Supreme Court of India
Sunil Kumar Maity vs State Bank Of India on 21 January, 2022Author: Hon’Ble Dr. Chandrachud
Bench: Hon’Ble Dr. Chandrachud, Hon’Ble Ms. Trivedi
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL 432 OF 2022
(Arising out of SLP (CIVIL) No. 21711 of 2019)
SUNIL KUMAR MAITY …. APPELLANT
STATE BANK OF INDIA AND ANR. …. RESPONDENT
BELA M. TRIVEDI, J.
1. Leave granted.
2. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (hereinafter referred to
as “the National Commission”) on 07th June 2019 had passed the following
order in the Revision Petition No. 483 of 2018 filed by the respondent-SBI.
“The revision petition is allowed. The complaint is
dismissed, with liberty to the complainant to approach
a competent civil court as per the law.
It goes without saying that, if the complainant chooses
to bring action in a civil court, he is free to file an
application under section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963,
and, in such contingency, the chronological facts and
proceedings in the consumer protection fora would be
material and relevant towards making such
Signature Not Verified
Digitally signed by
Learned counsel for the revisionist State Bank of India
submits that it will not press the issue of limitation if
action is brought by the complainant in a civil court.
Reasoned judgment to follow.”
3. The National Commission passed impugned judgement on 14th June, 2019,
allowing the said Revision Petition. Being aggrieved by the said judgement and
order, the appellant (original complainant) has filed the present appeal.
4. The short facts giving rise to the present appeal are that the appellant-
complainant had filed the consumer case being no. 08 of 2014 before the
Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Purba Medinipur (hereinafter referred to
as “the Consumer Forum”) alleging inter-alia that the appellant i.e., Sunil Kr.
Maity had a saving account number 01190010167 with the respondent-bank
since January, 2000. On 24.02.2010, the said account number was changed to
number 10140478732. On 15.09.2012, the appellant went to deposit a sum of
Rs. 500/- in the said account, when a staff of respondent-bank informed him that
the account number had again been changed and wrote account number being
32432609504 on his passbook. The said amount was deposited in the said
account number. Thereafter, on 16.01.2013, appellant deposited a cheque being
no. 670013 for Rs. 3,00,000/- drawn on SBI of the said Branch issued by one
Prabir Pradhan having an SBI account number 030608507950. When the
appellant went to update his passbook on 11.12.2013, he noticed that his
passbook showed the balance of Rs. 59/- only, though he had not made any
transaction between 16.01.2013 to 11.12.2013. On the enquiry having been
made, the respondent-bank informed the appellant that there was another
customer by the name Sunil Maity (the respondent no. 2 herein) whose account
number was 32432609504 and the said account number was wrongly given to
the appellant whose name was Sunil Kr Maity on 15.09.2012. The said Sunil
Maity (respondent no. 2) on 25.01.2013 and 28.01.2013 had withdrawn the sum
of Rs. 1,00,000/- and Rs. 2,00,000/- respectively from the said account number.
The appellant-complainant therefore wrote letters to the respondent-bank but in
vain. He thereafter filed the complaint before the Consumer Forum against the
respondent-SBI and the said Sunil Maity.
5. Both the respondents had entered their appearance and filed their respective
replies to the complaint filed by the appellant-complainant. The Consumer
Forum after appreciating all the documents filed by the appellant as well as by
the respondents in the light of their pleadings, allowed the complaint vide the
order dated 14.05.2014.
6. Being aggrieved by the said order, the respondent-bank had preferred the First
Appeal being No. 784 of 2014 before the State Consumer Disputes Redressal
Commission, West Bengal (hereinafter referred to as State Commission), which
by the order dated 25 October, 2017 partly allowed the appeal. The State
Commission while confirming the rest of the order passed by the Consumer
Forum, modified it to the extent that the order for fine @ Rs. 100/- per diem was
struck off. The State Commission after a closer scrutiny of the documents on
record, observed in the said order as under:
“On closer scrutiny of the documents on record,
following facts emerge.
First, we find that there was complete parity in the
signature being put on the deposit slip pertaining to the
disputed cheque for an amount of Rs. 3,00,000/- vis-à-
vis specimen signature of the Respondent No. 1
contained in the official record of the bank.
Secondly, documents on record show that the
Respondent No. 1 signs in English; whereas, ‘Sunil
Maity’, account-holder of saving account no.
32432609504 signs in Bengali. Significant here to note
that while depositing the cheque for Rs. 3,00,000/-, the
depositor signed in English and the name of the
depositor was mentioned as ‘Sunil Kr. Maity’.
Thirdly, it seems that the Respondent No. 1 voluntarily
disclosed the source wherefrom did he get the said
cheque. On the other hand, the Respondent No. 2,
stated to be a salaried person, has not uttered any word
in this regard. Since, Rs. 3.00.000/- is quite a
considerable sum, reluctance of the Respondent No. 2
to disclose the source wherefrom did he receive the
said cheque, if at all received, does raise eyebrows.
Fourthly, it is only natural that one would write his
name properly while filling up the deposit slip. There is
no reason to believe that ‘Sunil Maity’ (Respondent No.
1) would write his name in the deposit slip as ‘Sunil
Fifthly, since banks quite meticulously check the name,
account no., amount, date etc. before/while crediting
proceeds of cheques/demand drafts etc., it was but
natural that while the disputed cheque was issued in the
name of ‘Sunil Kr. Maity’, the Respondent No. 2 would
impress upon the issuer of the said cheque to correctly
write his name as ‘Sunil Maity’ by issuing another
cheque. The amount being quite substantial, the
Respondent No. 2 could hardly afford such leaving
anything to chances.
Sixthly, there is nothing to show that Respondent No. 2
can write his name in English. Therefore, questions
survives, how he signed the deposit slip while
depositing the cheque in English.
Seventhly, it appears from the WV submitted by the
appellant that when the Respondent No. 1 lodged
complaint with it, the Appellant, on several occasions,
asked the Respondent No. 2 to meet its Branch
Manager. However, on one pretext or the other, the
Respondent No. 2 avoided meeting him. An honest
person never fight shy of proving his bona fide.
Lastly, the Respondent No. 2 has not placed on record
any counter part of deposit slip to show that the said
amount were indeed deposited by him.
All these emerging facts induce us to hold that the
disputed cheque indeed belonged to the Respondent No.
Given that it is virtually impossible for one to know the
account number of another person, and more so, as
passbook is stated to be updated by Group ‘D’ staff of
the bank, it would be myopic not to believe that the goof
up created at the end of the Appellant itself. Besides
this, since the Appellant made a great blunder while
crediting the amount of the cheque to the account of
Respondent No. 2, we feel, the Appellant must own up
due responsibility in this regard.”
7. The respondent-bank being aggrieved by the said order had preferred the
Revision Petition before the National Commission under Section 21 (b) of the
Consumer Protection Act (hereinafter referred to as “the said Act”). The
National Commission allowed the said revision application vide the impugned
order as stated hereinabove.
8. It is pertinent to note that pending the revision application, the National
Commission had called for a report on the whole matter from the SBI.
Accordingly, a report dated 19th March, 2019 was filed by the Regional
Manager of the SBI. Relying upon the said report, the National Commission
allowed the revision application filed by the bank, by observing inter-alia that
though revisional jurisdiction of the Commission under section 21(b) of the Act,
1986 has a defined purview and ambit, it does allow interference if grave
misappreciation of evidence or superficial appraisal of a case is discernible on
the part of the two fora below. This court is at a loss to understand as to how the
National Commission could have sought for a report at the revisional stage, that
too from an officer of the party which already had an opportunity to submit all
the documents necessary for the purpose of defending itself before the
Consumer Forum, and as to how such a report in the form of an additional
evidence produced at the revisional stage could be relied upon, in respect of
which the two fora below had no opportunity to deal with.
9. It is needless to say that the revisional jurisdiction of the National Commission
under Section 21(b) of the said Act is extremely limited. It should be exercised
only in case as contemplated within the parameters specified in the said
provision, namely when it appears to the National Commission that the State
Commission had exercised a jurisdiction not vested in it by law, or had failed to
exercise jurisdiction so vested, or had acted in the exercise of its jurisdiction
illegally or with material irregularity. In the instant case, the National
Commission itself had exceeded its revisional jurisdiction by calling for the
report from the respondent-bank and solely relying upon such report, had come
to the conclusion that the two fora below had erred in not undertaking the
requisite in-depth appraisal of the case that was required. In the opinion of the
Court, both the State Commission as well as the Consumer Forum had
elaborately appreciated the documents on record and passed the reasoned orders.
The report that tries to absolve the respondent-bank of its liability is based on
surmises and conjectures as it abstrusely and without evidence holds that the
bank has every reason to believe that wrong account number was intentionally
inserted by the appellant himself for reasons best known to the appellant or on
account of negligence by the appellant by not keeping the passbook in his safe
and proper custody. The suppositions are contradictory as well as incredulous
and fanciful. The appellant did not know the second respondent and would not
have known his account number unless given to him by a bank officer. There
was no way that the appellant would have known that the second respondent,
namely Sunil Maity had an account in the same branch. No sane person would
deposit cash or cheque meant to be deposited in his account in an account
number belonging to another person with similar name. On the other hand, the
bank should have been extra cautious given the fact that accounts of the
appellant, Sunil Kumar Maity, and the second respondent, Sunil Maity, were
with the same bank branch. What is rather surprising is that the National
Commission for setting aside the findings and conclusion recorded by the
District and State Forum, simply reproduced the report by one of the officers of
the party in litigation with the appellant. The National Commission has not
adverted and delved into the sound reasoning given by the State Commission as
10. Though a party can produce additional evidence at the appellate stage, the same
has to be within the four corners of law, that is as contemplated in order-41,
R.27. The party has to establish that notwithstanding the exercise of due
diligence, such evidence was not within its knowledge or could not even after
due diligence, be produced by it at the time when the decree appealed against
was passed. Apart from the fact that there is a vast difference between the
exercise of appellate jurisdiction and the revisional jurisdiction, no such
application was filed by the respondent-bank before the National Commission.
Under the circumstances, calling for the report by the National Commission on
its own from the officer of the bank was absolutely unwarranted.
11. Further, it is also well settled legal position1 that requirement of leading detailed
evidence could not be a ground to shut the doors of any forum created under the
Act like the Consumer Protection Act. The anvil on which entertainability of a
complaint by a forum under the Act is to be determined, is whether the
1 CCI Chambers Coop. Hsg. Society Ltd. vs. Development Credit Bank Ltd.
(2003) 7 SCC 233
questions, though complicated they may be, are capable of being determined by
12. The National Commission therefore has grossly erred in observing in the
impugned order that the appellant-complainant would be at liberty to seek
remedy in the competent Civil Court and that if he chooses to bring an action in
a Civil Court, he is free to file an application under Section 5 of the Limitation
Act, 1963, recording the statement of Ld. Counsel for the SBI that it will not
press the issue of limitation if action is brought by the complainant in a Civil
Court. Such an observation/order passed by the National Commission is in utter
ignorance of the provisions of the Limitation Act, in as much as Section 5 of the
Limitation Act does not apply to the institution of civil suit in the Civil Court.
Be that as it may, the impugned order passed by the National Commission solely
relying upon the suo-moto report called for from the respondent-bank during the
pendency of the revision application, being highly erroneous, deserves to be set
aside and is accordingly set aside. The order passed by the State Commission is
restored. The appeal stands allowed accordingly.
……………………………J. [SANJIV KHANNA]
NEW DELHI …………………………J.
21.01.2022 [BELA M. TRIVEDI]