The Supreme Court observed that ‘Class Action’ consumer complaints filed by one or more consumers where there are numerous consumers having the same interest will be maintainable only where the complaint fulfils all the requisite conditions in terms of Section 12(1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Act read with Order I Rule 8 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
The said ruling was made in the matter of Rameshwar Prashad Srivastava & Ors. Vs. Dwarkadhis Projects Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. (Civil Appeal No. 5802 of 2018), decided on 07.12.2018.
The instant appeal arose from the decision of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, relying on its full bench decision in Ambrish Kumar Shukla and others v. Ferrous Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd., dismissing the complaint filed by some of the allottees, as not maintainable since there was no application under Section 12(1)(c) of the Act as held in the full bench decision.
Thereafter, in the present appeal, the Appellants contended that the definition of the complainant as found in Section 2(1)(b) permits even a voluntary consumer association to espouse the cause of aggrieved party/parties and that the expression “one or more consumers, where there are numerous consumers having the same interest” ought to be given widest possible interpretation so as to sub-serve the underlying objectives of the Act and to make the redressal mechanism easy, cost effective and efficacious.
It was also submitted that in cases having large number of apartment holders, if only some of them approach the consumer forum, their grievance redressal ought not to be forced to go through the mechanics of Section 13(6) of the Act read with the provisions of Order 1 Rule 8 CPC as any such insistence would render the remedy exorbitant as cost required for newspaper publication itself would be quite prohibitive.
Rejecting the submissions of the Appellant, the Apex Court observed that the language used and the text in Section 13(6) is amply clear that wherever a complaint is filed by a complainant in the category referred to in Section 2(1)(b)(iv), the provisions of Order 1 Rule 8 CPC shall apply with the modification that reference to suit or decree shall be construed as reference to a complaint or order of the district forum.
The bench also held that the view taken by the National Commission in the case of Ambrish Kumar is consistent with the text of the provisions and is the correct view wherein it was held that a Class Action complaint should be entertained only where the complainant fulfils all the requisite conditions in terms of Section 12(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act read with Order I Rule 8 of the Code of Civil Procedure; as interpreted in this reference. It would also be necessary for the Bench to either give individual notices or an adequate public notice of the institution of the complaint to all the persons on whose behalf or for whose benefit the complaint is instituted.