Consumer Tribunals are creatures of a statute and derive their
power from the express provisions of that statute. It is now
settled law that District Consumer Forums and State Commissions
have no power to recall or review their own orders [(2011) 9 SCC
541]. There is no provision in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986
("Act") granting such power. By virtue
of an amendment to Section 22 of the Act, however, the National
Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
("NCDRC") has the power to review any
order made by it, when there is an error apparent on the face of
record. In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 30A of the
Act, the NCDRC, with the previous approval of the Central
Government, has made the following further regulations, amongst
others, that form part of the Consumer Protection Regulations, 2005
("Regulations"): 'Regulation 14
(iii): An application for review under
sub-section (2) of Section 22 shall be filed to the National
Commission, within 30 days from the days of the order or receipt or
the order, as the case may be;.....Regulation
15 (1): it shall set out clearly the grounds for review.(2) unless otherwise ordered by the National Commission, an
application for review shall be disposed of by circulation without
oral arguments, as far as practicable between the same members who
have delivered the other sought to be reviewed. (emphasis
supplied)' In Surendra Mohan Arora v. HDFC Bank
Ltd. and Others [Civil Appeal no. 4891 of
2014 arising out of Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 14965 of
2013] ("Surendra Mohan"), it
was adventurously argued that 'Regulation 15 is contrary to
the principle of audi alteram partem' and thereby
'ultra vires of Section 22 of the said Act'. It
was further contended that Regulation 15 festers inequality between
consumer-litigants some of whom are heard in open court while
others are denied the privilege, at the discretion of the NCDRC.
Regulation 15 was thus, sought to be struck down. The Hon'ble
Supreme Court of India ("SC") has held,
however, that the Regulations have been passed in
'accordance with law'; and that 'nomischief has been done in framing the said
Regulations'. What is striking, nonetheless, is that
Hon'ble Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose found 'no
substance' at all in the aforesaid arguments advanced
and noted too that the Appellant filed the Petition, 'only
to curtail the rights of the National Commission'. The
question: 'does orality in advocacy admit of an abbreviated
appearance and a discretionary eclipse, even when it has been
preceded by a sufficient oral session' has been an
important one and cannot be said to be without substance. It at
least prompted a brilliantly worded, though flawed, judgment by
Hon'ble Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in P.N. Eswara
Iyer v. The Registrar, Supreme Court of
India (AIR 1980 SC 809), where
similar Review Procedures of the SC were tested. In recent times,
in January, 2014 the SC has also issued notice in M/s.
Lakshminarayana Mining Company v. Supreme Court of
India [Writ Petition No. 34 of
2014], which challenges the constitutional validity of
Order XL Rule 3 of the Supreme Court Rules, 1996, relating to
disposal of review petitions by circulation, without oral hearing.
In such circumstances, a better engagement with the issue would
certainly have been in order in Surendra Mohan.
This article was first published on May 6, 2014
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