Supreme Court on ‘Personal Liberty’- L&T Finance vs Pramod Kumar Rana

November 2, 2023
Supreme Court Judgement

By Devika Mehra and Avik Gopal

“Life without liberty is like a body without spirit.”- Kahlil Gibran

A quote that perfectly summarizes the situation of a person when is deprived of his freedom and personal liberty. Our Constitution has discussed the notion of Personal Liberty in the Part III of the Constitution under Article 21, it states, ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.’

Over the years, Indian jurisprudence has witnessed the evolution of the meaning of personal liberty. One of the initial cases that discussed the aspect of personal liberty was the AK Gopalan Judgement[1] wherein the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that personal liberty was applicable to physical freedom. This restricted the ambit of personal liberty to literal interpretation. However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Kharak Singh v. State of U.P and Ors.[2] expanded in the meaning of Personal Liberty and held that, this Right under Article 21 includes safeguarding an individual’s private life and all other residual freedoms extending beyond the physical restraint. This was in clear departure from the position as declared in the AK Gopalan Judgement.

Subsequently, in Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India[3] the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s seven judge bench unanimously interpreted personal liberty in terms beyond the literal meaning of mere animal existence.

L & T Finance Ltd. vs Pramod Kumar Rana: Summary

In the instant matter, in the year 2018, a consumer complaint was filed by Pramod Kumar Rana (hereinafter referred to as the Complainant) against M/s. Paramount Villas Pvt. Ltd. & Anr. (Hereinafter referred to as the Opposite Party No. 1) and L&T Finance (hereinafter referred to as the Opposite Party No. 2).

It was submitted by Opposite Party No. 1 to the Hon’ble National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (Hereinafter referred to as National Commission) that the said dispute has been settled between the Parties. Subsequently, the Complainant alleged that there was coercion involved in the settlement and it was not out of free will, hence bad in law.

This prompted the National Commission to direct Mukesh Aggarwal, Director of Opposite Party No. 1 and Dinanath Mohandas Dubhashi, Director of Opposite Party No. 2 to appear in person, either in physical hearing or through video conferencing on the next date of hearing to explain the situation and clarify their position.

On the due date, Opposite Party No. 1, appeared through video conferencing but the Director, Opposite Party No. 2 did not remain present in-person as directed, but appeared through authorized representatives and the counsel before the National Commission. Similarly, on subsequent hearings too Opposite Party No. 2 did not remain present before the Commission personally, after which the National Commission issued Bailable warrants against him by further directing that he may be produced before the National Commission.

Against the order of the National Commission requiring physical presence and issuance of bailable warrants, the Opposite Party No. 2 appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court heard all the Parties and noted that:

  1. The authorized representatives and the Counsel of Director, Opposite Party 2 remained present throughout the proceedings.
  2. The allegations of force and coercion in entering into the settlement are serious in nature and can be said to be interfering in the administration of justice, there were no specific allegations against the Director of Opposite Party No. 2.
  3. “Bailable warrants are to be issued as a last resort and only in a case where it is found that the opponent parties are not cooperating at all and that they are avoiding appearance before the National Commission deliberately and/or they are not represented at all either through their authorized representative or through their counsel”

Thus, the bench quashed and set aside the orders directing the Director of Opposite Party No. 2 to personally remain present through physical mode or through video conferencing and the subsequent order issuing bailable warrants against him.

Critical Analysis

The instant matter touches very crucial points in the development of consumer law jurisprudence in India. The settled principle of law relating to curtailing of physical liberty is famously given by Hon’ble Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, that, ‘bail is the rule, jail is the exception’.[4] This has been reiterated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Sanjay Chandra vs CBI.[5] Over the period various Courts in India have delivered a series of judgments upholding the right to freedom and liberty of people where they have held that issuing an arrest warrant should be the last resort of a Court.[6]
The Hon’ble Court in the present case held, “It cannot be disputed that free access and unfettered right to approach/justice, as permissible by law, is inbuilt in our judicial system where rule of law prevails. Any attempt to impede or obstruct the course of justice, not to speak of exercising any coercion against anybody, who is before the court or authority in order to seek justice, cannot be lightly taken or be countenanced with.”

However, careful cost benefit analysis of the issuance of a warrant is to be done by a Court after applying judicial mind. In the present case, the Director of the Opposite Party no. 2 did not appear in response to the Summons by National Commission but his authorized representatives/Counsel were in regular appearance. In the absence of any specific allegations against the Director, it was unlikely that his presence would be indispensable to serve the interests of justice.

Furthermore, the Hon’ble Supreme Court avoided attempting to answer whether quasi-judicial bodies such as the National Commission, wherein the nature of proceeding is summary, have the sanctioned power to issue bailable warrants. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in this matter observed that, “it will be open for the National Commission to pass further order after giving opportunity to both the opposite parties to represent their case on the allegations made by the original complainant recorded in the order dated 26.08.2021. At this stage, the appellant herein – original opposite party No.2 be permitted to be represented through his authorized representatives and through his counsel. However, it will be open for the National Commission to require the presence of Shri Dinanath Mohandas Dubhashi, Director of the appellant company, if required, in future.”

[1] AK Gopalan v. State of Madras, 1950 SCC 228

[2] 1964 SCR (1) 332

[3] 1978 SCR (2) 621

[4] State of Rajasthan vs. Balchand Baliya 1978 SCR (1) 535

[5] (2012) 1 SCC 40

[6] Dalbir Singh vs Sanjay Kumar (CR-3216-2021 (O&M)), Surendra Dubey vs State of Chhattisgarh 2017 SCC OnLine Chh 1074, Dashrathbhai Dahyabhai Chavda v. State of Gujarat (Special Crim. Appl. No. 9135 of 2022)

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