Shivshankar Shukla had a reserved ticket for travelling from Allahabad to Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Mumbai by first class air condition (AC) seat in Duronto Express on June 3, 2017. He was allotted coupe ‘A’ with four berths.
The ticket conductor N K Tiwari and AC technician Sayyed were on duty. Since the AC was not working, he contacted them after boarding the train. The temperature was over 42 degree Celsius. Shukla was assured the problem was a minor one, which would soon be rectified after gas was filled into the system. When nothing was done, all the passengers became restless and demanded that the control department be informed so that the problem could be attended to at Jabalpur station. Yet, nothing was done, so the passengers pulled the chain to stop the train at Itarsi station where some work was done to attend to the fault. However, once the train moved again, the temperate increased significantly. Since the problem was not rectified, the ticket conductor issued a certificate admitting that the air conditioner had failed.
Shukla was later refunded the fare, but he filed a complaint against the Union of India, Central Railway and IRCTC, alleging deficiency in service and unfair trade practice. He claimed compensation for mental anguish and harassment. As the forum dismissed the complaint by a cryptic order, he appealed to the Maharashtra State Commission.
The State Commission observed that the jurisdiction of the forum would depend on the nature of the allegations made in the complaint. Since Shukla had alleged deficiency in service and unfair trade practice, the complaint would fall within the purview of Consumer Protection. So the complaint would have to be processed, subject to it having been filed within the limitation period. The Commission observed that the complaint had been filed within two years, hence it was the duty of the Forum to entertain the dispute and adjudicate it on merits. The Commission also ruled that an order would have to be a reasoned and speaking order and that a complaint cannot be dismissed in a cryptic manner.
Accordingly, by its order of April 8, 2019, delivered by Justice A P Bhangale for the Bench, along with A K Zade, the State Commission remanded the complaint to the district forum for a decision on merits on the basis of the evidence which would be produced by the parties.
When a complaint falls within the framework of the Consumer Protection Act, and the allegations pertain to defect, deficiency, unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practice, the forum is duty bound to adjudicate the dispute on merits.
The writer is a consumer activist