The Supreme Court held that the District Forum can grant a further period of 15 days in addition to the 30 days (from the date of notice) provided for in section 13 of the Act to the opposite party for filing his version or reply and not beyond that. It was held that the view expressed by the three Judge Bench of this Court in Dr. J.J. Merchant & Ors. v. Shrinath Chaturvedi [(2002) 6 SCC 635] would prevail as the judgment delivered in this case holds the field. .Supre
The precise question before the Court in the instant matter was of determining period within which the opponent has to give his version (written statement) to the District Forum in pursuance of a complaint, admitted under Section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (Act). Upon receipt of a complaint by the District Forum, if the complaint is admitted under Section 12 of the Act, a copy of the complaint is to be served upon the opposite party and as per provisions of Section 13 of the Act, the opposite party has to give his version of the case within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of the copy of the complaint.
The District Forum may extend the period, not exceeding 15 days, to the opposite party for giving his version. Thus there is an upper cap of 45 days imposed by the Act for filing version of the opposite party.
The present case raised a question as to whether the issue is governed by the law laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant & Ors. v. Shrinath Chaturvedi [(2002) 6 SCC 635] or Kailash v. Nanhku & Ors. [(2005) 4 SCC 480].
In the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant, a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that in no case period beyond 45 days can be granted to the opposite party for filing its version of the case. Thereafter in the case of Kailash wherein the issue involved was whether time limit of 90 days, as prescribed by the proviso to Rule 1 of Order 8 of the Civil Procedure Code, is mandatory or directory in nature. The said issue had arisen in an election matter where the written statement was not filed by the concerned candidate within the period prescribed under the relevant Election Law and the issue was whether in the Election trial, delay caused in filing the written statement could have been condoned. Supreme Court had held that the provisions of Order VIII Rule 1 C.P.C. are not mandatory but directory in nature and therefore, in the interest of justice, further time for filing reply can be granted, if the circumstances are such that require grant of further time for filing the reply.
In the present matter, Supreme Court had to consider as to whether in a case under the provisions of the Act, where a complaint has been filed and the opposite party has not filed its version to the case within 30 days or within extended period of 45 days, which at the most could have been granted by the District Forum, the version given by the opposite party can be accepted.
Court after hearing submissions of both the sides it was held that the view expressed by the three Judge Bench of this Court in Dr. J.J. Merchant should prevail, as the judgment delivered in the case of Dr. J.J. Merchant holds the field and therefore, the District Forum can grant a further period of 15 days to the opposite party for filing his version or reply and not beyond that.
[New India Assurance Co. Ltd. vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd.]
(SC, 04.12.2015 – Civil Appeal Nos. 10941 – 10942 of 2013)