Whether the filing of consumer complaint barred by limitation? What are the powers of district consumer redressal forum?

Section 24A defines the limitation period for filing the complaints under Consumer Protection Act, 1986.  As per the definition, the complaint can be filed with District Forum, State or National Commission within 2 years from the date of cause of action has arisen, however , sub-clause (2) of the said provision states that the complaint filed beyond the prescribed period would be entertained if the Complaint satisfies the Forums, State and National Commissions with sufficient reason that prevented him from filing within the prescribed period.   A provision is also given mandating the Forum, State Commission, and National commission to record the reasons for condoning the delay and proceed to entertain such delayed Complaint.

The limitation period should be reckoned from the date of cause of action mentioned in the complaint. The term “cause of action” is also not defined in the Civil Procedure Code.  The Supreme Court in “Kandimalla Raghavaiah and Company-Vs- National Insurance Company and another” III(2009) CPJ 75 SC held that “Section 24A of the Act bars any fora set up under the Act, from admitting a complaint, unless the complaint is filed within two years from the date of which the cause of action has arisen.” Also, Supreme Court stated that there is no definition for the term “cause of action”, and therefore, the word “cause of action” has different meanings in different contexts i.e, territorial jurisdiction or limitation or the accrual of right to sue.  The Apex court in State Bank of India Vs. B S Agricultural Industries, II (2009) CPJ 29 (SC), held that the Consumer Forum should necessarily see whether the complaint filed within 2 years from the date of accrual of cause of action, however, the forum may after recording the reasons may condone the delay of filing is sufficient cause is shown.  The Apex Court in the same judgment held that “it is the duty of the Consumer Forum to take notice of section 24-A and give effect to it. If the complaint is barred by time and yet, the Consumer Forum decides the complaint on merits, the Forum would be committing an illegality.”

Powers of the District Forum: Act confers the powers to District Forum as that of the powers vested in Civil Court.  All the consumer Forums, District, State Commission and National Commission are quasi-judicial powers and so they are not required to follow the strict legal procedures in conducting trials or rules of evidence. Though it is quasi judicial in nature, it has to follow rules of equity and natural justice, thereby, its proceedings are equal to the judicial proceedings within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228 of Indian Penal Code.  The consumer forums are deemed to be the civil courts.  In addition to these powers, Rule 10  of the Consumer Protection Rules has given additional powers to the District Forum, State Commission and National Commission with respect to cause any officer for production of any records, mayu cause examination of any officer if required, or to furnish the officer if required for any information from him, or may issue orders of search warrant and for production any books or documents or commodities before such Forums or Commissions and may authorize any officer to seize such searched items. The consumer Forum also has power to order retention of seized articles or return the same.

By Anitha Gutti