From time immemorial the Supreme Court of India has given life and meaning to the Indian Constitution as per the needs of the ever-evolving society. Be it the elaborating on the doctrine of the basic structure of the constitution, expanding the scope of the right to life to include the right to privacy, or repealing obsolete laws like section 377, the Apex Court has always risen to the occasion to keep a check on the relevancy and validity of laws as per the societal standards. One important aspect of this interpretation includes the applicability of a law. A law may be applied either prospectively ie from the date it has come into force or retrospectively ie covering all the acts before the law’s coming. Deciding on the applicability becomes important to determine the rights, liabilities, and redressal mechanism for the people amongst other things.
To understand this applicability, we have to first dwell on types of legislation. There are basically two types of legislations- Declaratory/ Explanatory ie an act which is generally passed to supply an obvious omission or to clear up doubts as to the meaning of the previous act, and Legislations creating new rights and obligations which as the name suggests provides for certain new rights and obligations. While the former is construed to have retrospective applicability as it makes only procedural changes in the law, the latter has been classified as being applied prospectively for the protection of the right to a fair trial for all people as it makes substantial changes in the position of the law. Now we shall analyze the Neena Aneja v. Jai Prakash Associates Ltd to further do than in-depth study regarding the various laws regarding the enforceability of legislation, numerous precedents by the courts on this subject, and the legislative intent and object of the act to understand the rationale behind the applicability of the doctrine of retrospective legislation and its exceptions.
Every legislation has a repeal clause that states the extent of applicability of the said law after coming in of a new law or an amendment. A repeal clause can generally be divided into 3 parts- 1) which deals with the repealing of the act, 2) Non-obstante clause which states that any act which is not inconsistent with the new law remain to be valid, and 3) the saving clause read with section 6 of the general clauses act which states the exception to the repealing clause. Section 6 basically states that the repeal of an act shall not affect its previous operations including any substantial rights, liabilities accrued, and pending proceedings to give effect to the same. It is the applicability of these laws which was to be decided in the case of Neena Aneja.
The bone of contention of the case was whether the changed pecuniary jurisdiction under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 was to apply to all the cases that had been filed according to the 1986 act ie the previous legislation thus requiring a change of forum as per the new act. The petitioner argued that the 2019 act should have a prospective effect as the right to appeal is a substantial right that became vested in a person on the date of filing of the case ie lis commens. Since the erstwhile legislation was in force when the complaint was filed the rights and obligations that accrued on that date would stand saved. To support the same, they presented various precedents a few of which shall be highlighted herein. It was held in Mohd Idris v. Sat Narain that the proceedings at the old forum could be saved in the absence of a provision of transfer of pending actions under the repealing legislation. It was further highlighted in Hitendra Vishnu Thakur v. State of Maharashtra that even a procedural statute should not be applied retrospectively where the result would be to create new liabilities and disabilities. The petitioner further argued that the right to appeal or proceedings is vested and when lis commences all rights and obligations get crystallized on that date as held in Commissioner of Income Tax, Orissa v. Dhadi Sahu. Further, it was held in SEBI v. Classic Credit that change of forum could be substantial or procedural, It may well be procedural when the remedy was yet to be availed of but where the remedy had already been availed of (under an existing statutory provision), the right may be treated as having crystallized into a vested substantive right.
However, the respondent’s main submission was that while the right to appeal was indeed a substantive right, the right to a particular forum was a procedural right and thus was not covered by the general provisions of section 6 of the general clauses act. They relied on the judgment given in Maria Cristina De Souza Sodder v. Amria Zurana Percira Pinto wherein the apex court had held that that though the right to appeal was a substantive right such a right would not be affected by the repealing act unless it is expressly taken away. It also cited New India Insurance Co. Ltd vs Smt. Shanti Misra wherein it was held that the general rule in cases of mere change of forum is that it operates retrospectively and that a person had a vested right of action but not vested right of the forum.
The apex court after carefully perusing all the submissions went a step further and looked into the background and the object of formation of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 to get a fair idea regarding the legislation. The court after examining the above concluded that it would be difficult to attribute that Parliament wanted a retrospective application of the new legislation as its whole purpose of enacting the Act of 2019 to protect and support consumers would be defeated as retrospective applicability would cause financial hardship, uncertainty, and expense in the conduct of consumer litigation. It further stated that such a course of action will result in thousands of cases being transferred across the country, from the NCDRC to the SCDRCs and from the SCDRCs to the District Commission, which would be irrational.
Thus, the apex court once again cleared the air regarding the interpretation of the applicability of the legislation.
This article has been written by Muskan Dang, IVth year.
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