Consumer Tribunals are creatures of a statute and derive their power from the express provisions of that statute. It is now settled law that District Consumer Forums and State Commissions have no power to recall or review their own orders [See, (2011) 9 SCC 541]. There is no provision in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (“Act”) granting such power. By virtue of an amendment to Section 22 of the Act, however, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (“NCDRC”) has the power to review any order made by it, when there is an error apparent on the face of record. In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 30A of the Act, the NCDRC, with the previous approval of the Central Government, has made the following further regulations, amongst others, that form part of the Consumer Protection Regulations, 2005 (“Regulations”): “Regulation 14 (iii): An application for review under sub-section (2) of Section 22 shall be filed to the National Commission, within 30 days from the days of the order or receipt or the order, as the case may be; … Regulation 15 (1): it shall set out clearly the grounds for review. (2) unless otherwise ordered by the National Commission, an application for review shall be disposed of by circulation without oral arguments, as far as practicable between the same members who have delivered the other sought to be reviewed.”
In Surendra Mohan Arora v. HDFC Bank Ltd., 2014 (5) SCALE 631, it was adventurously argued that “Regulation 15 is contrary to the principle of audi alteram partem” and thereby “ultra vires of Section 22 of the said Act”. It was further contended that Regulation 15 festers inequality between consumer-litigants some of whom are heard in open court while others are denied the privilege, at the discretion of the NCDRC. Regulation 15 was thus, sought to be struck down. The SC has held, however, that the Regulations have been passed in “accordance with law”; and that “no mischief has been done in framing the said Regulations”. What is striking, nonetheless, is that Hon’ble Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose found “no substance” at all in the aforesaid arguments advanced and noted too that the Appellant filed the Petition, “only to curtail the rights of the National Commission”. The question: “does orality in advocacy admit of an abbreviated appearance and a discretionary eclipse, even when it has been preceded by a sufficient oral session” has been an important one and cannot be said to be without substance. It at least prompted a brilliantly worded, though flawed, judgment by Hon’ble Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in P.N. Eswara Iyer v. The Registrar, Supreme Court of India, AIR 1980 SC 809, where similar review procedures of the SC were tested.