(1.) These appeals are directed against common judgment and order dated March 22, 2012, passed by National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi (for short "NCDRC") in Original Complaint Nos. 89 of 1995 and 90 of 1995, whereby the Commission has dismissed the complaints of the appellants, filed under Section 23 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, as against Respondent Nos. 1, 2 and 4. However, the complaints were partially allowed as against respondent No. 3 M/s. Zip Code, 2615, Elmhurst Lane, Portsmouth, VA 23701, USA, for an amount of Rs.20,82,902.40 in favour of appellant Virender Khullar, and Rs.15,27,461.76 in favour of appellant Girish Chander, with interest at the rate of 12% per annum with effect from April 01, 1995 till the date of payment.
(2.) Brief facts of the case are that the appellants-complainants entrusted consignments containing men's wearing apparels in December 1994 to Respondent No. 1 American Consolidation Services Ltd., Akruti Trade Centre, 402, 4th Floor, Andheri (East), Mumbai (hereinafter referred to as "ACS"), and cargo receipts were issued to them by Respondent No. 1. As per the cargo receipts so issued, the consignments were to the order of Respondent No. 2 Central Fidelity Bank, Richmond VA, USA. Respondent No. 1 on its part handed over the consignments to respondent No. 4 M/s. Hoeg Lines, Lief Hoegh & Co., A/S Oslo, Norway/M/s. American President Lines Limited, Tarde Plaza 2nd Floor, 414 Veer Savarkar Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai, for delivery of the consignments at the port of destination. It is alleged that in the Bill of Lading issued by the shipping carriers, name of consignee was changed from Central Fidelity Bank to Coronet Group Inc. besides there being several other changes in the name and description of the shipper as Cavalier Shipping Co. When payment was not received till March, 1995, the appellants/ complainants made enquiry about the consignments. After servicing legal notice, appellant Virender Khullar filed a complaint for an amount of Rs.35,31,601.15 in respect of 300 cartons containing men's apparels through cargo receipt Nos. 34307, 34308 and 34309, and appellant Girish Chander filed the complaint for an amount of Rs.29,17,844.76 for 220 cartons containing men's apparels sent through cargo receipt Nos. 34116, 34117 and 34118, before NCDRC, New Delhi. Initially complaints were filed only as against Respondent No. 1, i.e. American Consolidation Services Ltd. (ACS).
(3.) Respondent No. 1 contested the complaints and pleaded that Respondent No. 1 received the complainants' goods on behalf of the buyer/consignee, i.e. Zip Code Inc. which was part of Coronet Group Inc. as its agent. It is further pleaded that there was no payment made by the appellants/ complainants for the service provided by Respondent No. 1, nor there was any contract between the complainants and Respondent No. 1 for shipment of the goods. The receipt, custody and forwarding of the goods of the complainants were governed by the provisions of bailment agreement as mentioned in the cargo receipts. The bailment agreement provided that from and after the delivery by Respondent No. 1 to a carrier in accordance with the instructions of the consignee or other cargo owner, the sole responsibility and liability for the care, custody, carriage and delivery of goods was that of the concerned carrier. Respondent No. 1 was under no liability whatsoever in respect of any failure on the part of the consignee or any other party. According to Respondent No.1, complainants' claim, if any, can lie only as against the principal, i.e. buyer/consignee who appears to have not made payment to the complainants for the value of the cargo. Since Respondent No. 1 acted only as an agent of the consignee, i.e. Zip Code Inc., a subsidiary of Coronet Group Inc, and acted only as a consolidator and forwarder (not a carrier), it has no liability as provided in Section 230 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, on behalf of the principal. The carrier of the goods in question was Respondent No. 4 Hoegh Lines/American President Line Limited, who issued the relevant Bills of Lading covering the goods. The appellants were duly informed by Respondent No. 1 about the delivery of consignment to Coronet Group Inc on surrendering of all the original Bills of Lading. Lastly, it is pleaded that it is not a case of negligent act or careless handling of the shipment by Respondent No. 1.;