State Consumer Forums and NCDRC are ‘Courts’ under Section 11 CPC

Calcutta High Court: A Bench comprising of- Shivakant Prasad, J. dismissed the suit filed by the plaintiff on the ground that it was barred by the principle of res judicata.

The plaintiff filed a suit against the defendant bank on the ground that the debit balance shown by it in plaintiff’s account was void and illegal. Defendant’s plea was that the suit was barred on two grounds- firstly, by the law of limitation, and secondly, by the principle of res judicata, as same issues were raised before the State and National Consumer Forums. Plaintiff contended that the suit was not barred by law of limitation, as it wrongly invoked the jurisdiction of the consumer forum, so the time consumed in those proceedings should be excluded. Secondly, the suit is not barred by res judicata, as issues were raised before State and National Consumer Forums, which are not ‘Courts’, so Section 11 of the Civil Procedure Code is not applicable.

The Court accepted the plaintiff’s first argument, relating to the law of limitation, however it didn’t agree with the contention that State and National Consumer Forums are not courts. The Court held that these forums are presided over by Judges and they are authorized to take evidence-on-affidavits.  These bodies have trappings of courts and are adjudicatory bodies, though not in strict sense, but are judiciary set up by the government to protect the consumer rights. The Court then examined whether the issues raised before it were the same in the proceedings before the said forums. After perusing the pleadings of the parties, the evidence-on-record, and the judgments of the said forums, it observed that the issues involved before it are substantially the issues before the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and attained their finality with the decision of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. Therefore, the Court dismissed the suit holding that the previously decided issues cannot be reopened before it. [Kesoram Industries Ltd. v. Allahabad Bank, 2017 SCC OnLine Cal 2177, decided on 03/04/2017]

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