Consumers with the same interest can file a joint complaint; not necessary to file a complaint in representative capacity: Supreme Court of India

It is needless to point out that the sine qua non for invoking Section 35(1)(c) is that all consumers on whose behalf or for whose benefit the provision is invoked, should have the same interest. Interestingly, Section 35(1) (c) uses the disjunction “or” in-between two sets of words, namely, (i)  “on behalf of”; and  (ii)  “for the benefit of”. Therefore, a complaint filed under Section 35(1)(c) could either be “on behalf of” or “for the benefit of” all consumers having the same interest. Such an observation was made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court before Hon’ble Justice Hemant Gupta & Hon’ble Justice V. Ramasubramanian in the matter of BRIGADE ENTERPRISES LIMITED vs ANIL KUMAR VIRMANI & ORS [CIVIL APPEAL NO.1779 of 2021].

The facts of the case were that about 91 persons who purchased 51 residential apartments, in a residential complex comprising about 1134 apartments, promoted by the appellant (Brigade Enterprises Limited) joined together and filed a consumer complaint on the file of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi. The Consumer complaint was accompanied by an application u/s 35(1)(c), seeking the permission of the National Commission to prosecute the matter jointly, for the benefit of and on behalf of, not only of the 91 applicants but of numerous other consumers who have purchased apartments in the same complex.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that a careful reading of Section 35(1) would show that there is no scope for the contention that wherever there are more consumers than one, they must only take recourse to Order I Rule 8 CPC, even if the complaint is not on behalf of or for the benefit of, all the consumers interested in the matter. There may be cases where only “a few consumers” and not “numerous consumers” have the same interest.  There is nothing in the Act to prohibit these few consumers from joining together and filing a joint complaint.

Additionally, the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that for attracting the provisions of   Section   35(1)(c),   the complaint filed by one or more consumers should be on behalf of or for the benefit of numerous consumers having the same interest. It does not mean that where there are only very few consumers having the same interest, they cannot even join together and file a   single complaint,   but should take recourse only to independent and separate complaints.

Finally, the Hon’ble Supreme Court allowed the present appeal, and the impugned order of the   National   Commission is modified to the effect that the complaint filed by the respondents shall be treated as a joint complaint filed on behalf of only the respondents herein and not as a complaint filed in a representative capacity on behalf of or for the benefit of all the owners of all the 1134 flats.

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Judgment Reviewed by: Rohan Kumar Thakur

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