Tejaswita
Maintainability of complaints under Section 12 (1) (C) of the Consumer Protection Act
Tejaswita 11 Oct 2016

There were numerous instances where a few consumers would come to the Hon’ble National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (“Commission”) and seek relief in cases related to builder – buyer disputes by filing joint complaints. The complainants rely on Section 12(1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Act (“Act”) in support of their contention that a single consumer complaint was maintainable.

This issue of maintainability of such complaints under the aforesaid section has recently been clarified by order dated 07. 10.2016 passed by the full bench of the Commission in Ambrish Kumar Shukla & 21 Ors. v. Ferrous Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd, C.C. No. 97 of 2016. The bench was called upon to consider various issues, amongst which the following issue was also considered:

“Whether a complaint under Section 12(1)(c) of the Consumer Protection Act filed on behalf of or for the benefit of only some of the numerous consumers having a common interest or a common grievance is maintainable or it must necessarily be filed on behalf of or for the benefit of all the consumers having a common interest or a common grievance against same person (s)?”

While interpreting Section 12 (1) (c), the bench was of the view that for application of Section 12(1) (c) of the Act it is not necessary that the cause of action available to all the consumers should also be the same. The requirement to be satisfied is sameness of the interest and not the same cause of action. Oneness of the interest is akin to a common grievance against the same person.

It observed that in a case where a number of flats or plots in a project are sold by a builder or developer to a number of persons and the builder/ developer thereafter fails to deliver a timely possession thereof; A complaint could be filed by one or more such persons, either seeking (i) delivery of possession of flats / plots purchased by them and other purchasers in the said project, or (ii) refund of the money paid by them and the other purchasers to the developer / builder.  In this case, the grievance of such persons is common i.e. the failure of the builder / developer to deliver timely possession of the flats/plots sold to them.  

It was also observed that the primary object behind permitting a class action such as a complaint under Section 12(1)(c) of the Act is to facilitate the decision of a consumer dispute in which a large number of consumers are interested, without recourse to each of them filing an individual complaint. It was therefore necessary that such a complaint is filed on behalf of or for the benefit of all the persons having such a community of interest therefore, a complaint on behalf of only some of them therefore will not be maintainable.  The Commission explained this by giving an example and observed that where 100 flat buyers / plot buyers in a project have a common grievance against the Builder / Developer and a complaint under Section 12(1)(c) of the Act is filed on behalf of or for the benefit of say 10 of them, the primary purpose behind permitting a class action will not be achieved. This is so as the remaining 90 aggrieved persons will be compelled either to file individual complaints or to file complaints on behalf of or for the benefit of the different group of purchasers in the same project.

The full bench ultimately held that a complaint under Section 12 (1)(c) of the Act must necessarily be filed on behalf of or for the benefit of all the persons having a common grievance, seeking a common relief and consequently having a community of interest against the same service provider. 

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