Status as on- 29/03/2022
The term “Voluntary Consumer Association” mentioned under section 12(1)(b) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (hereinafter referred to as “CPA”) had not been interpreted until it was referred by a three-member bench of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission also known as NCDRC in the case of “Moulivakkam Trust Heights Flats Affected Buyers Association and Ors. Vs. Prime Sristi Housing Pvt. Ltd. and Ors.” [III (2017) CPJ494 (NC).”
The principle question that arose for consideration before the Commission became whether the association shaped under section 12 of CPA may be said to be a voluntary consumer association or not. For further clarification, Section 12 was referred and it was divided into three parts:
- Association– An association is a number of persons who come together and form a group, for prosecuting one or more specified common objectives;
- Consumer association– This association seeks to protect people from corporate abuse like unsafe products, predatory lending, false advertising etc.
- Voluntary consumer association– This is a body formed by a group of persons coming together, of their own will and without any pressure or influence from anyone and without being influenced by any financial consideration, such as making profit or earning salary, using the shelter of such a body or entity.
There are a few cases to provide further clarification on “Voluntary Consumer Association”:
Sobha Hibiscus Condominium Vs. Managing Director, M/s Sobha Developers Ltd & Anr., Civil Appeal No. 1118 of 2016:
The question arose in the case is that whether the association formed under the provisions of the Karnataka Apartment Ownership Act shall be considered as a “Voluntary Consumer Association”. For this case, the Court said that the appellant is a body which has come into existence as per the declaration made by the opposite party as required under the 1972 Act. So, it cannot be said to be a voluntary association, which means that the appellant doesn’t come under the ambit of consumer and hence, the complaint is not maintainable and there are no grounds to interfere with the order passed by the Commission.
Lotus Panache Welfare Association v. M/s. Granite Gate Properties Pvt. Ltd.,: CC No. 120 of 2015;
In this case, the Commission held the very fact that the CPA permits such an association to file complaint evenon behalf of a consumer, who is not the member of such association, is a clear indication that the law wants to conferthe same rights to such association which are available to a consumer, in a case where the services rendered to a consumer are found to be deficient or defective. The Commission mentioned “Fromwhatever angle we may see, we are of the opinion that the complaint by a recognized consumer association, such as the complainant before us, is maintainable in respect of the reliefs sought in this complaint”.
Amrapali Sapphire Flat Buyers Welfare Association v. Amrapali Sapphire Developers Pvt. Ltd. & Anr. : CC No. 816 of 2016
In this case, the consumer complaints were filed by an association of the homebuyers in a project which the opposite party is developing. Applications were filed by theopposite party, in search of dismissal of the grievance ordinarily given that:
- The complainant had no locus standi to file the present complaint on behalf of several allottees
- The complainant was not a voluntary consumer association
- Since, the sale consideration for each flat was less than Rs. 1 crore, this Commission lacked the pecuniary jurisdiction to entertain the complaint.
The Commission inter alia held that the Complainant Association is registered under the Societies Registration Act. Once a voluntary consumer association is registered in the aforesaid manner, it will be deemed to be a recognized consumer association unless it is a voluntary association of the consumers. By referring to the objectives of the mentioned Association, the Commission held that such an organization, qualifies as a consumer association as its membership is voluntary and it is registered under the Societies Registration Act. Therefore, the complainant is a recognized consumer association in terms of the explanation below section 12 of the CPA.
In many instances, it becomes impossible for an individual consumer to sustain legal battles. The NCDRC has clarified two vital options available to the groups of consumers while instituting consumer complaints against the service providers. The judgments discussed above advance the cause of the Act, which is to empower the consumers against the powerful and resourceful builders.
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