G.R. Luthra, J. (Chairman) -
(1.) THE point for determination at present is as to what are the rights of a complainant, whether an individual consumer or a registered consumer association or a trade association, which files a complaint under Section 10(a)(i) or 36B(a) of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1969, and as to whether such complainant is entitled to pursue the complaint, fully participate in the proceedings by way of producing evidence, cross-examining the witnesses of the respondent, administering of interrogatories, making application for discovery of documents, etc., or he has merely to watch and has only a right of addressing arguments if so permitted by the Commission and it is the Director-General of Investigation and Registration who has to have full charge of the proceedings and pursue the same.
(2.) The aforesaid point arose in the present enquiry (UTPE No. 151 of 198'6) as well as in similar enquiries bearing UTPE Nos. 152 and 153 of 1986 on account of an objection of counsel for the respondents to the effect that according to the provisions of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act and Regulation 73(5) of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission Regulations read with Rule 13A of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Rules. It is only the Director-General who is entitled to pursue the entire enquiry and the complainant does not have any right to participate, unless the enquiry, instead of being a public interest one, is to resolve an inter se dispute between an individual or a group of individuals on the one hand and another person as respondent on the other hand. In this respect, the following order was passed by Shri D.C. Aggarwal who singly constituted the Commission on July 23, 1987 :
"The case today is fixed for filing of the reply to the notice of enquiry. Learned counsel for the respondent has informed me that in terms of the order of the last date some copies of documents have been made available only this morning. In the circumstances, full reply to the notice of enquiry on merits has not been prepared and only a reply containing preliminary objections has been filed. As now, copies of the documents have been supplied to the respondent's learned counsel, it is directed that a full reply on the merits as well shall be filed before the next date of hearing with advance copy to each of the complainants and to the Director-General. I have made it clear that since it is a complaint case, it has to be decided as to who will have the primary responsibility, whether the Director-General or the complainant, to pursue this enquiry before the Commission. Either the complainant itself or the Director-General on behalf of the complainant will be allowed to take responsibility for the due conduct of the case. Once one of them takes charge of the case, whether the Director-General or the complainant, then the responsibility can be shifted to the other only, when he is not taking due interest in the conduct of the proceedings. The case now will be called on September 24, 1987, for further proceedings in the light of the reply to the notice of enquiry to be filed by the respondent."
On September 24, 1987, Dr. S. R. Khanna, who is the convener of the consumer organisation "VOICE" and also representing other complainants in UTPE Nos. 151 to 153 of 1986, stated that the complainant had every right to fully participate in the proceedings and to be heard in that respect. Then, learned counsel for the respondent, Shri C. L. Sareen, submitted that the complainant had no such right. The case was then adjourned to December 3, 1987, and, thereafter, to January 6, 1988. On January 6, 1988, the following order was passed :
"Learned counsel for the respondent and Shri S. S. Kumar, advocate, who are in a similar capacity in other cases, rely upon some judgments of the Commission on the point fixed for arguments today. It is first of all necessary that those judgments should be before us, so that we may be in a position to appreciate the same. Hence, a list of those judgments be given by Shri Sareen and Shri S. S. Kumar, advocates, within two weeks and then copies of the list shall be given to the complainant as well as counsel for the Director-General and the date of arguments will be fixed. The case will be taken up on January 28, 1988.
Prima facie, as it appears to us, a complainant who comes with a complaint as of right under Section 10 or Section 36B of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act, has every right not only to file the complaint but to prosecute and do everything in his power for proving his case. Therefore, the respondent shall file objections in writing showing as to how and why the complainant is debarred from taking full part in the proceedings. Those objections should be filed along with the list of the judgments mentioned above.
Rejoinder by the Director-General be filed on January 28, 1988."
(3.) BEFORE we proceed further, it is necessary to give some facts as to how the enquiries were started.;