08 Jun 2121

The cause of action to approach the Forum arises only when the Internal Grievance Redressal Cell does not redress the grievances and that the Forum and the Ombudsman has erred in assuming that the cause of action arises only when the legal injury is suffered - Bombay High Court

Case : Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited -(MSEDCL) v. M/s RSR Mohota Spinning & Weaving Mills Limited and Ors. Civil Writ Petition No.7900 of 2017

Court : Bombay High Court

Bench : Justice Sunil B. Shukre and Justice Avinash G. Gharote

Decided on : 08 Jun 2121

The Relevant Statutes

Regulation 6.6 of the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission ( Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum and Electricity Ombudsman) Regulations, 2006

Section 42 of The Electricity Act, 2003

Regulations 14 and 15 of Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (Standards of Performance of Distribution Licensees, Period for giving Supply and Determination of Compensation) Regulations, 2005.

Brief Facts and Procedural History

1. The Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited submitted a petition under Regulation 14 and 15 of the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (Standards of Performance of Distribution Licensees, Period for Giving Supply and Determination of Compensation) Regulations, 2005 seeking approval for levy of voltage surcharge to consumers who are supplied power at a voltage lower than that prescribed as per SOP Regulations.

2. Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission by an order, pending a detailed study and approval by the Commission of the levy of voltage surcharge, as an interim relief, permitted levy of voltage surcharge of 2% of additional units to be billed for supply to the consumers at volt lower than that specified in the SOP Regulations, till further orders.

3. Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission issued a clarification stating that the additional 2% voltage surcharge on consumers on Express feeder had not been permitted for any period before 05.03.2010 and this levy with the retrospective effect was not permissible.

4. The respondent herein was charged with the voltage surcharge of 2% additional units billed to it for the period April 2010 to November 2012, which is paid.

5. The respondent approached the Superintending Engineer, Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited, Wardha and objected to the levy of surcharge and seeking a waiver. Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited replied rejecting the plea of waiver of the surcharge as raised by the respondent.

6. A grievance was raised by the respondent regarding the voltage surcharge as paid by it, for the above period before the Intern Grievance Redressal Cell(IGR) disputing its liability to pay the same. The Internal Grievance Redressal Cell rejected the grievance.

7. The challenge to the above rejection by the Internal Grievance Redressal Cell was raised before the Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum, as constituted under Section 42(5) of the Electricity Act, 2003.

8. The forum by a majority dismissed the challenge on the ground of limitation, as the respondent had not approached before the expiry of 2 years, from the cause of action, which according to the forum was 9/11/2010, the date of the clarificatory order by Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission.

9. The Electricity Ombudsman set aside the order of the Forum holding that the cause of action, had arisen on 1/6/2015 the rejection of waiver of surcharge by the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited and therefore, the respondent had approached the Forum on 30/1/2017 (in fact on 16/1/2017 as per the date on the application), the application was well within time and therefore, set aside the order of the Forum and directed refund of the full amount of 2% surcharge paid by the respondent with interest thereon at the bank rate.

10. Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited filed Writ Petition No. 7900 of 2017 challenging the decision of the Electricity Ombudsman, whereupon noticing the discord as indicated above, the present reference has been made.

The Issues of the Case

Whether the absence of limitations to the approach the Internal Grievance Redressal Cell, a consumer would be justified in approaching the Internal Grievance Redressal Cell within a reasonable period?

Whether the nature of limitations in Regulation 6.6 of the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission( Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum and Electricity Ombudsman) Regulations, 2006 for admitting grievance of a consumer is a directory and made for facilitating the convenience of the parties or mandatory having force of law?

The Observations of the Court

1. The reference arises out of the judgment of Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd. and another vs. Jawahar Shetkari Soot Girni Ltd. -2019 (1) Mh.L.J. 342, in which it has been held that the cause of action to approach the Forum, as constituted under Section 42 (5) of the Electricity Act, 2003 shall be the sufferance of the legal injury and the consumer has to complete his litigation journey within two years, and noting that the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum and Electricity Ombudsman) Regulations, 2006, do not provide for limitation to approach the Internal Grievance Redressal cell as constituted under Regulation 6.1 of the Regulations, 2006 concluded, that if complete inr lodges his grievance with the Internal Grievance Redressal cell within a reasonable time and if the grievance is not satisfactorily redressed within two months prescribed he cannot be non suited on the premise that the entire litigation journey was not complete in 2 years, meaning thereby that in such scenario it would not be open for the distribution licensee to contend that the application before the Forum was not lodged within two years from the sufferance of the legal injury.

2. A contrary view had been taken in Writ Petition No.1650 of 2012 ( Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited through its Executive Engineer and another vs. Electricity Ombudsman, Nagpur and another) holding that since there is no time limit provided for approaching the Internal Grievance Redressal Cell it was expected of the consumer to lodge his complaint with the Internal Grievance Redressal Cell within a reasonable time from the establishment of the Internal Grievance Redressal Cell.

3. In M/s Hindustan Petrolium Corporation Limited vs. Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co. Ltd. and other 2012 SCC OnLine Bom 66, it has been held that the cause of action to approach the Forum arises only when the Internal Grievance Redressal Cell does not redress the grievances and that the forum and the Ombudsman erred in assuming that the cause of action arises when the legal injury was suffered.

The Decision held by the Court

The Honourable Bombay High Court order the matter to be placed before the respective Benches, for the decision on their merits, in light of the answers to the questions given above.

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