25 September 1996
Supreme Court


Bench: KURDUKAR S.P. (J)
Case number: C.A. No.-000033-000033 / 1996
Diary number: 9951 / 1995
Advocates: S. K. BHATTACHARYA Vs






DATE OF JUDGMENT:       25/09/1996




JUDGMENT:                       J U D G M E N T S.P. KURDUKAR, J.      This appeal is directed against the order dated May 17, 1995,, in Revision Petition No.393/94 passed by the National Consumer   Disputes    Redressal   Commission,   New   Delhi (hereinafter referred  to us  ’National Commission’).  It is not disputed  that at the relevant time when the order dated 21.1.1994 was  passed by  the State  Commission  constituted under the  Consumer Protection  Act, 1986  (for  short  "the Act’) was  not having the President since he had retired. No new President  was appointed on the said State Commission. A complaint was  filed by  the  appellant  herein  before  the District Forum, Bankura as regards inflated telephone bills. A prayer  was made in the said complaint that the respondent herein  be   directed  not   to  disconnect   the  telephone connection. An  order was  made by  the  District  Forum  in favour of  the appellant  directing the  respondent  not  to disconnect  the   telephone  connection   and  maintain  the telephone line  on condition  that the  appellant deposits a sum of  Rs. 4,000/-. The appellant accordingly complied with the said  order. It  appears that  despited this  order, the telephone connection  of the  appellant was  disconnected on 30.11.1993. The  appellant thereafter  moved an  application for restoration  and it is common premise that on 25.5.1994, the telephone  connection was  restored.  The  complaint  as regards the excessive bill of Rs.13,896/- is still pending.      2. the  respondent not  being satisfied  with the order passed by  the District  Forum preferred  an appeal  to  the State Commission  and the  State Commission  vide its  order dated 21.1.1994  dismissed the said appeal, holding that the order passed  by the  District Forum  was in consonance with the  circular  dated  15.10.1992  issued  by  the  Telephone Department. Being aggrieved by the order passed by the State Commission, the respondent preferred Revision petition under Section 21  of the  Act before  the National Commission. The national Commission  after  hearing  the  parties  vide  its impugned   order dated  May 17,  1995 allowed  the  Revision



Petition  primarily  on  the  ground  of  jurisdiction.  the National Commission has held as under:      "The impugned  order passed  by the      State Commission,  West Bengal  had      to be  held illegal and void on the      ground that the said order had been      passed only  by two  Members of the      State   Commission    without   the      junction of the President, which is      manifestly  contrary  to  mandatory      provisions  contained   in  Section      14(2A) read  with Section 10 of the      Consumer Protection  Act, 1986. The      said order  of the State Commission      is hereby   set  aside. We also set      aside  the   interlocutory   orders      dated October  14,  1993  (Annexure      ’B’ and  October 19, 1993 (Annexure      ’C’ passed  by the  District Forum,      Bankura as  being totally devoid of      jurisdiction in  the light  of  the      recent pronouncement of the Hon’ble      Supreme  court  in  Morgan  Stanely      Mutual Fund  vs. Kartik  Das (1994-      IIC.P.J. (S.C.7)  where if has been      categorically laid  down a Consumer      Forum has  no jurisdiction or power      to pass  any interim  order pending      disposal of  an original  complaint      filed before it".      3. It  is this  order passed by the National Commission which is the subject matter of challenge in appeal.      4. Before  we deal  with the  rival contentions  raised before us,  it would  be appropriate  to  set  out  relevant provisions of  the Act  and Rules.  Clause (jj) of Section 2 defines : member:-      "member" includes the President and      a member of the National Commission      or a State Commission at a District      Forum, as the case may be."      5. Section  9 in  Chapter III  refers to  the  Consumer Disputes Redressal  Agencies and the relevant provisions are as under :-      9.   "Establishment   of   Consumer      Disputes Redressal Agencies:-      There shall  be established for the      purposes of this Act, the following      agencies, namely, :-      (a) xxxx  xxxx  xxxx      (b) a  Consumer dispute s Redressal      Commission  to   be  known  as  the      "State Commission"  established  by      the State  Government if  the State      by notification; and      (c) xxxx xxxx xxxx      6. Section  13 prescribes the procedures to be followed on receipt of a complaint.      7.  Section  14  enumerates  the  items  on  which  the District Forum  shall issue  an order to the opposite  party direction him  to do one or more of the following things set out in sub sections 14(1)(a) to 14(1)(i).      8. The  controversy relates to Section 14(2) and 14(2A) which are reproduced herein below :-      14(2)-Every proceeding  referred to      in  sub   section  (1)   shall   be



    conducted by  the President  of the      District Forum  and  at  least  one      member thereof sitting together:      Provided that where the member, for      any reason,  is unable  to  conduct      the   proceeding    till   it    is      completed, the  President  and  the      other  member  shall  conduct  such      proceeding de novo.      14(2A)-Every  order   made  by  the      District Forum  under  sun  section      (1)  shall   be   signed   by   its      President and the member or members      who conducted the proceedings;      Provided that  where the proceeding      is conducted  by the  President and      one member  and they  differ on any      point or  points, they  shall state      the point  or points  on which they      differ and  refer the  same to  the      other member  for hearing  on  such      point or  points and the opinion of      the majority  shall be the order or      the District forum.      9. Section  16 deals  with the  Composition of the Sate Commission and it reads as under:      "16.  Composition   of  the   State      Commission:-   (1)    Each    State      Commission shall consist of -      (a) a  person who  is or had been a      Judge of a High Court, appointed by      the Sate  Government, who  shall be      its President:      (Provided that no appointment under      this clause  shall be  made  except      after consultation  with the  Chief      Justice of the High Court;)      (1) xxxx xxxx xxxx      (2) xxxx xxxx xxxx      (3) xxxx xxxx xxxx      (4) xxxx xxxx xxxx      10. Section  18 deals  with the Procedure applicable to State Commissions and it reads thus :-      "18. Procedure  applicable to State      Commission  -   The  provisions  of      Sections 12,13 and 14 and the rules      made thereunder for the disposal of      complaints by  the  District  Forum      shall, with  such modifications  as      may be  necessary, be applicable to      the disposal  of  disputes  by  the      State Commission".      11. Chapter  IV of  the Act  deals  with  Miscellaneous Provisions.  Section  29  refers  to  the  power  to  remove difficulties. Section  29A is  the  relevant provision which reads as under :-      "29A-  Vacancies   or  defects   in      appointment   not   to   invalidate      orders- No act or proceeding of the      District    forum,     the    State      Commission    or    the    National      Commission  shall   be  invalid  by      reason only of the existence of any      vacancy amongst  its members of any      defect    on    the    constitution



    thereof".      12. Sub-section (2) of Section 30 deals with the powers of State  Government to  make  rules.  Sub  section  (2)  of Section 30 reads as under :-      "The  State   Government  may,   by      notification,   make    rules   for      carrying   out    the    provisions      contained in  [clause  (b)  of  sub      section (2)  and sub-section (4) of      Section  7],   sub-section  (3)  if      Section  10,  Clause  (c)  if  sub-      section (1)  of  Section  13,  sub-      section (3)  of Section 14, section      15 and  sub-section (2)  if section      16."      Note  :-   Bracketed  portion   was      incorporated by  Act No.34  of 1991      with effect from 15.6.1991.      13.  the   State  government   in  exercise  of  powers conferred by sub-section (2) of section 30 of the Act framed the  Rules   which  are  called  the  West  Bengal  Consumer Protection rules,  1987. These  rules ere brought into force immediately. Sub-rules  (9) and  (10) of rule 6 are relevant and they read as under:-      "6(9)  -  Where  any  such  vacancy      occurs  in   the  office   of   the      President of  the State  Commission      the  senior   most  (in   order  of      appointment) member  holding office      for the time being, shall discharge      the  functions   of  the  President      until a  person appointed  to  fill      such vacancy  assumes the office of      the   President    of   the   State      Commission.      6(10) -  When the  President of the      Sate  Commission   is   unable   to      discharge his  functions  owing  to      absence,  illness   or  any   other      cause, the  senior most  ( in order      of appointment) member of the State      Commission  shall   discharge   the      functions of  the  President  until      the  day  on  which  the  President      resumes   the    charge   of    the      functions."      14. In  the light  of the  aforesaid provisions,  it is necessary to  consider as  to  whether  the  impugned  order passed by  the National  Commission is  legal. The  National Commission  held   that  the   order  passed  by  the  State Commission is  manifestly contrary  to a mandatory provision contained in  Section 14(2A) read with Section 18 of the Act as it  was made  by two other members of the said commission without the ’junctions’ of the President.      15. Mr. Bhattacharya, the learned counsel appearing for the   appellant   urged   that   the   impugned   order   is unsustainable. He  urged that  the National  Commission  had totally overlooked  certain provisions  contained in the Act and the  Rules and  erroneously came  the conclusion that in the absence  of the  President of the State Commission being functional, the  other two  members have  no jurisdiction to deal  with   the  disputes/appeal  filed  before  the  State commission. In  support of  the submission,  Learned Counsel drew our  attention to  the definition of a member contained on Clause  (jj) of  Section 2  and Sections  14(2A), 18A and



29A. Reliance  was also  placed in sub-rules (9) and (10) of Rule 6.  Mr. Bhattacharya  urges that  all these  provisions will have  to be  construed  harmoniously  with  a  view  to promote the object and spirit of the Act. the impugned order passed by  the National  Commission is unsustainable and the same be quashed and set aside.      16. Mr.  S.K.Sabharwal, the  learned Advocate appearing for the  respondent supported  the impugned  order and urges that sub-sections (2) and(2A) of Sections 14 in unmistakable terms indicate  that every  proceeding referred  to in  sub- section (1)  shall be  conducted by  the  President  of  the District Forum  and at  least  one  member  thereof  sitting together. Sub-section (2A) read with section 18 require that every order  made by  the  district  Forum/State  Commission under sub-section  (1) shall  be signed by the President and the Member or Members who conducted the proceedings. In view of  this   mandatory  provision,   counsel  urged  that  any proceeding conducted  before the  State Commission   in  the absence of  the President would be non-est. He further urged that admittedly  when the State Commission passed the orders on October  14, 1993  and October 19, 1993, the President of the  State   commission  was  not  appointed  by  the  State Government and, therefore, these orders were rightly held to be illegal.      17.  After   giving  careful   thought  to   the  rival contentions raised  before us,  we  are  of  the  considered opinion that  the relevant  provisions which  we have quoted hereinabove  will  have  to  be  construed  harmoniously  to promote the  cause  of  the  consumers  under  the  Act.  As indicated earlier,  the definition  of member  includes  the President and a Member of a District Forum/State Commission. It is  true that  sub-section (2)  of Section  14 read  with section 18  require that  every proceeding referred to under sub-section (1)  shall be  conducted by the President of the District  Forum/State  Commission  and  atleast  one  member thereof sitting together. Section 2A is consequential in the sense that  every order  made by  the State Commission under sub-section (1)  shall be  signed by  its President  and the Member  or   Members  who   conducted  the  proceeding.  The procedure  applicable   to  the   District  Forum   is  made applicable to the State Commission vide Section 18 with such modifications as  may be  necessary. Plain  reading of  sub- sections (2)  and (2A)  of Section  14 may  support the view taken by the National Commission nut if these provisions are read with  Section 29A of the Act and sun rules (9) and (10) of Rule  6, it  would be  quite clear that it could never be the intention  of legislature  to stall  or render the State Commission non-functional  in the  absence of  the President either having  not been  appointed in time due to some valid reasons or  if the  President is on the leave due to certain reasons beyond  his control.  (2) and (2A) of Section 14 and Section 18A  of the  Act were brought into force with effect from 18-6-1993  whereas Section 29A was made applicable from 15.6.1991.  The  Rules  of  1987  were  brought  into  force immediately. The  complaint before the District Forum by the appellant was  filed on  14-10-1993.  Therefore,  all  these amended provisions  were very  much brought  into force when the complaint  was filed. Sub-section (2) if section 14 is a presumptuous provision  where the  President  if  the  State Commission is  functional but it would not be correct to say that  if  the  President  of  the  President  of  the  State Commission id  non-functional because  of one  or the  other reason, the  State Commission would stop its functioning and wait till the President is appointed. In order to avoid such a situation,  the State  Government had framed the Rules and



sub-rules  (9)  and  (10)  quoted  hereinabove  unmistakably provide answerable  to such  a situation  as in  the present case. The  only harmonious  construction that could be given to sub-sections  (2) and  (2A) of  section 14 read with sub- rules (9)  and (10) is that as and when the President of the State Commission  of functional,  he alongwith  atleast  one Member sitting  together shall  conduct the  proceeding  but where the  President being non-functional, sub-rules (9) and (10) of  rule 6  will govern  the proceedings.  Sub rule (0) provides that where any such vacancy occurs in the office if the President  of the  State Commission, the senior most (in order if  appointment) member  holding office  for the  time being, shall  discharge the  function of the president until person is  appointed to  fill such vacancy. This sub-rule is made with  a view to make the State Commission functional in the absence  of the  President and  not to  allow the  State Commission  to   render  non-functional   for  want  of  the President. It  is well  settled that  every provision in the Act needs  to be  settled that  every provision  in the  Act needs to  be construed  harmoniously with  a view to promote the object  and spirit  of the  Act but  while doing  so, no violence would  be done  to the  plain language  used in the section.  It  is  this  principle  that  needs  to  be  made applicable while  construing the  provision of  sub-sections (2) and (2A) of Section 14 read with sub-rules (9) and (10).      18. The  West Bengal Government had framed the Rules in the year  1987 and  the object  of sub-rules (0) and (10) of Rule  6   appears  to  use  to  keep  the  State  Commission functional  in  the  absence  of  the  President.  Form  the impugned order it appears that the attention of the National Commission was  not drawn  to sub-rules (9) and (10) of Rule 6. It also appears from the record that the validity of sub- rules (9)  and (10)  of Rule  6 was  never challenged. It is made clear  that the view which we have taken in this appeal is on the premise that there is no challenge to the validity of the Rules and they hold the field.      19. Having  regard to  the composition  of the District Forum and  the State  Commission, it is more appropriate and desirable to  make the  appointment of  the President of the District Forum  and the  State Commission  without any delay since the  complaint under  the Act  involved  fairly  large stokes which require a judicial approach.      20. In  view of above discussion, we are of the opinion that the  National Commission  committed an error in holding that order passed by the two members of the State Commission without the junction of the President is "illegal and void." Impugned order to that extent is set aside.      21. Coming  to the  second part of the order as regards the grant  of interim  order, in  our opinion,  the National Commission was  right in  applying the law laid down by this Court  in  Morgan  Stanely  Mutual  Fund  vs.  Kartick  Das. 1994(II) CPJ  7(SC). The  consumer forum has no jurisdiction or power  to pass  any interim  order  pending  disposal  of original complaint  filed before  it. The  impugned order if this behalf is confirmed.      22. In the result. the appeal is partly allowed. The impugned order holding that the order passed by the State Commission, West Bengal is illegal and void is quashed and set aside. But, however, the rest of the impugned order is confirmed. In the circumstances, parties are directed to bear their own costs.