Paramjeet Singh Dhaliwal, President1. Heard. Misc. Application is allowed and the documents attached with the application are taken on record.Main Case2. This appeal, along with Miscellaneous Application for condoning the delay of 317 days in filing the appeal, has been filed against the order dated 24.1.2020 passed by District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum (now ‘Commission’), Sri Muktsar Sahib (in short, “District Commission”), vide which the complaint filed by the complainants against Opposite Parties (in short ‘OPs’) under Section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, was allowed and OPs were directed to the pay Rs. 2,50,000 to the complainants, after verifying the documents at their own level, along with interest @ 9% per annum from the date of death of Mithan Lal, i.e. 4.8.2017 till realization. The OPs were further directed to release the amount to the complainants in equal shares. As complainant No. 4 is minor, so her share be released in the shape of FDR and no one can release her amount till she attains the age of 18 years. The OPs were also burdened with costs of Rs. 10,000 as compensation for harassment along with Rs. 10,000/- as litigation expenses. The OPs were directed to comply with the order within a period of thirty days from the date of its receipt.3. It would be apposite to mention that hereinafter the parties will be referred, as have been arrayed before the District Commission.Facts of Complaint4. Brief facts of the complaint are that the complainants are legal heirs of deceased Mithan Lal. It is averred that the OPs-Bank had offered some special facilities on salary account to the employees of Punjab Home Guard and the deceased Mithan Lal, i.e. father of complainants, with the permission of Commander, Punjab Home Guard, Faridkot, got opened his salary account with OPs in the year 2013 being employee of Punjab Home Guard having Belt No. 32451, Company No. 120 under Commander, Punjab Home Guard, Faridkot. At the time of his death on 4.8.2017, he was working at P.S. Sadar, Sri Muktsar Sahib. Deceased Mithan Lal was married with Sarabjeet Kaur who had already died on 23.6.2015 and the complainants are the only legal heirs of deceased Mithan Lal. Complainant No. 4 is minor and complainant No. 1 is looking after her. The OPs had given special insurance facility of Rs. 2,50,000 on the salary account of deceased Mithan Lal, who had fulfilled all the conditions to avail this special facility. After death of Mithan Lal, complainant No. 1 being his legal heir gave application to OPs to pay the insurance amount as per their policy but OPs delayed the matter on one or the other pretext and have not paid the same. Hence, the complainants filed the consumer complaint seeking directions to the OPs to pay insurance amount of Rs. 2,50,000 along with interest @ 18% per annum and pay Rs. 20,000 as compensation for mental tension and harassment.5. Upon notice, OPs appeared and filed their joint written reply taking preliminary objections that intricate questions of law & facts are involved in the present complaint, so the appropriate remedy, if any, lies only in Civil Court; that complainants have concealed the fact and documents that no claim with mandatory documents has been lodged with OPs through proper channel as per required procedure. It is pleaded that the nominee of the deceased employee Mithan Lal is required to approach D.D.O. (Drawing and Disbursing Officer) of concerned District of Home Guard where said employee was last posted and the D.D.O. thereafter was to arrange to complete the claim documents from the nominee and send the same to their D.G.P., Home Guard Office in Chandigarh for further processing. Said office of D.G.P. is to forward the same to Head Office of OPs, who is to decide the claim in accordance with rules as all death claims of Police/Home Guard are handled centrally. Therefore, complaint is premature and is liable to be dismissed on this ground only. The complainants are not their consumers; and that complainants have no locus standi or cause of action to file present complaint against them. On merits, factum of salary account of deceased Mithan Lal with them as well as their scheme are admitted. Other facts have been reiterated as mentioned in the preliminary objections and allegations of the complainants have been denied. Dismissal of the complaint being premature has been prayed as no claim has been lodged with them.Evidence of the parties and finding of the District Commission6. The complainants tendered into evidence affidavit of complainant No. 1 Ex.C-1, certified copy of certificate of Gram Panchayat, Village Sarainaga Ex.C-2, copy of death certificate of Mithan Lal Ex.C-3, copy of death certificate of Sarabjit Kaur Ex.C-4, copy of identity card Ex.C-5, copy of General Diary Details of PS Sadar, Sri Muktsar Sahib Ex.C-6, copy of application Ex.C-7, copy of account statement Ex.C-8, copy of ration card Ex.C-9, copy of chart of benefit of employees Ex.C-10. OPs tendered into evidence affidavit of Raman Garg, Branch Manager Ex.OP-1, copy of memorandum of understanding Ex.OP-2.7. The District Commission after hearing the learned Counsel for the parties and going through the record, accepted the complaint against OPs in the terms stated above vide impugned order. Hence, this appeal by the OPs, along with a Miscellaneous Application for condonation of delay of 317 days in filing the same.M.A. No. 145 of 2021 (Grounds for Condonation of Delay)8. Brief facts, as averred in the application, are that the impugned order was passed on 24.1.2021 by the District Commission, which was received by the Counsel for the appellants/OPs on 28.1.2020 and thereafter sent the same to the Branch of the appellant at Sri Muktsar Sahib on 30.1.2020. The said Branch thereafter sent the same to Regional Office of the Bank at Chandigarh on 2.2.2020. It is averred that during the process for granting the approval to file the appeal, lockdown was imposed in the country on 22.3.2020, which still persists and due to that delay of 317 days has occurred. It is further averred that Regional Office of the appellants is still not fully operational, however, the comments of the Advocate of the Bank were called upon and after getting instructions, permission was called from the Higher Office. It is further averred that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has stopped the limitation to file the appeals w.e.f. 15.3.2020, which is still operative. It is averred that the delay of 317 days is not intentional rather occurred due to above reasons. It is averred that the applicants have sufficient and reasonable cause for not filing the appeal within the prescribed time. It has been prayed that the application be accepted and the delay in filing the present appeal be condoned, in the interest of justice.9. We have heard learned Counsel for the applicants/appellants and have gone through the application/appeal file carefully.Contentions of the Applicants/Appellants10. Learned Counsel for the applicants/appellants vehemently contended that the impugned order dated 24.1.2021 was received by the Counsel for the appellants/OPs on 28.1.2020 and thereafter sent the same to the Branch of the appellants at Sri Muktsar Sahib on 30.1.2020 and the said Branch thereafter sent the same to Regional Office of the Bank at Chandigarh on 2.2.2020. It is contended that during the process for taking approval to file the appeal, lockdown was imposed in the country on 22.3.2020, which is still persists and due to that delay of 317 days has occurred. It is further contended that Regional Office of the appellants is still not fully operational. It is also contended that the superior Courts have stopped the limitation to file the appeals w.e.f. 15.03.2020, which is still operative and prayed that the delay of 317 days is not intentional rather occurred due to above reasons.11. We have given our thoughtful consideration to the contentions raised by the learned Counsel for the applicants/appellants.12. Admittedly, there is a delay of 317 days in filing the appeal. The contention of the learned Counsel for the appellants is that the delay occurred as the lockdown was imposed in the country due to pandemic of Covid-19 and as the Regional Office of the applicants/appellants is still not fully operational, therefore, timely approval was not received. The contention of the applicants that it has not received the approval for filing the appeal in time due to pandemic of Covid-19 is not justified as it is the admitted case of the applicants that certified copy of the impugned order was received by their Counsel on 28.1.2020. Therefore, straightway lapse shows on the part of the applicants/appellants in taking the approval and filing the appeal in time as the statutory requirement for filing the appeal, against the impugned order, is 30 days as per Consumer Protection Act, 1986, which lapsed on 28.2.2020 whereas the appeal has been filed in this Commission on 25.1.2021 that is after the lapse of almost one year, when there is no guidelines issued in the country regarding pandemic of Covid-19. The applicants/appellants have adopted a careless and casual approach in filing the application and appeal. The law is settled that the delay can be condoned when it has been properly explained, but the delay due to casual approach cannot be condoned, at the asking of the applicants, particularly when the delay is directly a result of negligence, default or inaction of that party. Special period of limitation has been prescribed under the Consumer Protection Act for filing the appeals and revisions in consumer matters so that the consumers may get immediate relief regarding their grievance and if this aspect is ignored then the main object of expeditious adjudication of the consumer disputes will get defeated.13. Second contention of the applicants/appellants is that their Regional Office is still not fully operational. This contention of the applicants/appellants is also not justified because it is their own case that the case file was sent to their Regional Office on 2.2.2020. It is well known by the applicants/appellants that statutory time granted under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 for filing the appeal against the impugned order is 30 days, which lapsed maximum upto 28.2.2020, well before the imposing of the lockdown in the country and secondly, no instructions of the Bank has been placed on record, which proves that Bank is not fully operational. Rather Banks are working during lockdown in the country, therefore, no justifiable reasoning is given by the applicants/appellants for such a huge delay. With regard to the law cited by the learned Counsel for the applicants/appellants, there is no dispute that the superior Courts have passed orders or issued instructions from time to time with regard to extension of limitation period but it is clear in the order dated 6.5.2020 passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in case Suo Moto Writ (Civil) No. 3 of 2020 in re: Cognizance for extension of limitation, that ‘in case limitation has expired after 15.3.2020 then period from 15.3.2020 till date on which lockdown is lifted in the jurisdictional area where the dispute lies or where the cause of action arises shall be extended for period of 15 days after lifting of lockdown’ and in another order it is granted upto 45 days under Commercial Courts Act. From the abovesaid order, it is clear that where lockdown is lifted, 15 days period is granted for the purpose of limitation and in the Regional Office of the Bank at Chandigarh, lockdown is lifted on 4.5.2020 and limitation period extended is upto 20.5.2020 and if 67 days relaxation is granted to the applicants/appellants, still from the perusal of the file, it is clear that there is huge delay occurred in filing the present appeal and there is no justification coming forth for the delayed period, i.e. before lockdown period and after lifting of lockdown in the jurisdictional area of the Bank/Regional Office of the Bank. As it is specifically held by the Superior Courts in number of authorities that when the delay is directly a result of negligence, default or inaction of one party, it is unreasonable to take away that right from other party on the mere asking of the applicant, when it is proved that the matter was being taken in most casual manner, without bothering for the law of limitation. The Consumer Protection Act was specifically enacted for the speedy justice and if the aspect of limitation is ignored then speedy justice cannot be granted to the parties.14. Perusal of the application as well as file shows that there is no explanation, what to say of plausible explanation given by the applicants/appellants regarding the delay occurred in filing the appeal, i.e. after 28.2.2020 to 15.03.2021 from which date the period is extended by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. So the reasoning given by the applicants/appellants do not justify the delay, specifically when the superior Courts passed the directions to explain the day-to-day delay.15. It is held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Anshul Aggarwal v. New Okhla Industrial Development Authority, IV (2011) CPJ 63 (SC)=2011 (14) SCC 578 that while deciding an application for condonation of delay in the cases under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the Court has to keep in mind that special period of limitation has been prescribed under the Act for filing the appeals and revisions in consumer matters and the object of expeditious adjudication of the consumer disputes will get defeated, if the highly belated petitions are to be entertained.16. Hon’ble Supreme Court in case Kamlesh Babu and Ors. v. Lajpat Rai Sharma and Others, IV (2008) SLT 244=III (2008) DLT (CRL.) 139 (DB)=2008 (3) The Punjab Law Reporter 455, while interpreting and explaining the scope of Section 3(1) of the Limitation Act, observed as follows:“It is well settled that Section 3(1) of the Limitation Act casts a duty upon the Court to dismiss a suit or an appeal or an application, if made after the prescribed period, although, limitation is not set up as a defence”.17. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in case Lanka Venkateswarlu (D) By LRs. v. State of A.P. & Others, II (2011) SLT 378=I (2011) CLT 220 (SC)=2011 (2) RCR Civil-880 (SC), after considering the entire case law on the point of delay, in Para- 26(relevant portion) observed as under:“Once a valuable right has accrued in favour of one party as a result of the failure of the other party to explain the delay by showing sufficient cause and its own conduct, it will be unreasonable to take away that right on the mere asking of the applicant, particularly when the delay is directly a result of negligence, default or inaction of that party. Justice must be done to both parties equally. Then alone the ends of justice can be achieved. If a party has been thoroughly negligent in implementing its rights and remedies, it will be equally unfair to deprive the other party of a valuable right that has accrued to it in law as a result of his acting vigilantly”.18. Similarly, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in case Oriental Arora Chemical Industries Limited v. Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation, II (2010) SLT 205=I (2010) CLT 333 (SC)=(2010) 5 SCC 459, observed as follows:“We have considered the respective submissions. The law of limitation is founded on public policy. The legislature does not prescribe limitation with the object of destroying the rights of the parties but to ensure that they do not resort to dilatory tactics and seek remedy without delay. The idea is that every legal remedy must be kept alive for a period fixed by the legislature. To put it differently, the law of limitation prescribes a period within which legal remedy can be availed for redress of the legal injury. At the same time, the Courts are bestowed with the power to condone the delay, if sufficient cause is shown for not availing the remedy within the stipulated time”.19. Hon’ble Punjab & Haryana High Court in case reported as Union of India & Ors. v. Hari Singh, 2009(4) RCR (Civil)-654, declined to condone the delay for taking the matter in casual manner. In Para-7, it was observed as follows:“Even otherwise, no explanation is forthcoming from 15.9.2004 to 18.1.2005 for not filing the appeal. The pleadings in application itself show that the matter was being taken in most casual manner, without bothering for the law of limitation”.20. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in case SLP (Civil) Diary No(s).13348 of 2019 The State of Bihar & Ors. v. Deo Kumar Singh & Ors., decided on 9.5.2019 observed (relevant portion) as follows:“…….We are of the view that a clear signal has to send to the Government Authorities that they cannot approach the Court as and when they please, on account of gross incompetence of their officers and that too without taking any action against the concerned officers. No detail of this delay of 728 days have been given as if there is an inherent right to seek condonation of delay by State Government. The law of limitation apparently does not apply to the State Government according to its conduct.That such condonation of delay is no more admissible on the pretext of Government working lethargy is clear from the judgment of this Court in The Chief Post Master General v. Living Media India Ltd., 2012 (3) SCC 563.We strongly deprecate the casual manner in which the Division Bench was approached and also this Court has been approached; the objective possibly being to get a certificate of dismissal from this Court. This is complete wastage of judicial time and the petitioners must pay for the same………”21. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in a recent case SLP (Civil) Diary No. (s) 9217 of 2020 The State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors. v. Bherulal, decided on 15.10.2020 has observed as follows:“4. A reading of the aforesaid application shows that the reason for such an inordinate delay is stated to be only “due to unavailability of the documents and the process of arranging the documents”. In paragraph 4 a reference has been made to “bureaucratic process works, it is inadvertent that delay occurs”.5. A preposterous proposition is sought to be propounded that if there is some merit in the case, the period of delay is to be given a go-by. If a case is good on merits, it will succeed in any case. It is really a bar of limitation which can even shut out good cases. This does not, of course, take away the jurisdiction of the Court in an appropriate case to condone the delay.6. We are also of the view that the aforesaid approach is being adopted in what we have categorized earlier as “certificate cases”. The object appears to be to obtain a certificate of dismissal from the Supreme Court to put a quietus to the issue and thus, say that nothing could be done because the highest Court has dismissed the appeal. It is to complete this formality and save the skin of officers who may be at default that such a process is followed. We have on earlier occasions also strongly deprecated such a practice and process. There seems to be no improvement. The purpose of coming to this Court is not to obtain such certificates and if the Government suffers losses, it is time when the concerned officer responsible for the same bears the consequences. The irony is that in none of the cases any action is taken against the officers, who sit on the files and do nothing. It is presumed that this Court will condone the delay and even in making submissions, straight away Counsels appear to address on merits without referring even to the aspect of limitation as happened in this case till we pointed out to the Counsel that he must first address us on the question of limitation.7. We are thus, constrained to send a signal and we propose to do in all matters today, where there are su
Please Login To View The Full Judgment!
ch inordinate delays that the Government or State authorities coming before us must pay for wastage of judicial time which has its own value. Such costs can be recovered from the officers responsible.8. Looking to the period of delay and the casual manner in which the application has been worded, we consider appropriate to impose costs on the petitioner State of Rs. 25,000 (Rupees twenty five thousand) to be deposited with the Mediation and Conciliation Project Committee. The amount be deposited in four weeks. The amount be recovered from the officers responsible for the delay in filing the special leave petition and a certificate of recovery of the said amount be also filed in this Court within the said period of time.9. The special leave petition is dismissed as time barred in terms aforesaid.”22. In view of above discussion and the law laid down, it is clear that the delay has to be explained properly and sufficient cause for causing delay must be disclosed and the delay caused on account of dilatory tactics, inaction and casual approach cannot be condoned. In the present case, as discussed above, no valid reasons or the explanations have been given for condonation of delay of 317 days, except the period of relaxation of 67 days as granted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, i.e. 317 – 67 = 250 days and each day’s delay is required to be explained/justified. Thus, we do not find any ground to condone the huge delay of 250 days (317 days) in filing the appeal.23. In view of the above discussion, the application for condonation of delay is dismissed, being without any merit.Main Case24. As the application for condonation of delay has been dismissed, therefore, appeal also stands dismissed, being barred by time.25. The applicants/appellants/OPs have deposited a sum of Rs. 25,000 at the time of filing of the appeal. This amount, along with interest which has accrued thereon, if any, shall be remitted by the Registry to the District Commission forthwith. The complainants may approach the District Commission for the release of the above amount and the District Commission may pass the appropriate order in this regard after the expiry of limitation period in accordance with law.