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04 May 2021
In its 16 March 2021 judgment in Neena Aneja v Jai Prakash Associates Ltd (Civil Appeal 3766-3767 of 2020), the Division Bench of the Supreme Court dealt with the issue of:
[w]hether a complaint which was filed and registered under the Act of 1986, before the new [Consumer Protection] Act of 2019 came into force, has to be entertained under the provisions of the erstwhile legislation[.]
Said issue arose from a complaint (for claims of Rs21.9 million) which had been filed by the appellant before the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission on 18 June 2020. In an order dated 30 July 2020, the commission dismissed the complaint on the ground that following the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act 2019 (which took effect from 20 July 2020), "its pecuniary jurisdiction has been enhanced from rupees one crore to rupees ten crores". Further, the commission dismissed a review against said order on 5 October 2020.
The Supreme Court acknowledged at the outset that its determination on the issue in this case would depend on the construction of, among other things, Section 107 of the Consumer Protection Act and its interplay with Section 6 of the General Clauses Act 1897. In particular, in considering Section 107(3) of the Consumer Protection Act, the court noted that:
Sub-section (3) of Section 107 stipulates that the specification of the matters contained in sub-section (2) does not prejudice or affect the general application of Section 6 of the General Clauses Act (with regard to the effect of repeal).
The court also noted that:
the analysis of the Court, despite the new legislation, will not proceed on a clean slate for there is precedent which holds the field. That both sides rely upon the line of precedent in the unfolding of their cases makes the interpretational task intricate.
The court, while examining several judicial precedents and statutory provisions – in particular, Clauses 6(c) and 6(e) of the General Clauses Act – outrightly observed that:
first, the right which has accrued on the date of the institution of the consumer complaint under the Act of 1986 (the repealing law) is preserved; and second, the enforcement of the right through the instrument of a legal proceeding or remedy will not be affected by the repeal.
However, while harmonising said observation in light of the principle that a right to a forum is not an accrued right, the apex court noted that:
while Section 6(e) of the General Clauses Act protects the pending legal proceedings for the enforcement of an accrued right from the effect of a repeal, this does not mean that the legal proceedings at a particular forum are saved from the effects from the repeal.
Accordingly, under such circumstances, the court considered the issue of "whether the pending legal proceedings are required to be transferred to the newly created forum by virtue of the repeal". Pertinently, while noting the settled case law in this context, the court reiterated that since forum is a matter which pertains to procedural law, a "litigant has to pursue the legal proceedings at the forum created by the repealing act, unless a contrary intention appears".
However, in this case, the court observed that the repealing enactment (ie, the Consumer Protection Act) contained no provisions or express language which indicated that all pending proceedings must be transferred to the fora created under said act by applying its newly prescribed pecuniary limits. Appositely, in order to ascertain whether the repealing act contained any contrary intent to the continuation of the pending proceedings before the fora under or in the terms of the provisions under the repealed act, the court was further guided by:
Accordingly, while thoroughly analysing said information and documents, the Supreme Court concluded that:
proceedings instituted before the commencement of the Act of 2019 on 20 July 2020 would continue before the fora corresponding to those under the Act of 1986 (the National Commission, State Commissions and District Commissions) and not be transferred in terms of the pecuniary jurisdiction set for the fora established under the Act of 2019.
This judgment is significant as it reiterates the law relating to the saving provisions and fate of proceedings initiated and pending under repealed enactments. At the same time, on the facts, it has ensured the protection of consumers' rights by preventing a serious dislocation of their interests.
For further information on this topic please contact Varun Sharma or Abhishek Goyal at Clasis Law by telephone (+91 11 4213 0000) or email (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). The Clasis Law website can be accessed at www.clasislaw.com.
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