proposed amendment also requires that no adjournment shall ordinarily be granted and in any case, if any adjournment is required to be granted, reasons for the same are required to be recorded.
Issues before the Court
- Whether delay in disposal of cases by the consumer forum or commission would be a ground for directing the complainant to approach the civil court?
- Whether the involvement of complicated questions of law and facts would be a ground?
The main object of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is to provide an alternative, speedy and efficacious remedy without causing any losses to the parties to the disputes. For this, the government constituted a machinery to deal with these cases at the district, state, and center level. Consumer Forum is also an alternative forum established under the act to discharge the functions of a civil court. Therefore, delay in the disposal of the complaint would not be a ground for rejecting the complaint and directing the complainant to approach the civil court.
This case involves the complicated question of facts for which experts including doctors would be required to be examined and their cross-examination may be necessary, therefore also the National Commission ought to have directed the complainant to approach the civil court.
This case is based upon the negligence on the part of the doctors in giving treatment to the deceased. Whether there was negligence on the part of the doctors or not, it would depend on facts alleged to, and in such a case there is no complicated question of law involved. However, it is pointed out by the learned senior counsel that recording evidence of experts including doctors relied upon by the complainant would consume much time and therefore also the complainant should approach the civil court. As against this, learned counsel for the complainant submitted that under the Act, the commission is required to follow summary procedure.
The Ratio of the Case
According to the Act, 1986 the commission is required to follow the summary procedure, it may or may not examine the doctors or experts. It may only rely upon the statements given by such doctors or experts.
Under the Act, on the receipt of the complaint, the opposite party is required to give a written statement within 30 days or an extending period not more than 15 days which may be granted by the forum or commission. This mandatory legislative intent must be followed by the forum or commission.
The Decision of the Court
The Supreme Court held that merely because it is mentioned that the commission or the forum is required to have a summary trial, it would hardly be grounds for directing the consumer to approach the civil court. It would also be completely wrong to assume that because a summary trial is provided, justice cannot be done when some questions of facts are required to be dealt with or decided. The three-judge bench concluded that in no case period beyond 45 days can be granted to the opposite party for filing its version of the case.
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