Supreme Court says onus to provide proof of deficiency in service is on the complainant under Consumer Protection Act, 1986

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The Supreme Court has held that the onus of proof of deficiency in service is on the complainant in the complaints filed under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

A Bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian further noted that when it is the complainant who approaches the Commission, without any proof of deficiency, the opposite party cannot be held responsible for deficiency in service.

In the matter before the Court, SGS India Ltd had appealed against an order passed by the NCDRC where in it was directed to pay a sum of Rs.65,74,000/- with interest @9% p.a. from the date of filing of complaint till realization and Rs.25,000/- as cost to the complainant, Dolphin International Ltd.

Dolphin had engaged SGS for providing services for inspection of groundnut procured by the it for the purpose of exporting the same to Greece and Netherlands.

The two sets of consignments of groundnut which were inspected by the appellant before it was shipped out, did not meet the product specifications at the time of loading of the  said consignment.

The Bench relied on its judgment reported in Ravneet Singh Bagga v. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines & Anr. wherein it held that the burden of proving the deficiency in service is upon the person who alleges it.

It was found that although NCDRC had referred to the samples collected at the time of dispatch of consignments to Netherlands but the report of such samples was not produced by the appellant to hold that the appellant is deficient in providing services therefore, it drew an adverse inference against the appellant.

Thus, it was held that:

"The onus of proof that there was deficiency in service is on the complainant. If the complainant is able to discharge its initial onus, the burden would then shift to the respondent in the complaint. The rule of evidence before the civil proceedings is that the onus would lie on the person who would fail if no evidence is led by the other side."

Noting that the appellant had certified the weight, packing, quality and quantity of the consignment at the port of loading, the bench further relied on certificates issued by the appellant which contained a disclaimer that “no responsibility can be accepted for the possible consequences of further development of Aflatoxin producing moulds dependent upon condition of storage and/or transportation nor for differences arising from varying methods applied”.

Since there was an absence of any proof of negligence on the part of the appellant at the time of loading of the consignment, it was held that appellant cannot be held responsible if at the port of destination, the products specifications were not the same as certified by the appellant at the time of loading of consignment.

Accordingly, the order of the Commission holding the appellant as deficient in service was not sustainable in the absence of any clause in the work order that the specifications should remain the same even at the port of destination, said the Court while allowing the appeal.

Cause Title: SGS India Ltd v. Dolphin International Ltd. 

Click here to access a copy of the Judgment.