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A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court today reserved its verdict on the issue of whether Consumer Courts can grant time to the opposite party to file a reply beyond a total period of 45 days, as mandated under Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act.
Judgment was reserved by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, MR Shah, Vineet Saran, Indira Banerjee and Ravindra Bhat.
The Consumer Protection Act requires the opposite party to submit its reply within 30 days or such extended period not exceeding 15 days as granted by the consumer forum.
The petitioners averred that that such extension of the time period as against what is stipulated, would not cause any grave illegality. The time period mentioned in the Act was directory in nature and not mandatory, it was argued. It was averred that vide Topline Shoes v. Corporation Bank, the Supreme Court had authoritatively decided that reply filed by the OP beyond 45 days would not be rejected.
Advocate Vikas Mehta, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, argued that Order 8 Rule 1 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) must be applied in the present case.
At this point, Justice Arun Mishra observed,
“We have to interpret in terms of progressive understanding.”
Justice MR Shah added more perspective to the idea of progressive understanding of provisions of law. He noted that allowing an extension would mean denial of speedy justice, which was now an expansive right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Mehta submitted that the interpretation must be neither too liberal nor too strict, and that discretion must be available to the consumer courts to extend periods for filing reply.
Further, it was argued by the the petitioners that disallowing such an extension would be antithetical to the principles of natural justice,
“Procedure established by law and due process of law are two different things. Does the limitation on time to file reply hit at due process? Why should two warring parties be given different rights?”, he concluded.
At this juncture, Justice Arun Mishra stated,
“How can there be a violation of principles of natural justice when time has already been granted under clauses (1) & (2) of Section 13, Consumer Protection Act, 1986?”