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Coromandel International Ltd. (Earlier Known As Coromandel Fertillisers Ltd.) Through its Authorized Representative, Vishakhapatnam & Others v/s Kamrubai & Others


    Revision Petition Nos. 4314, 4287 of 2012

    Decided On, 29 June 2020

    At, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission NCDRC

    By, THE HONOURABLE MR.JUSTICE V.K. JAIN
    By, PRESIDING MEMBER

    For the Appearing Parties: Gagan Gupta, Sandeep Gupta, Advocates.



Judgment Text


Oral:

The complainants namely Smt. Kamrubai, Mr. Hasan Khan, Mr. Haneef Mohd. and Mr. Aarif Khan purchased fertilizers, seeds, pesticides etc. from Rassiwala Enterprises, petitioner no.1 in RP No.4287/2012 and respondent no.5 in RP No.4314/2012. The inputs so purchased were used by them in the crops of gram which alongwith other crop, they had sown in their fields. Shivalik Agro Chemicals and Global Bio Agro Industries who are respondents no.6 & 7 in RP No.4314/2012 and petitioners no.2 & 3 in RP No.4287/2012 as well as Coromandal Fertiliers Ltd., who is petitioner in RP No.4314/2012 and respondent no.5 in RP No.4287/2012 were the manufacturers of these products. The products were purchased for a price of Rs.4,675/-.

2. The case of the complainants is that before using the said inputs in the fields, a mixture was prepared using specified amount of water and was then sprayed on the crops. Just after about 5-6 days of the spray, the flowers, leaves and stem etc. got burnt. The matter was taken up by him with the seller Rassiwala Enterprises but they did not bother even to inspect the crop. The complainants therefore, submitted an application before the Agriculture Department and a site inspection was accordingly made wherein the damage was found to be about 50% of the possible production and the loss to the complainant was estimated at Rs.1 lac. Since no compensation was paid to them, the complainants approached the concerned District Forum impleading the seller as well as the manufacturer as the OPs in the complaint.

3. The complaints were resisted by the seller as well as by the manufacturers who inter-alia stated that though the complainants were instructed on how to use the pesticides, they had not used the same as per the instructions and had not suffered any loss.

4. The District Forum dismissed the complaint without going into its merits on the ground that complicated issues were involved which required cross-examination.

5. Being aggrieved from the order passed by the District Forum, the complainants approached the concerned State Commission by way of an appeal. Vide impugned order dated 09.08.2012, the State Commission set aside the order passed by the District Forum and directed the OPs in the complaints to pay compensation quantified at Rs.1 lac to the complainants. Being aggrieved, the seller as well as the manufacturers are before this Commission.

6. It is pointed out by the learned counsel for Coromandal Fertiliers Ltd., petitioner in RP No.4314/2012 that after inspection on 05.12.2009, another inspection was carried out on 13.01.2010 wherein no damage to the crop of the complainants was found. The said inspection was carried out by Senior Agriculture Development Officer of Farmers Welfare and Agriculture Development in the presence of panch witnesses who had signed the said report. In my view, the reliance placed by the State Commission on the report dated 05.12.2009 which was the first report in the point of time, cannot be said to be misplaced or unjustified in the facts and circumstances of the case. At the time of the second inspection, the complainants were not joined. Therefore, it cannot be verified whether the fields inspected on 13.01.2010 were the same fields in which the crop of the complainants was allegedly impacted on account of pesticides etc. It is true that even the seller and the manufacturers were not present at the time when inspection was carried out on 05.12.2009 but the complainants cannot be held responsible for the concerned Officer of the Government not joining them. What is important is that the complainants were not likely to show some field other than the field in which the crop was affected at the time of inspection on 05.12.2009 but, there is no certainty as regards the fields which were shown at the time of inspection on 13.01.2010. In any case, even when there are two contradictory reports, one favouring the farmers and the other favouring the sellers/manufacturers, the report favouring the farmers has to be given preference unless there are specific grounds for preferring the report given against the farmers over the report given in favour of the farmers. The Consumer Protection Act, being a beneficial provision, meant for the benefit of the consumers, such an approach would be absolutely in consonance of the legislative intent.

7. It is submitted by the learned counsel that out of five panch witnesses of the report dated 05.12.2009, only three had supported the complainants whereas the remaining two had not supported them. This, in my opinion, will not be important considering that not only the majority of the panch witnesses had supported the complainant, the public official who carried out the inspection, did not depose against the complainants.

8. It is true that no technical report was produced before the District Forum nor the sample was sent to any laboratory. In this regard, it has to be kept in mind that a farmer purchases inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides for using in his fields and at that time, he would not suspect that the pesticide and/or fertilizers would be found to be of inferior quality and would damage the crops sown by him. Therefore, he is not expected to retain the samples of the inputs purchased by him. The manufacturers, on the other hand, are expected to retain the samples of every lot and therefore, nothing prevented them from requesting the District Forum to send the sample from the lot which was sold to the complainants to an appropriate laboratory. Such a course of action was not attempted by the sellers and/or the manufacturers.

9. The issues involved in these petitions recently came up for consideration of this Commission in RP No.1029 of 2011 M/s Shiv Narayan Periwal & Sons Vs. Bharat Kumar & Ors. decided on 24.06.2020 and the following view was taken:

“……………… in RP/1033/2015 - Reliance Life Sciences Pvt. Ltd. Vs. Umesh Singh Chandan Singh Saddiwal & Anr. & connected matters decided on 14.01.2016 and the following view was taken:-

17. It was contended by the learned Senior Counsel for the petitioner that the complainants did not request the District Forum to send the samples of the seeds purchased by them to a laboratory, in terms of Section 13(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act, and in the absence of analysis by an appropriate laboratory, as defined in Section 2(1)(iii) of the Consumer Protection Act, the District Forum and the State Commission were not justified in holding that the seeds purchased by the complainants were defective. We however, find no merit in the contention. A farmer purchases the seeds for the purpose of using them in his fields and while sowing the seeds, he has no reason to suspect that the seeds purchased by him may turn out to be defective or sub-standard. Therefore, he would have no reason to retain a part of the seeds purchased by him. Consequently, he is not in a position to offer the sample of the seeds for analysis by an appropriate laboratory. The manufacturer / supplier of the seeds on the other hand, may possibly have the samples of such seeds available with him, even at the time notices of a consumer complaint is received by him. Therefore, if he seeks to dispute the allegation of the seeds being defective or sub-standard, he must necessarily offer the sample available with him to the District Forum for sending the same to an appropriate laboratory for carrying out an analysis to determine whether the said seeds suffer from a defect alleged in the complaint or from any other defect or not. Admittedly, no such endeavour was made, either by the petitioner or by its dealer, when they appeared before the District Forum.

18. A similar issue arose before this Commission in Revision Petition No. 381 of 2012 Ankur Seeds Pvt. Ltd. Vs. Motilal & Anr. In that case, a complaint alleging poor quality of the seed was lodged by the farmer with the Senior Agriculture Development Officer and Garden Superintendent of the concerned Block. The fields were then inspected by the Senior Agriculture Development Officer, who reported that the size was irregular and less than the standard claimed by the company. It was also found that the cucumbers were irregular in shape, their colour was not green and there was less grooming of flowers. The District Forum and the State Commission, having ruled in favour of the complainants, the matter was agitated before this Commission by way of a revision petition, which was heard by a Bench of two-Members. Since there was a difference of opinion in the aforesaid Bench, the reference to the Hon’ble President of this Commission was made under Section 20(1A)(iii) of the Consumer Protection Act. It was inter-alia contended on behalf of the petitioners that the report of the Senior Agriculture Development Officer could not be relied upon as the fields were inspected without notice to them and the complainants had failed to obtain any reports about the quality of the seeds from a recognized laboratory. Rejecting the contention, the Hon’ble President who along with one of the Hon’ble Members constituted majority in the Bench, inter-alia held as under:

“14. In National Seeds Corporation Limited Vs. M. Madhusudhan Reddy & Anr. (2012) 2 SCC 506, analysing the provisions of the Seeds Act, 1966, particularly with reference to Section 13(1)(c) of the Act, which confers power on Consumer Fora to obtain test report from an appropriate laboratory with a view to finding out whether the goods in question suffer from any defect alleged in the complaint, the Supreme Court observed as follows:

“We shall now deal with the question whether the District Forum committed a jurisdictional error by awarding compensation to the respondents without complying with the procedure prescribed under Section 13(1)(c). A reading of the plain language of that section shows that the District Forum can call upon the complainant to provide a sample of goods if it is satisfied that the defect in the goods cannot be determined without proper analysis or test. After the sample is obtained, the same is required to be sent to an appropriate laboratory for analysis or test for the purpose of finding out whether the goods suffer from any defect as alleged in the complaint or from any other defect.

In some of these cases, the District Forums had appointed agricultural experts as Court Commissioners and directed them to inspect the fields of the respondents and submit report about the status of the crops. In one or two cases the Court appointed the Advocate Commissioner with liberty to him to avail the services of agricultural experts for ascertaining the true status of the crops. The reports of the agricultural experts produced before the District Forum unmistakably revealed that the crops had failed because of defective seeds/foundation seeds. After examining the reports the District Forums felt satisfied that the seeds were defective and this is the reason why the complainants were not called upon to provide samples of the seeds for getting the same analysed/tested in an appropriate laboratory. In our view, the procedure adopted by the District Forum was in no way contrary to Section 13(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act and the appellant cannot seek annulment of well-reasoned orders passed by three Consumer Forums on the specious ground that the procedure prescribed under Section 13(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act had not been followed.

The issue deserves to be considered from another angle. Majority of the farmers in the country remain illiterate throughout their life because they do not have access to the system of education. They have no idea about the Seeds Act and the rules framed thereunder and other legislations, like, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001. They mainly rely on the information supplied by the Agricultural Department and government agencies, like the appellant. Ordinarily, nobody would tell a farmer that after purchasing the seeds for sowing, he should retain a sample thereof so that in the event of loss of crop or less yield on account of defect in the seeds, he may claim compensation from the seller/supplier. In the normal course, a farmer would use the entire quantity of seeds purchased by him for the purpose of sowing and by the time he discovers that the crop has failed because the seeds purchased by him were defective nothing remains with him which could be tested in a laboratory. In some of the cases, the respondents had categorically stated that they had sown the entire quantity of seeds purchased from the appellant. Therefore, it is nave to blame the District Forum for not having called upon the respondents to provide the samples of seeds and send them for analysis or test in the laboratory.

It may also be mentioned that there was abject failure on the appellant’s part to assist the District Forum by providing samples of the varieties of seeds sold to the respondents. Rule 13(3) casts a duty on every person selling, keeping for sale, offering to sell, bartering or otherwise supplying any seed of notified kind or variety to keep over a period of three years a complete record of each lot of seeds sold except that any seed sample may be discarded one year after the entire lot represented by such sample has been disposed off. The sample of seed kept as part of the complete record has got to be of similar size and if required to be tested, the same shall be tested for determining the purity. The appellant is a large supplier of seeds to the farmers/growers and growers. Therefore, it was expected to keep the samples of the varieties of seeds sold/supplied to the respondents. Such samples could have been easily made available to the District Forums for being sent to an appropriate laboratory for the purpose of analysis or test. Why the appellant did not adopt that course has not been explained.”

15. In this behalf, the following observations of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd. Vs. Alavalapati Chandra Reddy& Ors. (1998) 6 SCC 738 are also apposite:-

“………..Moreover, if the opposite parties have disputed that the seeds were not defective they would have applied to the District Forum to send the samples of seeds from the said batch for analysis by appropriate laboratory. But the opposite parties have not chosen to file any application for sending the seeds to any laboratory. Since it is probable that the complainants have sown all the seeds purchased by them, they were not in a position to send seeds for analysis. In these circumstances, the order of the District Forum is not vitiated by the circumstance that it has not on its own accord sent the seeds for analysis by an appropriate laboratory.”

16. In the present case, as noted above, noticing that cucumber fruit was deformed and the yield was less than the expected, the Complainant lodged complaint with the Senior Agriculture Development Officer. The said officer found that fruits (cucumber) was irregular in shape; less than the standard claimed by the Company; flowering was less; the fruit was not greener and the agriculturists were getting less yield. In my view, even if the report does not comment on the quality of the seeds, it did raise a strong presumption in favour of the Complainant that defective seeds were the cause for low yield and deformed cucumber crop. As observed by the Supreme Court, it was not expected that the Complainant/farmer should have retained a sample of the seeds, so that in the event of less yield on account of defect in the seeds, he could have got it tested in a laboratory to prove that it was defective or of inferior quality. On the contrary, after the filing of the complaint for compensation, nothing prevented the Petitioners, from tracing out the samples from the batch of the seeds and getting it tested for its quality on their own accord or move an application before the District Forum for sending the sample of the seeds, which ought to have been available with them, for analysis by an appropriate laboratory. Having failed to do so, the Petitioners cannot be heard to say that from the report of the Agriculture Officer no adverse inference regarding quality of the seeds could be drawn on the ground that the Complainant had failed to send the sample of seeds to a laboratory for testing. In my opinion, by placing on record the report of the Agriculture Officer, the Complainant had discharged the initial onus to prove that the seeds in question were sub-standard or defective. In light of the said report, onus shifted on to the Petitioners to prove that the seeds were not defective, as alleged”.<

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br /> 20. In these cases inspection was carried out by a committee, consisting of Agriculture Development Officer, Taluka Agriculture Officer, District Seed Certification Officer, District Parishad Member, Operation Member, representative of Mahabeej and representative of the Agricultural University. The aforesaid committee found the seeds sown by the complainants to be defective. No evidence was produced by the petitioners to rebut the aforesaid report of the committee. In the absence of any such rebuttal, the fora below, in our view, were justified in accepting the aforesaid report and concluding that the seeds purchased by the complainants were defective. The learned counsel for the petitioners assailed the report of the committee on the ground that the prior notice of the inspection was not served upon the petitioner, the notice having been sent by ordinary post on 27.05.2008 and since the inspection was carried out on 31.5.2008, the said notice was not even received by the petitioner. The report was also assailed on the ground that it had not been signed by all the members of the committee. As noted earlier, the failure to follow the procedure prescribed under the circulars issued by the Government of Maharashtra will not be fatal to the complainants in a consumer complaint, if he is otherwise able to prove that the seeds purchased by him were defective. Therefore, even the inspection carried out in the absence of the representative of the petitioner committee could be taken into consideration by the fora below though it can hardly be disputed that the inspection report would have been considered to be more authentic, had the representative of the petitioner company been present at the time of inspection. 10. For the reasons stated hereinabove, the Revision Petitions are hereby, dismissed with no order as to costs.
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