The member paying maintenance to the Society for the services provided by it, is a Consumer under Consumer Protection Act and could approach the Consumer Cort for grievance redressal of deficiency of service or unfair trade practice. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Secretary, Thirumurugan Co-operative Agricultural Credit Society v. M. Lalitha through LRs. And Ors. has held that the Complaint filed by members against Society is maintainable under the Consumer Protection Act.
The Apex Court observing that section 3 of the Act specifically provides that the Act is in addition to and not in derogation to any other law, held the Complaint to be maintainable. While the Tamil Nadu Co-operative Societies Act, 1983 specifically barred the jurisdiction of Civil Court for dispute with regards to members and society, the Supreme Court held ‘The decision in Dhulabhai case (supra) also does not help the appellant. The present case is not one where the question to be considered is as to the exclusion of jurisdiction of civil court in view of the provisions of Section 90 read with Section 156 of the Act. Provisions of 1986 Act, as already made clear above, apply in addition to the other provisions available under other enactments. It follows that the remedies available under the 1986 Act for redressal of disputes are in addition to the available remedies under the Act. Under the 1986 Act we have to consider as regards the additional jurisdiction conferred on the forums and not their exclusion. In Dhulabhai case consideration was whether the jurisdiction of the civil court was excluded. Propositions (1) and (2) indicate that where the statute gives a finality to the orders of the special tribunals the jurisdiction of civil courts must be held to be excluded if there is adequate remedy to do what the civil courts would normally do in a suit. Further, where there is an express bar of the jurisdiction of the court, an examination of the scheme of the particular Act to find the adequacy or the sufficiency of the remedies provided may be relevant but is not decisive to sustain the jurisdiction of the civil court. The remedies that are available to an aggrieved party under the 1986 Act are wider. For instance in addition to granting a specific relief the forums under the 1986 Act have jurisdiction to award compensation for the mental agony, suffering, etc., which possibly could not be given under the Act in relation to dispute under Section 90 of the Act. Merely because the rights and liabilities are created between the members and the management of the society under the Act and forums are provided, it cannot take away or exclude the jurisdiction conferred on the forums under the 1986 Act expressly and intentionally to serve a definite cause in terms of the objects and reasons of the Act, reference to which is already made above. When the decision of Dhulabhai’s case was rendered the provisions similar to 1986 Act providing additional remedies to parties were neither available nor considered. If the argument of the learned counsel for the appellant is accepted it leads to taking away the additional remedies and forums expressly provided under the 1986 Act, which is not acceptable.
The question of conflict of decisions may not arise. If the parties approach both the forums created under the Act and the 1986 Act, as indicated in the case of Fair Air Engineers (P) Ltd. (supra), it is for the forum under the 1986 Act to leave the parties either to proceed or avail the remedies before the other forums, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. Thus, having regard to all aspects we are of the view that the National Commission was right in holding that the view taken by the State Commission that the provisions under the Act relating to reference of disputes to arbitration shall prevail over the provisions of the 1986 Act is incorrect and untenable.’
This comes as a great respite to members of Co-operative Socieites who face several issues with the Management Committee and Boards of the Society for not functioning properly by way of providing compensatory quick redressal mechanism against unfair trade practice and deficiency in service by Society.