A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court recently in the case of [New India
Assurance Co. Ltd. Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd.,
MANU/SC/0272/2020] held that the time period to file the reply within forty five
(30 days or such extended period, not exceeding 15 days) under Section 13 (2) of
the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is mandatory and there cannot be any extension
beyond the said period.
Constitution Bench while answering the reference held as under:
22. After noticing that there were delays in deciding the complaints by the
District Forum, the legislature inserted sub¬ Section (3A) of Section 13 of the
Consumer Protection Act providing for a time limit for deciding the complaints.
From this it is amply clear that the intention of the legislature was, and has
always been, for expeditious disposal of the complaints. By providing for
extension of time for disposal of the cases filed, for reasons to be recorded,
the legislature has provided for a discretion to the Forum that wherever
necessary, the extension of the time can be provided for, and where such further
extension is not to be granted [as in the case of Section 13 (2)(a)], the
legislature has consciously not provided for the same, so as to achieve the
object of the Act.
The issue as to whether the time period as prescribed under Section 13 (2) of
the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 for the filing the Reply is mandatory or
directory was referred to Constitution Bench in the case of [Bhasin Infotech
& Infrastructure (P) Ltd. Vs. Grand Venezia Buyers Assn., (2018) 17 SCC
255)] because of the following reason:
The Hon'ble Supreme Court in this case observed that there is an apparent
conflict between the decision in [Topline Shoes Ltd. Vs. Corporation Bank
(2002) 6 SCC 33], [Kailash Vs. Nankhu, (2005) 4 SCC 480], [Salem
Advocate Bar Association Vs. Union of India, (2005) 6 SCC 344] on the one
hand and [J. J. Merchant & Ors. Vs. Shrinath Chaturvedi, (2002) 6 SCC
635] and [New India Assurance Company Limited Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold
Storage, (2015) 16 SCC 20] on the other in so far as the power of the
Courts to extend time for filing of Written Statement/reply to a Complaint is
The Supreme Court in the case of [Topline Shoes Ltd. Vs. Corporation Bank,
(2002) 6 SCC 33] held that the provision of Section 13 of the Consumer
Protection Act, 1986 as framed, does not indicate that it is mandatory in
nature. In case, the extended time exceeds 15 days, does not prescribe any kind
of period of limitation.
The provision appears to be directory in nature, which the Consumer Forums are
ordinarily supposed to apply in the proceedings before them. Thus, the Court
held that, the reply of the Respondent could be taken on record beyond the
period of 45 days. The provision is more by way of procedure to achieve the
object of speedy disposal of such disputes.
However, the Supreme Court in the same year in the case of [J.J. Merchant
(Dr) Vs. Shrinath Chaturvedi, (2002) 6 SCC 635], held that the National
Commission or the State Commission is not empowered to extend the time period of
45 days as prescribed under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
Further, it was noted that for speedy disposal, this legislative mandate of not
giving more than 45 days in submitting the Written Statement or the version of
the case is required to be adhered to. If this is not adhered to, the
legislative mandate of disposing of the cases within three or five months would
Then in the case of [New India Assurance Co. Ltd. Vs. Hilli Multipurpose
Cold Storage (P) Ltd., (2015) 16 SCC 20], a Two Judge Bench of Justice
Jasti Chelameswar & Justice H. R. Gokhale in the first order pronounced on
November 29, 2013 condoned the delay of more than 45 days and allowed the appeal
in view of the fact that J. Merchant Vs. Shrinath Chaturvedi (supra) has
been re-considered and a different view has been taken in Kailash Vs. Nanhku
(supra) on the issue of limitation.
Also, noting the contradiction, this bench observed that as this point of law
requires being resolved, it requested the Hon'ble the Chief Justice to place
these appeals before a larger Bench, thus the matter was referred to a
Three-Judge Bench. Subsequently, the matter was placed before the Three Judge
bench so as to ascertain whether the law laid down in J. J. Merchant (supra)
still holds the field or whether the law has been changed in view of the later
Judgment delivered by Supreme Court in Kailash Vs. Nanhku (supra).
Thereafter, on December 04, 2015 the said Three Judge Bench comprising of J Anil
R. Dave, J Vikramajit Sen & J Pinaki Chandra Ghose ruled that no party will get
more than 45 days for replying to a Complaint in a Consumer Forum. The Supreme
Court expressed its opinion that the view expressed by the Three-Judge Bench of
Supreme Court in J. J. Merchant (supra) should prevail and holds the field and,
therefore, reiterated the view that the District Forum can grant a further
period of 15 days to the opposite party for filing his version or reply and not
Then finally, in the case of Bhasin Infotech case, a Two Judge Bench of the
Supreme Court observed that there is an apparent conflict between the decisions
of Supreme Court in Topline Shoes Ltd. Vs. Corporation Bank (supra), Kailash
Vs. Nanhku (supra), Salem Advocate Bar Assn. v/s. Union of India
(supra) on the one hand and J. J. Merchant v/s. Shrinath Chaturvedi
(supra) and New India Assurance Co. Ltd. Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage
(P) Ltd. (supra) on the other insofar as the power of the Courts to extend
time for filing of Written Statement/Reply to a Complaint is concerned.
Therefore, the Court observed that it would be more appropriate if the conflicts
were resolved by an authoritative Judgment. Further, since the conflict was
between conflicting Judgments of co-equal Benches i.e. comprising Three Judges,
they deem it fit to refer these appeals to a Five-Judge Bench to resolve the
conflict once and for all.
They also noted that while they refer this to Three Judge Bench they are mindful
of the fact that in the ordinary course, a Two-Judge Bench ought to make a
reference to a Three-Judge Bench in the first place but in the facts and
circumstances of the case and keeping in view the fact that the conflict is
between coordinate Benches comprising three Judges, a reference to Three-Judge
Bench may not suffice. Therefore, the matter shall be referred to Five-Judge
The Supreme Court in the instant case has held that Section 13 (2) of the
Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is mandatory and no extension of time can be
granted over and above the time period of 45 days.
The following points briefly encapsulate the reasoning given by the Five Judges
to to arrive at the following conclusion:
Sub-section (2)(b)(ii) of Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986
clearly provides for the consequence of the Complaint to be proceeded ex parte
against the opposite party, if the opposite party omits or fails to represent
his case within the time given.
Therefore, since a provision has been provided
that on failure of the Respondent to file its Reply within the stipulated time,
the party would be proceeded ex-parte. Therefore, this provision is to be read
as mandatory and not directory.
In the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 in
Paragraph 4, it has been specifically provided that the Consumer Protection Act,
1986 is To provide speedy and simple redressal to consumer disputes, a
quasi-judicial machinery is sought to be set up at the district, State and
The Preamble of the Consumer Protection Act also mentions that the Act is to
provide for better protection of the interests of the consumers. The
nomenclature of this Act also goes to show that it is for the benefit or
protection of the consumer. From the above, it is evident that the Consumer
Protection Act, 1986 has been enacted to provide for expeditious disposal of
consumer disputes and that, it is for the protection and benefit of the
It would be convenient to re-produce Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act,
1986 for better understanding of the controversy raised before the Constitution
Bench of Supreme Court, which reads as under:
Section 13. Procedure on admission of Complaint:
- The District Forum shall, on admission of a Complaint, if it relates to
- refer a copy of the admitted Complaint, within twenty¬-one days from the
date of its admission to the opposite party mentioned in the Complaint
directing him to give his version of the case within a period of thirty days
or such extended period not exceeding fifteen days as may be granted by the
- The District Forum shall, if the Complaints admitted by it under Section
12 relates to goods in respect of which the procedure specified in
sub¬-section (1) cannot be followed, or if the Complaint relates to any
- refer a copy of such Complaint to the opposite party directing him to
give his version of the case within a period of thirty days or such extended
period not exceeding fifteen days as may be granted by the District Forum;
- where the opposite party, on receipt of a copy of the Complaint,
referred to him under clause (a) denies or disputes the allegations
contained in the Complaint, or omits or fails to take any action to
represent his case within the time given by the District Forum, the District
Forum shall proceed to settle consumer dispute:
- on the basis of evidence brought to its notice by the Complainant and
the opposite party, where the opposite party denies or disputes the
allegations contained in the Complaint, or
- ex parte on the basis of evidence brought to its notice by the Complainant
where the opposite party omits or fails to take any action to represent his case
within the time given by the Forum;
- where the Complainant fails to appear on the date of hearing before the
District Forum, the District Forum may either dismiss the Complaint for
default or decide it on merits.
- No proceedings complying with the procedure laid down in subsections (1)
and (2) shall be called in question in any Court on the ground that the
principles of natural justice have not been complied with.
[(3A) Every Complaint shall be heard as expeditiously as possible and endeavour
shall be made to decide the Complaint within a period of three months from the
date of receipt of notice by opposite party where the Complaint does not require
analysis or testing of commodities and within five months, if it requires
analysis or testing of commodities:
Provided that no adjournment shall be ordinarily granted by the District Forum
unless sufficient cause is shown and the reasons for grant of adjournment have
been recorded in writing by the Forum:
Provided further that the District Forum shall make such orders as to the costs
occasioned by the adjournment as may be provided in the regulations made under
Provided also that in the event of a Complaint being disposed of after the
period so specified, the District Forum shall record in writing, the reasons for
the same at the time of disposing of the said complaint.]
[(3B) Where during the pendency of any proceeding before the District Forum, it
appears to it necessary, it may pass such interim order as is just and proper in
the facts and circumstances of the case.].
A bare reading of Section 13 (2)(a) of the Act makes it clear that the copy of
the Complaint which is to be sent to the opposite party, is to be with the
direction to give his version of (or response to) the case (or Complaint) within
a period of 30 days. It further provides that such period of 30 days can be
extended by the District Forum, but not beyond 15 days.
Sub-Section 2 (b)(i) of Section 13 of the Act provides for a Complaint to be
decided on the basis of the response by the opposite party and the evidence of
the Complainant and the opposite party, where allegations contained in the
Complaint are denied or disputed by the opposite party. Sub-Section 2 (b)(ii) of
Section 13 of the Act provides that where no response is filed by the opposite
party, the Complaint may be decided ex parte on the basis of evidence brought
forth by the complainant.
Sub-Section 2 (c) of Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 further
provides that where the Complainant fails to appear on the date of hearing
before the District Forum, the District Forum may either dismiss the Complaint
for default or decide it on merits.
The aforesaid provision [sub-Section 2 (c)] was inserted by Act 62 of 2002, w.
e. f. 15.03.2003. Similarly, Section (3A) of Section 13 of the Consumer
Protection Act, 1986 which was also inserted by Act 62 of 2002, provides for
deciding every Complaint as expeditiously as possible and endeavour shall be
made to decide the Complaint within a period of three months from the receipt of
notice by the opposite party, and within five months, if the Complaint requires
analysis or testing of commodities.
It also provides that no adjournment shall ordinarily be granted by the District
Forum, and if the same is to be granted, costs may be imposed, and further that
reasons be recorded if the complaint is disposed of after the time so provided.
From the above, it is clear that as mentioned in the Statement of Objects and
Reasons of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 the District Forum is to provide
speedy disposal of consumer disputes. The same has been further reiterated by
the legislature by insertion of Section 13 (2)(c) and 13 (3A) by Act 62 of 2002.
Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 clearly contemplates where time
can be extended by the District Forum, and where it is not to be extended. Like,
under sub¬-Section (3A) of Section 13, despite the best efforts of the District
Forum, in situations where the Complaint cannot be decided within the period
specified therein, the same can be decided beyond the specified period for
reasons to be recorded in writing by the District Forum at the time of disposing
of the Complaint.
Meaning thereby that the same would not be mandatory, but only directory. The
phrase endeavour shall be made, makes the intention of the legislature evident
that the District Forum is to make every effort to decide the case expeditiously
within time, but the same can also be decided beyond the said period, but for
reasons to be recorded.
On the contrary, sub-Section (2)(a) of Section 13 of the Consumer Protection
Act, 1986 provides for the opposite party to give his response ‘within a period
of 30 days or such extended period not exceeding 15 days as may be granted by
the District Forum’. The intention of the legislature seems to be very clear
that the opposite party would get the time of 30 days, and in addition another
15 days at the discretion of the Forum to file its response. No further
discretion of granting time beyond 45 days is intended under the Act.
It has been noted that by specifically enacting a provision under Sub-section
(3) of Section 13, with a specific clarification that violation of the
principles of natural justice shall not be called in question where the
procedure prescribed under Sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 13 of the Act has
been followed or complied with, the intention of the legislature is clear that
mere denial of further extension of time for filing the response (by the
opposite party) would not amount to denial or violation of the principles of
natural justice. Thus this provision of Section 13 (3) reinforces the time limit
of 45 day, Section 15 of the Act has been reproduced herein below:
Any person aggrieved by an order made by the District Forum may prefer an appeal
against such order to the State Commission within a period of thirty days from
the date of the order, in such form and manner as may be prescribed:
Section 15 of the Act provides for filing of an appeal from the order of the
District Forum to the State Commission within a period of 30 days.
However, it leaves discretion with the State Commission to entertain an appeal
filed after the expiry of the said period of 30 days, if it is satisfied that
there was sufficient cause for not filing it within the stipulated period.
Similarly, discretion for filing an appeal before the National Commission beyond
the period of 30 days has also been provided under Section 19 of the Act.
There is a clear departure in the language of Section 13 (2)(a), 15 and 19 of
the Act. It is evident that discretion has been provided to the forum in cases
of appeal. However, no such discretion has been provided when it comes to filing
the reply by the opposite party beyond the specified period of 45 days.
Supreme Court in the case of [Lachmi Narain Vs Union of India, (1976) 2 SCC 953] held that if the provision is couched in prohibitive or negative
language, it can rarely be directory, the use of peremptory language in a
negative form is per se indicative of the interest that the provision is to be
Further, hardship cannot be a ground for changing the mandatory nature of the
statute, as has been held by Supreme Court in [Bhikraj Jaipurai Vs Union of
India, AIR 1962 SC 113; (1962) 2 SCR 880] and [Fairgrowth Investments
Ltd. Vs Custodian, (2004) 11 SCC].
Hardship cannot thus be a ground to interpret the provision so as to enlarge the
time, where the statute provides for a specific time, which, has to be complied
in letter and spirit.
Supreme Court, in the case of [Rohitash Kumar Vs Om Prakash Sharma, (2013) 11 SCC 451] has, in Paragraph 23, held as under:
23. There may be a statutory provision, which causes great hardship or
inconvenience to either the party concerned, or to an individual, but the Court
has no choice but to enforce it in full rigor.
It is a well settled principle of interpretation that hardship or inconvenience
caused, cannot be used as a basis to alter the meaning of the language employed
by the legislature, if such meaning is clear upon a bare perusal of the statute.
If the language is plain and hence allows only one meaning, the same has to be
given effect to, even if it causes hardship or possible injustice.
While concluding, it was observed:
that the hardship caused to an individual, cannot be a ground for not giving
effective and grammatical meaning to every word of the provision, if the
language used therein, is unequivocal. Further, it has been held by this Court
in the case of [Popat Bahiru Govardhane Vs Special Land Acquisition Officer,
(2013) 10 SCC 765] that the law of limitation may harshly affect a particular
party but it has to be applied with all its vigour when the statute so
prescribes and that the Court has no power to extend the period of limitation on
equitable grounds, even if the statutory provision may cause hardship or
inconvenience to a particular party.
Supreme Court while answering the question as to whether the limitation under
Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 for filing the response by the
opposite party to the Complaint would commence from the date of receipt of the
notice of the Complaint by the opposite party, or the receipt of notice
accompanied by a copy of the Complaint, held as under:
40. Now reverting to the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, a conjoint
reading of Clauses (a) and (b) of sub¬ Section (2) of Section 13 would make the
position absolutely clear that the commencing point of limitation of 30 days,
under the aforesaid provisions, would be from the date of receipt of notice
accompanied by a copy of the Complaint, and not merely receipt of the notice, as
the response has to be given, within the stipulated time, to the averments made
in the Complaint and unless a copy of the Complaint is served on the opposite
party, he would not be in a position to furnish its reply.
Thus, mere service of notice, without service of the copy of the Complaint,
would not suffice and cannot be the commencing point of 30 days under the
aforesaid Section of the Act. We may, however, clarify that the objection of not
having received a copy of the Complaint along with the notice should be raised
on the first date itself and not thereafter, otherwise if permitted to be raised
at any point later would defeat the very purpose of the Act, which is to provide
simple and speedy redressal of consumer disputes.
41. To conclude, we hold that our answer to the first question is that the
District Forum has no power to extend the time for filing the response to the
Complaint beyond the period of 15 days in addition to 30 days as is envisaged
under Section 13 of the Consumer Protection Act; and the answer to the second
question is that the commencing point of limitation of 30 days under Section 13
of the Consumer Protection Act would be from the date of receipt of the notice
accompanied with the Complaint by the opposite party, and not mere receipt of
the notice of the Complaint.
Though the Court has settled the law here, one point which comes to our mind
which should have been considered by the bench is the fact that although
Sub-section (2)(b)(ii) of Section 13 of the Act talks about ex-parte
proceedings, the entire Act does not explicitly give an impression of forfeiture
of the right of the Opposite party to file its reply when we compare this with
the language which has been used in the Commercial Courts Act.
Detailed consideration of this point would have been necessary because of the
fact that under the Commercial Courts Act, no extension beyond the statutory
time period is possible as the Court do not have the power to grant an extension
as the Parliament has deliberately provided that in case of failure to file the
Written Statement, the right of the Defendant to file its Written Statement is
forfeited and even the Court cannot allow the Written Statement to be taken on
The relevant provision has been reproduced herein below:
Provided further that where the defendant fails to file the Written Statement
within the said period of thirty days, he shall be allowed to file the Written
Statement on such other day, as may be specified by the Court, for reasons to be
recorded in writing and on payment of such costs as the Court deems fit, but
which shall not be later than one hundred twenty days from the date of service
of summons and on expiry of one hundred twenty days from the date of service of
summons, the defendant shall forfeit the right to file the written statement and
the Court shall not allow the written statement to be taken on record
Written By: Dinesh Singh Chauhan, Advocate - J&K High Court of
Email: [email protected], [email protected]