Haryana State Electricity Board Vs. Mam Chand  Insc 244 (28 April 2006)
Pasayat & S.H. Kapadia
out of SLP (C) No.18892 OF 2005] KAPADIA, J.
consumer beneficial jurisdiction extendable to assessment and quantification of
duty (including penalty) under the Electricity Act, 2003, is the question which
arose before the State Commission under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
the industrial revolution and development in the international trade and
commerce, there has been a substantial increase of business and trade, which
resulted in a variety of consumer goods appearing in the market to cater to the
needs of the consumers.
globalization and with free market economy the possibility of deficiency in the
services rendered warranted enactment of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, as
amended from time to time. This law has been enacted for the welfare of
consumers and to protect them from their exploitation for which the said 1986
Act has made provisions for the establishment of Commissions for settlement of
consumer disputes and matters connected therewith. In the case of Skypak
Couriers Ltd. etc. v. Tata Chemicals Ltd. etc., (2000) 5 SCC 294 this court has
held that "the Commissions, under the Act, are quasi-judicial bodies to
provide speedy and simple redressal to consumer disputes and for that purpose,
they have been empowered to give relief of a specified nature and in an
appropriate way, to award compensation." (emphasis supplied by us) The key
question which arises for determination in this civil appeal is : whether
disputed and complicated questions of fact and law arising under the provisions
of the Electricity Act, 2003 concerning assessment of unauthorized use of
electricity, tampering of meters, interfering with calibration or metering of
electric current resulting in theft of electricity under section 126 and
section 135 of the Electricity Act, 2003 could be decided in a summarily manner
by the Consumer Forum or whether in such cases the complainant should be
directed to approach the competent authorities under the said Electricity Act,
herein was having small power electric connection.
connection was checked by the junior engineer on 24.11.94. On checking, the
junior engineer found the seals of the meter to be broken. On 25.11.94 notice
was issued to the respondent calling upon him to deposit Rs.10,150/- as per the
rules of the Nigam. The respondent did not raise any dispute whatsoever with
the Nigam. In fact, he submitted an application to deposit the said amount in
two instalments. He was allowed to deposit the said amount in instalments.
1995, however, the respondent filed Complaint Case No.42/95 before the District
Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Ambala against the Nigam alleging that his
electric supply was illegally disconnected without showing any cause for
complaint was filed under section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986
(hereinafter referred to as, 'the said 1986 Act'). In the complaint it was
alleged that the concerned meter was not checked by the Nigam and, therefore,
the respondent was not liable to pay the demanded penalty as claimed by the Nigam.
The respondent herein denied tampering of the meter as alleged by the Nigam.
According to the respondent, as a consumer he had suffered financial loss of
Rs.50,000/- on account of the Nigam making a false allegation of theft against
written statement filed on behalf of the Nigam, the allegations made by the
respondent herein as a complainant came to be denied. According to the written
statement, notice was given to the respondent herein as per the rules of the Nigam
and the respondent was called upon to pay Rs.10,150/- as the connected load was
of 10 B.H.P. According to the written statement the respondent herein never
complained against the demand. He did not make any application making grievance
against the Nigam. On the contrary, he had requested the Nigam to allow him to
deposit the said amount in two instalments. According to the Nigam, the demand
was raised on account of breaking of seals. In the written statement it was
submitted by the Nigam that breaking seals of the meter amounted to theft on
account of which the Nigam had suffered losses.
judgment and order dated 7.7.1997 the said District Forum allowed the complaint
and directed the Nigam to refund the aforestated amount of Rs.10,150/- with
interest at 18% per annum from the date of deposit till payment. However, the Nigam
was ordered to pay Rs.500/- by way of costs.
by the said judgment and order passed by the said District Forum, the Nigam
preferred First Appeal No.411 of 1997 before the State Consumer Disputes Redressal
Commission, Haryana, Chandigarh under section 15 of the said 1986 Act. By a
non-speaking order and without discussing the merits of the case the said State
Commission dismissed the First Appeal preferred by the Nigam.
by the decision given by the said State Commission, the Nigam preferred
Revision Petition No.2154 of 1999 before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal
Commission, New Delhi. The revision was dismissed by
National Commission without reasons.
the Nigam has come to this court by way of special leave petition.
basic contention advanced on behalf of the Nigam before us was that the State
Commission has been constituted under Section 15 of the said 1986 Act as the
first statutory appellate authority and consequently the State Commission had
erred in dismissing the said appeal by a non-speaking order. Before us, it is
further urged that in this case the check report duly signed by the respondent
in Hindi indicated that the seals on the meter had been tampered for which the
respondent was ready to pay the penalty as indicated by the above facts. This
aspect is important because all the three courts below proceeded on the basis
that mere breaking of the seals on the meter is not a conclusive proof of theft
of electric energy. This aspect has not been appreciated by the State
Commission as well as by the National Commission. This circumstance coupled
with the fact that the respondent had asked for time to deposit in instalments
also showed that the respondent had notice of the demand raised by the Nigam.
behalf of the respondent reliance is placed on the judgment of the Consumer
Forum and particularly on paragraphs 10, 11 and 12.
urged on behalf of the respondent that mere breaking of the seals on the meter
did not constitute a conclusive proof of theft of electric energy. It is urged
that the State Commission as well as the National Commission have indicated in
their impugned orders that they were in agreement with paragraphs 10, 11 and 12
of the decision of the Consumer Forum and therefore no interference was called
for by this Court under Article 136 of the Constitution.
this case we are concerned with the scope and extent of the beneficial consumer
jurisdiction, particularly with regard to technical subjects falling under
provisions such as the Electricity Act, 2003.
Section 2(c) of the 1986 Act "complaint" is defined to mean
allegation in writing made by a complainant that the service provider has
charged for the services, a price in excess of the price fixed under the law
for the time being in force [See: Section 2(c)(iv) ]. Under section 2(d)
"consumer" is defined to mean any person who hires or avails of any
services for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and
partly promised. Under section 2(g) of the said 1986, Act the word
"deficiency" is defined to mean any fault, imperfection, shortcoming
or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance which is
required to be maintained by or under any law for the time being in force or
under a contract or otherwise in relation to any service. The word "goods"
is defined under section 2(i) to mean goods as defined in the Sale of Goods
Act, 1930. "Service" also defined under section 2(o) of the said 1986
Act to mean service of any description which is made available to users in
connection with banking, financing, insurance, transport, processing, supply of
electrical energy, entertainment etc. Therefore, supply of electric energy by
the Nigam falls under section 2(o) of the said 1986 Act. However, the question
which arises for determination and which has not been decided is : whether the
beneficial consumer jurisdiction extends to determination of tortious acts and
liability arising therefrom by the Consumer Forum. In this connection, it is
urged on behalf of the Nigam that assessment of the duty for unauthorized use
of electricity, tampering of meters, distribution of meters and calibration of
electric current are matters of technical nature which cannot be decided by the
Consumer Forum. It is urged that under the Electricity Act, 2003 the
jurisdiction of the civil court is excluded. In this connection reliance was
placed on section 145 of the said 2003 Act under which the jurisdiction of the
civil court to entertain suits in respect of matters falling under Section 126
is expressly barred.
are matters of assessment. According to the Nigam, the said 2003 Act is a
complete code by itself and therefore in matters of assessment of electricity
bills the Consumer Forum should have directed the respondent to move before the
competent authority under the Electricity Act, 2003 read with rules framed thereunder
either expressly or by incorporation.
view, the contentions advanced on behalf of the Nigam require deeper
consideration by the State Commission. None of the above points have been
discussed by the State Commission in this case. Disputes of this nature are
repeatedly arising before this court.
this stage, we do not wish to express any opinion. In our opinion, for the
foregoing reasons the civil appeal filed by the Nigam deserves to be allowed
and is hereby allowed.
accordingly direct the State Commission to decide the matter on facts of this
case in the light of the provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003 read with the
rules framed thereunder.
impugned orders passed by the State Commission and National Commission are
hereby set aside and the matter is remitted to the State Commission for fresh
disposal of the complaint in accordance with law and on the points formulated
appeal stands disposed of accordingly with no order as to costs.