Fine only for frivolous complaints

Dr Dominguito DeSouza of Margao had made an application for issuance of a permanent account number (PAN) by the Income Tax (I-T) Department. When he received the card, he found there was a spelling mistake in his name, and the date of birth was incorrect. So DeSouza applied on July 28, 2018 for rectification of these errors, for which Karvy Data Management Services charged him Rs 107.

Since the correction was not carried out, he had a legal notice issued on August 23, 2018, but it was ignored. DeSouza filed a complaint before the South Goa Forum against the I-T Department and Karvy Data Management Services. During the pendency of the complaint, the corrected PAN card was received by DeSouza on October 27, 2018. Since his grievance had been resolved, the Forum inquired whether DeSouza wanted to continue with the complaint, as he wanted to be compensated as the rectification was carried out belatedly.

The Forum observed that the complaint was in respect of a statutory service, and held that it would not be maintainable. In addition, it even ordered De Souza to pay costs of Rs 2,500.

Aggrieved, De Souza filed an appeal. He contended he was a consumer and was charged a fee of Rs 107. The notice of the appeal, which was issued by the Goa State Commission, was accepted by the I-T Authorities, but Karvy refused to accept service.

The I-T authorities contested the appeal on the ground that issuance of PAN Card is a statutory function. So, any subsequent correction would also have to be considered a part of the statutory function. It argued that the complaint was rightly considered to be beyond the scope of the Consumer Protection Act.

On merits, the I-T Department pointed out that the details given in the application of rectification of the PAN Card were at variance with the details stated in the birth certificate and other documents furnished by DeSouza. The department argued that given these discrepancies, it took some time to process and issue the rectified PAN Card.

The State Commission observed that DeSouza had sought correction in his PAN Card after a lapse of 28 years, during which time he had not faced any difficulty due to errors in the PAN Card. It also noted that DeSouza had not been put to any loss due to the delay in issuing the corrected PAN Card. So the State Commission concluded DeSouza’s claim was not justified.

The State Commission pointed out that the provision of imposing costs on the complainant was permissible only if the complaint was found to be frivolous and vexatious. In the present case, DeSouza did have a grievance about the delay in issuance of the corrected PAN Card, which was rectified and sent only after he approached the Forum. So, it concluded the Forum was wrong in saddling DeSouza with costs.

By its order of October 23, 2019, delivered by Dhananjay Jog on behalf of the Bench headed by Justice U V Bakre, the Goa State Commission upheld the dismissal of the complaint but set aside the Forum's direction to DeSouza to pay costs.

The author is a consumer activist


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