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Criminal acts like fraud, cheating could not be decided by consumer forum: Supreme Court

"The "deficiency in service", as well settled, has to be distinguished from criminal acts or tortious acts," the top court said.

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The Supreme Court has remarked that cases involving tortious acts or criminality like fraud or cheating cannot be decided by the Consumer Forum, and deficiency in service has to be distinguished from criminal acts. A bench of Ajay Rastogi and Bela M Trivedi passed these remarks on March 27 while setting aside an order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Circuit Bench at Chennai, dated February 1, 2007.

The Chairman and the Manager of the City Union Bank Limited have preferred the present appeal against the judgment and order dated February 1, 2007 passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Circuit Bench at Chennai, in which it upheld the order dated December 23, 2004 passed by the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Chennai. “The proceedings before the Commission being summary in nature, the complaints involving highly disputed questions of facts or the cases involving tortious acts or criminality like fraud or cheating could not be decided by the forum or commission under the said act,” the top court said.

“The “deficiency in service”, as well settled, has to be distinguished from criminal acts or tortious acts,” the top court said. “There could not be any presumption with regard to the wilful fault, imperfection, shortcoming, or inadequacy in the quality, nature, and manner of performance in service, as contemplated in Section 2(1)(g) of the Act. “The burden of proving the deficiency in service would always be upon the person alleging it,” the top court said.

The complainant in the case has alleged that City Union Bank had transferred two demands totaling Rs 8 lakh to the wrong account in the year 1996. The top court noted there were certain disputes going on between the directors of the said company. “Some disputes were going on amongst the directors of the company, and if one of the directors allegedly had committed fraud or cheating, the employees of the bank could not be held liable if they had acted bona fide and followed the due procedure,” the top court said.

The top court said the complainant had miserably failed to discharge his burden to prove that there was a deficiency in service on the part of the employees of the appellant bank within the meaning of Section 2(1)(g) of the Act and that his complaint deserved to be dismissed. “The impugned orders passed by the State Commission and the National Commission are therefore quashed and set aside.” The appeal stands and is allowed accordingly,” the top court said.

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