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Posted at: Apr 16, 2017, 12:07 AM; last updated: Apr 16, 2017, 12:07 AM (IST)CONSUMER BEWARE!

‘False & frivolous’ or pure harassment?

‘False & frivolous’ or pure harassment?
Covering up: The trade and industry are abusing the provisions of the law by filing meritless appeals

Pushpa Girimaji

Some years ago, I bought a refrigerator that turned out to be defective. When neither the dealer nor the manufacturer bothered to replace the defective piece, I approached the consumer court. It directed the manufacturer to refund the cost of the refrigerator and also pay me compensation and costs. But the manufacturer and the dealer were unwilling to accept this verdict. Even when the consumer court at the state-level have dismissed their appeal, they have filed a revision petition before the consumer court at the national level, dubbing my complaint as ‘false and frivolous’. This is a clear case of harassment of a consumer and exploitation of the consumer protection law. What can I do now?

When the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 came into being, trade and industry had expressed the fear that the law may encourage consumers to file ‘false and frivolous’ complaints, particularly given the fact that there was no court fee at that time. So to discourage such litigation and prevent misuse of the law, a provision for dismissal of frivolous or vexatious complaints with a penalty was introduced in the Consumer Protection Act. When the law was amended in 1993, the penalty for such complaints was increased to a maximum of Rs 10,000

However, ironically, it is not the consumers, but the trade and industry, which are abusing the provisions of the law by filing meritless appeals, thereby prolonging the process of adjudication and harassing the consumers.

Fortunately, in the recent years, the apex consumer court has come down heavily upon such litigation and has been using the provision in the law for imposing punitive damages to punish those who indulge in needless litigation. So, I would suggest that you make a plea for imposition of such exemplary damage on the opposite parties in this case for their misuse of the law.

Can you quote some case laws to help me?

In the Delhi Development Authority Vs D.C. Sharma (RP No 895 of 2013, decided on Feb 18, 2014), for example, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission expressed its strong displeasure over those who filed frivolous appeals and slapped a penalty of Rs 5 lakh on the Delhi Development Authority. Quoting several Supreme Court judgements on the subject, the two member bench of the Commission, consisting Justice V.B. Gupta and Rekha Gupta said: “… no leniency should be shown to such type of litigants, who, in order to cover up their own fault and negligence, go on filing meritless petitions in different Fora.” 

This was a case of the DDA allotting the complainant, in 1997, a flat already allotted to someone else in 1995. When the Delhi State Consumer Commission directed the DDA to provide a similar flat in the same or nearby locality or pay Rs 30 lakh to the complainant, the DDA filed an appeal before the National Commission. Its main contention before the apex consumer court was that it was a false and frivolous complaint, liable to be dismissed with costs to the DDA. Its second argument was that the consumer’s allotment stood automatically cancelled for non-payment of the demanded amount.

Taking strong objection to such arguments and dismissing the appeal, the apex consumer court pointed out that the complaint was not false and frivolous, but the defence put up by the DDA was!

Similarly in R. Narasimha Reddy Vs Kuchakula Surender Reddy ( FA No 502 of 2011, decided on March 5, 2012), the Commission had said: “Equity demands that such unscrupulous litigants whose only aim and object is to deprive the opposite party (complainants or consumers) of the fruits of the decree must be dealt with a heavy hand.” Punitive damages of Rs 1 lakh were imposed on a builder in this case for filing vexatious appeal.

Again in Emaar MGF Land Ltd Vs Karnail Singh and Another (FA No 342 of 2014, pronounced on July 25, 2014), the apex consumer court came down heavily upon the realtor for ‘gross abuse of the process of law’ and imposed exemplary damages of Rs 5 lakh. While doing so, the Commission quoted the Supreme Court in Ramrameshwari Devi and Ors Vs Nirmala Devi and Ors (CA No 4912-4913 of 2011, decided on July 4, 2011) wherein it was observed that unless the courts ensure that wrong doers are denied profit or undue benefit from frivolous litigation, it would become very difficult to curb such practices.

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