The top court was hearing an appeal filed by SGS India Ltd challenging an order passed by NCDRC which directed the company to pay Rs.65.74 lakh with interest
Supreme Court of India. Credit: PTI Photo
Onus of proof of deficiency in service is on the complainant under the Consumer Protection Act, the Supreme Court Wednesday said while setting aside an order of the apex consumer body –NCDRC — directing a company to pay Rs 65.74 lakh with interest.
A bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian said if a complainant approaches the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) without any proof of deficiency, the opposite party cannot be held responsible for deficiency in service.
“The onus of proof of deficiency in service is on the complainant in the complaints under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986,” the bench said.
The top court was hearing an appeal filed by SGS India Ltd challenging an order passed by NCDRC which directed the company to pay Rs.65.74 lakh with interest.
The appellant company is a testing, inspection, and certification company that tests the quality and quantity of several products.
The complainant company Dolphin International Ltd engaged SGS India Ltd for inspection of groundnut procured for the purpose of exporting the same to Greece and the Netherlands.
The appellant was responsible for carrying out the inspection of samples and further certified in respect of different parameters of the groundnut.
As per the complainant, SGS India Ltd carried out the inspection and analysis of hand-picked and selected peanuts which were to be exported to Greece. The peanuts were of two qualities – Bold and Java and the Inspection Certificate of quantity, quality, weight, and packing certificates were issued.
When the consignment reached Greece, the complainant sent a communication to SGS India Ltd in respect of 20 full container loads stating that peanut count size in 11 full container loads was disputed.
A similar inspection was carried out in respect of other containers for shipment to the Netherlands which reflected a higher level of Aflatoxin, a naturally occurring byproduct of mold that affects many crops
The NCDRC found that the appellant has not led any evidence in respect of the contention that the quantity of Aflatoxin in peanuts is affected by various extraneous factors i.e., weather, moisture, humidity, temperature, and storage conditions.
On the basis of the said fact, the Commission returned a finding that the appellant was grossly negligent and deficient in service as the count of Java-type peanuts and content of Aflatoxin was more than what was specified.
The apex court said that the onus of proof that there was a deficiency in service is on the complainant but in the case before it, the complainant has not produced the best evidence in support of its contention.
“If the complainant is able to discharge its initial onus, the burden would then shift to the respondent in the complaint. The rule of evidence before the civil proceedings is that the onus would lie on the person who would fail if no evidence is led by the other side.
“Therefore, the initial burden of proof of deficiency in service was on the complainant, but having failed to prove that the result of the sample retained by the appellant at the time of consignment was materially different than what was certified by the appellant, the burden of proof would not shift on the appellant. Thus, the Commission has erred in law to draw an adverse inference against the appellant,” the bench said.
The apex court said SGS India Ltd cannot be held responsible for the excess content of Aflatoxin.
“The complainant has not produced the best evidence which they were expected to produce in respect of the test results of the samples sent by the appellant to the port of destination.
“There could be a deficiency of service only if the complainant was able to prove that the certificate issued by the appellant at the time of dispatch and the samples sent to the complainant or his agents are materially different,” the bench said.
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