Dr. B.C. Gupta, Presiding Member
This revision petition has been filed under section 21(b) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 against the impugned order dated 14.03.2016, passed by the Haryana State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (hereinafter referred to as ‘the State Commission’) in Revision Petition No. 72/2003, 'M/s Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. versus Poonam Gupta & Ors.' which was filed against the order dated 17.04.2003, passed by the District Forum, Ambala in CC No. 133/2001, filed by the present petitioner. The District Forum vide their order dated 17.04.2003, in the consumer complaint held that the complaint before them was maintainable, being within their territorial jurisdiction. However, the said order was reversed by the State Commission in Revision Petition No. 72/2003 vide impugned order dated 09.01.2007, according to which, the consumer complaint was dismissed with liberty to invoke jurisdiction of a competent court for redressal of their grievance.
2. The facts of the case are that the petitioner/complainant Poonam Gupta claims to be a registered shareholder of the OP Company M/s. Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited under folio P-016028, as she was allotted 25 shares in 1974 under share certificate No. 12615, bearing distinctive numbers 0682401 to 0682425. On 20.10.1979, the complainant reported loss of the said share certificate 12615 to the OP Company, following which, a duplicate share certificate No. 21319 was issued to her on 21.03.1980, with shares bearing distinctive numbers 0682401 to 0682425, i.e., the same distinctive numbers as were there on the certificate lost. The complainant is stated to have received dividend on the said shares till 1991. However, she noticed in November 1999 that the benefit of dividend had not been given to her after 1991. When she reported the matter to the OP Company, she was informed that the said shares had been transferred in favour of OP Ms Chandra Goyal, based on a transfer deed executed on 25.11.1991. The complainant, however, took the plea that the said transfer deed was a forged document and hence, fraud had been played upon her in the transfer of the shares. The complainant filed complaint No. 133/2001 against the OP-1 Company and OP-2 Ms. Chandra Goyal, seeking directions to the OP Company to nullify the transfer of 25 shares, based on the transfer deed executed on 25.11.91 in favour of Ms. Chandra Goyal and to restore the said shares in her name. The complainant also pleaded that in the alternative, the OPs should be directed to pay a sum of ₹1,99,390/- to her, being the sale consideration of 157 shares @₹1270 per share alongwith interest @18% p.a. The said 157 shares included 132 shares held by Ms. Chandra Goyal on her own. During the pendency of the revision petition, an amended memo of parties has been filed by the parties, saying that M/s. Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. were the successors-in-interest of M/s. Ranbaxy Laboratories and hence, their name was substituted as the OP-1.
3. The complaint was resisted by the OP-1 Company by filing their reply before the District Forum, in which they stated that they had carried out the transfer of shares after following the procedure, based on a comparison of the signatures of the transferor with the specimen signatures available with the Company. The OP Company also stated that the complaint was not maintainable, being barred by limitation. The duplicate share certificate had been issued in favour of the complainant in the year 1980, but the transfer took place, based on transfer deed dated 25.11.91. The complainant had full knowledge of transfer as evident from her letter dated 21.12.92 and hence, the present complaint was barred by limitation. The OP company also stated that the District Forum Ambala had no territorial jurisdiction to entertain the complaint, because the Head Office of the OP Company was located at New Delhi and the Registered Office at SAS Nagar, Mohali, Punjab. Since they had no branch office at Ambala, the complaint could not be filed before the District Forum, Ambala and moreover, no cause of action had arisen at Ambala.
4. The District Forum vide their interim order dated 17.04.2003, held that the complaint was maintainable being within their territorial jurisdiction. The District Forum also granted injunction to the OP-2 not to transfer the said shares to a third party. Being aggrieved against the order of the District Forum, the OP Company challenged the same by way of a revision petition before the State Commission, which was decided by them vide order dated 09.01.2007.
5. The State Commission held that the District Forum had no jurisdiction to handle the consumer complaint, as the OP / Company had no branch office at Ambala. The State Commission accepted the revision petition, set aside the order of the District Forum and dismissed the complaint with liberty to file the same before court of competent jurisdiction. Being aggrieved against the said order of the State Commission, the complainant is before this Commission by way of the present revision petition.
6. During hearing, it was contended by the learned counsel for the petitioner that the District Forum at Ambala had the territorial jurisdiction to entertain the consumer complaint, because the OP Company M/s. Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. had a branch office at Ambala. The learned counsel stated that as per the documents filed by them on record, M/s. Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited had been provided telephone connections by the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) at Ambala and the details of the same had been placed on record. The name of M/s. Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. also figured in the telephone directory of Ambala. Further, a letter dated 08.07.1974 issued by the State Drugs Controller, Haryana had been placed on record, which is addressed to M/s. Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. at Ambala Cantt. The learned counsel maintained that since the OP Company had branch office at Ambala, the District Forum had the jurisdiction to handle the consumer complaint.
7. Per contra, the learned counsel for the OP-1 Company stated that the complainants had invoked the jurisdiction of the District Forum at Ambala, stating that since they were residents of Ambala, Haryana, the District Forum had the jurisdiction to handle the consumer complaint. According to the learned counsel, the jurisdiction could not be decided, based on the place of the residence of the complainant. The State Commission had, therefore, rightly observed that the mere factum of the residence of the complainant at Ambala and receiving the dividend over there, did not confer jurisdiction upon the District Forum at Ambala. The learned counsel further stated that the complaint was barred by limitation, as the transfer in question is reported to have taken place in the year 1991, but the complaint was filed many years later. Referring to the allegations of forgery etc., the learned counsel stated that complex questions of law and fact could not be adjudicated in proceedings before the Consumer Fora.
8. We have examined the entire material on record and given a thoughtful consideration to the arguments advanced before us.
9. A careful perusal of the entire material on record indicates that the orders passed by the State Commission as well as the District Forum have dealt with the issue of territorial jurisdiction only and the merits of the case have not been gone into at all. Section 11 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 relating to the jurisdiction of the District Forum says as follows:-
'11 Jurisdiction of the District Forum – (1)…….
(2) A complaint shall be instituted in a District Forum within the local limits of whose jurisdiction,-
(a) the opposite party or each of the opposite parties, where there are more than one, at the time of the institution of the complaint, actually and voluntarily resides or carries on business or has a branch office or personally works for gain, or'
10. In the impugned order, the State Commission have taken the plea that the OP-1 Company does not have any Branch Office at Ambala. However, the documentary evidence produced by the petitioner/complainant indicates that M/s. Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd., did have their branch office at Ambala, as a number of telephone connections had been provided to them by the BSNL at Ambala. Their name also figured in the telephone directory of Ambala, as per the copy of the same placed on record. Further, the letter dated 08.07.74 issued by the State Drug Controller, Haryana indicates that the grant of whole drug licence was issued to the OP Company at their address at Ambala. It is clear from these documents that the contention of the State Commission that the OP-1 Company did not have branch office at Ambala is not correct. Even if these facts are not mentioned in the consumer complaint filed by the complainant, these have to be taken note of being part of official record, while deciding the issue of territorial jurisdiction. It is evident therefore that the OP-1 Company had a branch office at Ambala and hence, the District Forum had the territorial jurisdiction to deal with the matter.
11. The main issue for consideration on merits is whether the transfer deed, based upon which the shares belonging to the complainant were transferred to the OP-2 was a genuine document or not. On record, the report of a hand-writing expert has been placed, that brings out that the signatures of the complainant on the transfer deed did not match with her standard signatures. It is necessary, therefore, that the matter should be gone into depth on merits as well and a conclusion arrived at, after considering the averments of both the parties. This view has been taken by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the judgment, 'Dr. J.J. Merchant and others versus Shrinath Chaturvedi' [as reported in (2002) 6 SCC 635], in which it has been held as under:-
'7. ……..One of the main objects of the Act is to provide speedy and simple redressal to consumer disputes and for that a quasi-judicial machinery is sought to be set up at the district, State and Central level. These quasi-judicial bodies are required to observe the principles of natural justice and have been empowered to give relief of a specific nature and to award, wherever appropriate, compensation to consumers. Penalties for non-compliance with the orders given by the quasi-judicial bodies have also been provided. The object and purpose of enacting the Act is
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to render simple, inexpensive and speedy remedy to the consumers with complaints against defective goods and deficient services and the benevolent piece of legislation intended to protect a large body of consumers from exploitation would be defeated. Prior to the Act, consumers were required to approach the civil court for securing justice for the wrong done to them and it is a known fact that decision in a suit takes years. Under the Act, consumers are provided with an alternative, efficacious and speedy remedy. As such, the Consumer Forum is an alternative forum established under the Act to discharge the functions of a civil court. Therefore, delay in disposal of the complaint would not be a ground for rejecting the complaint and directing the complainant to approach the civil court.' 12. Based on the discussion above, the present revision petition is allowed. The impugned order passed by the State Commission is set aside and the order passed by the District Forum is restored. The District Forum is directed to examine the matter in depth after considering all relevant issues in detail and then to pass their final order, preferably within a period of four months.