Compensation payable for not complying with court order | Business Standard Column

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The National Commission held that flouting of the High Court’s directions constituted a deficiency in service for which Bhupati could seek remedy under the Consumer Protection Act

A Block Land Development Officer had initiated legal proceedings for the acquisition of the ancestral property standing in the name of one Brajgopal Mitra. The court passed a vesting order by which the ownership got transferred to the state. Mitra appealed against the order and later also filed a revision, but did not succeed. So, he filed a writ petition before the Calcutta High Court. He succeeded in getting the vesting order set aside. The court directed that the property should revert to the owner.

Brajgopal expired during the pendency of the litigation. His son Bhupati Ranjan Mitra then inherited his property. Bhupati approached the Block Development Officer for registering his name in the land records to give effect to the High Court’s order. Since no action was taken, he sent four reminders over a period of time, but these, too, went unheeded.

Bhupati applied under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to seek information regarding the action taken on his application. The Public Information Officer informed him that his application for registration of his name in the land records had been sent to the Block Land & Land Record Officer, Kaliaganj on July 7, 2015 for compliance. Bhupati then applied for further information from the Kaliaganj Land Record Officer, who responded that the land did not fall within his territorial jurisdiction. Bhupati was directed to the Itahar Land Officer who replied that the record was not traceable. Since this reply was unsatisfactory, Bhupati appealed against it, and was informed that he should approach the officer who would be dealing with the subject.

Aggrieved at being made to run around in circles, Bhupati filed a complaint before the District Forum. The Land Record Officers contested the case, contending that a consumer complaint could not be filed either for non-compliance of the High Court order, or for a dissatisfactory answer to an RTI application. The factual aspect regarding the failure to register the name in the land record was not disputed.

The District Forum allowed the complaint and awarded Rs 1 lakh as compensation for mental harassment and Rs 20,000 as litigation cost. The Land Record officials challenged the order, but the appeal was dismissed by the West Bengal State Commission. The government then approached the National Commission through a revision petition.

In its order of June 29, 2021, delivered by the bench of C. Visawanath and Justice Ram Surat Ram Maurya, the National Commission observed that the directions of the High Court given on July 12, 2006, had not been complied with till date. It held that false excuses put forth by the Kaliaganj Land Records Officer to shirk his duty and flout the court’s directions, constituted a deficiency in service for which Bhupati was entitled to opt for alternative remedy under the Consumer Protection Act. The revision was dismissed as being devoid of merit, and the order in Bhupati’s favour was upheld.

The writer is a consumer activist

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