Why you should not Delay in Filing Consumer Complaint?

December 20, 2017

Delay in filing consumer complaints often renders even a genuine consumer complaint infructuous under the Law. Section 24A of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 provides for the Limitation period. It states that the District Forum, State Commission or the National Commission (as the case may be) shall not admit a complaint if it has been filed after two years from the date on which cause of action has arisen. The said provision has been derived from the legal maxim Vigilantibus Non Dormientibus Aequitas Subvenit which implies that equity aids the vigilant and not the ones who sleep over their rights.

Limitation Period under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986

Section 24A (2) of the Act further enumerates that a complaint can be entertained after the stipulated period if the complainant satisfies the appropriate Consumer Forum that he had sufficient cause for not filing the complaint within such period. Under the provision, the appropriate Forum shall also record reasons for condonation of delay (if any).

Hence, if there has been delay in filing the consumer complain, then the Complainant shall satisfactorily explain the Court the reason for delay caused in filing of complaint.

Legislative Intent behind Section 24A of the Act

This aspect was dealt with by the Supreme Court in the case of State Bank of India v. M/S B.S. Agriculture[1]. The Supreme Court in the case delved into the issue of limitation period under Section 24A of the Act and observed that the provision peremptory in nature and requires consumer forum to see before it admits the complaint that it has been filed within two years from the date of accrual of cause of action. The consumer forum, however, for the reasons to be recorded in writing may condone the delay in filing the complaint if sufficient cause is shown. The expression, `shall not admit a complaint’ occurring in Section 24A is sort of a legislative command to the consumer forum to examine on its own whether the complaint has been filed within limitation period prescribed thereunder. As a matter of law, the consumer forum must deal with the complaint on merits only if the complaint has been filed within two years from the date of accrual of cause of action and if beyond the said period, the sufficient cause has been shown and delay condoned for the reasons recorded in writing. In other words, it is the duty of the consumer forum to take notice of Section 24A and give effect to it. If the complaint is barred by time and yet, the consumer forum decides the complaint on merits, the forum would be committing an illegality and, therefore, the aggrieved party would be entitled to have such order set aside.

Object behind Limitation period under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986

Anshul Aggarwal vs. New Okhla Industrial Development Authority[2]– In this case, the Court substantiated on the object behind the limitation period prescribed under Section 24A. The Court opined that while deciding an application filed in such cases for condonation of delay, the Court has to keep in mind that the special period of limitation has been prescribed under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 for filing appeals and revisions in consumer matters and the object of expeditious adjudication of the consumer disputes will get defeated if this Court was to entertain highly belated petitions filed against the orders of the Consumer Foras.

Limitation period under Section 24A of the Act is a mandatory provision

In the case of Union of India and Another v. British India Corporation Ltd. and Others[3], while dealing with an aspect of limitation for an application for refund prescribed in Business Profits Tax Act, 1947, this Court held that the question of limitation was a mandate to the forum and, irrespective of the fact whether it was raised or not, the forum must consider and apply it.

A similar view was taken by the Supreme Court in the case of Haryana Urban Development Authority v. B.K. Sood[4]. In this case, the Court while dealing with Section 24A of the Act stated that the Act expressly casts a duty on the Commission admitting a complaint, to dismiss a complaint unless the complainant satisfies the District Forum, the State Commission or the National Commission, as the case may be, that the complainant had sufficient cause for not filing the complaint within the period of two years from the date on which the cause of action had arisen.

Consumer shall be given Opportunity of hearing under Section 24A of the Act

In the case of V.N.Shrikhande vs Anita Sena [5], the Supreme Court had held that Section 24A(1) of the Act the power under this provision is to be exercised by Consumer Forums only after giving opportunity of hearing to the complainant, who can seek condonation of delay under Section 24A(2)  by showing that there was sufficient cause for not filing the complaint within the period prescribed under Section 24A(1) . If the complaint is per se barred by time and the complainant does not seek condonation of delay under Section 24A(2) , the consumer forums will have no option but to dismiss the same.

Meaning of “Cause of action” under Section 24A of the Act

In V.N. Shrikhande case (supra) Meaning of “cause of action” under Section 24A (1) of the Act was discussed by the Supreme Court. The Court stated that since, the term `cause of action’ has not been defined in the Act, the same has to be interpreted keeping in view the context in which it has been used in Section 24A (1) of the Act and object of the legislation. In this context, the Court quoted from Justice G.P. Singh’s Book on Principles of Statutory Interpretation, Justice G.P. Singh has quoted Professor H.A. Smith in the following words:

`What is the natural or ordinary meaning of that word or phrase in its context in the statute? It is only when that meaning leads to some result which cannot reasonably be supposed to have been the intention of the legislature, that it is proper to look for some other possible meaning of the word or phrase.’ The context, as already seen, in the construction of statutes, means the statute as a whole, the previous state of the law, other statutes in pari materia, the general scope of the statute and the mischief that it was intended to remedy.”

In view of the aforesaid legal position and judicial dictum it is apparent that a Consumer shall be vigilant and not sleep over his rights to file a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act and if any delay is caused in filing consumer complaint then the delay shall be satisfactorily explained to the Consumer Forum.

[1] AIR 2009 SC 2210

[2] IV (2011) CPJ 63 (SC)

[3] (2003) 9 SCC 50

[4] (2006) 1 SCC 164

[5] [(2011) 1 SCC 53]