Consumer court ruling following query by forum

In a decision expanding the horizon of the Consumer Protection Act, the district consumer court has held that the statute allows it to exercise jurisdiction not only over private and public sector establishments but also cooperative entities and groups.

The law was made clear by the court on a question raised by Kerala State Cooperative Consumer Federation Ltd. as to whether district consumer courts could adjudicate disputes concerning cooperative societies registered under a separate law.

The federation had jointly questioned the court’s powers while defending its position on a complaint filed by a consumer regarding “irregular supply” of gas and refund of a deposit of Rs.5,750. “It is a well-settled position of law that the forum can exercise jurisdiction over service rendered by the cooperative societies. We have therefore no hesitation to hold that this complaint is maintainable,” the court declared in its recent written order.

The order was passed on a complaint filed by one M. Pramod in September 2012. He had arraigned as opposite parties both the cooperative federation and the Mukkam Service Cooperative Bank.

According to the complainant, he had taken a gas connection from the cooperative federation depositing Rs.5,750 with it.

“The supply of gas was irregular and the complainant did not wish to continue a consumer relationship with the opposite parties,” the order recounts the details in the complaint filed.

Mr. Pramod had gone on to seek a refund but the opposite parties had refused on the ground that once a consumer had made a commitment through a contract, he cannot pull out and seek refund. The cooperative federation had refused to pay up on the claim made.

Considering the evidence placed on record, the forum declared that “nobody can be compelled to be a consumer”.

“The complainant can at any time withdraw from the consumer relationship with the opposite parties. At the time of withdrawal, he is entitled to get refund of the amount deposited,” it observed, concluding that Mr. Pramod was entitled for relief. It further directed the federation to pay a litigation cost of Rs.1,000 along with the refund amount within one month of receiving a copy of the order.

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