Supreme Court on 30th August 2017 in the matter of Bijoy Sinha Roy, by Legal Representative vs. Biwasnath Das and the Bench comprising of Justice A.K. Goel and Justice U.U. Lalit, heard an Appeal challenging an order passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), wherein it had rejected the complaint filed by a husband alleging death of his wife due to medical negligence. The Appeal contended that surgery was performed on the deceased woman at a nursing home which did not have an ICU.
The Apex Court observed, “We however, find that neither the State Commission nor the National Commission have examined the plea of the appellant that the operation should not have been performed at a nursing home which did not have the ICU when it could be reasonably foreseen that without ICU there was post operative risk to the life of the patient. There was no serious contest to this claim by the opposite parties.”
It, however, did not remand the matter back for fresh adjudication, considering the fact that the matter had been pending for the last 23 years. It then directed the accused doctor to pay a sum of Rs. 5 Lakh to the heirs of the deceased, directing him to deposit the said amount with the State Commission within 3 months.
However, Supreme Court subsequently issued directions to ensure speedy resolution of disputes and utilization of alternate dispute resolution mechanisms by the Consumer Fora.
In order to achieve the object of providing speedy remedy to a consumer, the Bench opined that steps can be taken under Section 24B of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It observed that since the NCDRC has administrative control over all the State Commissions, it is competent to introduce monitoring mechanism for speedy disposal of cases. Section 24B gives the NCDRC administrative control under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the Section states as follows:
(1) The National Commission shall have administrative control over all the State Commissions in the following matters, namely:—
(i) calling for periodical return regarding the institution, disposal, pendency of cases;
(ii) issuance of instructions regarding adoption of uniform procedure in the hearing of matters, prior service of copies of documents produced by one party to the opposite parties, furnishing of English translation of judgments written in any language, speedy grant of copies of documents;
(iii) generally overseeing the functioning of the State Commissions or the District Fora to ensure that the objects and purposes of the Act are best served without in any way interfering with their quasi-judicial freedom.
(2) The State Commission shall have administrative control over all the District Fora within its jurisdiction in all matters referred to in sub-section (1).”
The Apex Court has therefore directed the NCDRC to consider this aspect and formulate an appropriate action plan. Besides, it observed that the Commission may also consider the use of video conferencing facility for examining expert witnesses wherever necessary.
The Supreme Court further referred to Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure which deals with settlement of disputes outside the Court. It then directed the NCDRC to issue appropriate directions in this regard and held, “Even though strictly speaking, the said provision is applicable only to civil courts, there is no reason to exclude applicability to Consumer Fora having regard to the object of the said provision and the object of the consumer protection law. Accordingly, we are of the view that the said provision ought to be duly invoked by the Consumer Fora,”
The Bench clarified that it would be open to the NCDRC and the State Commission to coordinate with the National Legal Services Authority and the State Legal Services Authorities to achieve this objective.