JUDICIAL DISCIPLINE- A PARAMOUNT FEATURE FOR JUDICIAL INSTITUTIONS
It is well settled law as per Article 141 of our constitution that Judgements made by the Supreme court are binding on all lower courts of the country.Hence the laws laid down by the Supreme court are binding on all High courts of the country and accordingly law laid down by the High court of a particular state are binding on all lower courts/tribunals of that particular state.But inspite of strong view taken by the apex court about judicial discipline ,violation of basics by the lower courts/tribunals is yet in substantial increase.Lower courts and tribunals refuse to follow and accept the verdict of law by the larger benches giving reason of some minor differences in the facts .This amounts to disrespect to constitutional ethos and indiscipline of this kind can have grave impact on the judicial institutes. Three judges bench of the Apex court while adjudicating the matter of Official liquidator v Dayanand  10 SCC  1 SCC[L&S]943 raised its concern on several such judgements namely U.P. SEB V Pooran Chandra Pandey  11 SCC 92 and criticized this kind of disobeyance and also directed that such judgements not to be treated as obiter dictum. Not only this, bench even criticized the judgement in which two judges bench differed with each other. In the case of State of U.P. V Jeet Bisht [ SCC p 623,para100] Justice Sinha also wrote ;-
“One bench of this court does not sit in appeal over the other bench particularly when it is a coordinate bench .It is equally inappropriate for us to express total disagreement in the same matter as also in similar matters with the directions and observations made by the larger benches.”
In the light of the above proposition of law ,I may refer to the landmark judgements delivered by the Hono’ble High court of Delhi in the year 2007on the point of charging more than MRP by the hotels and restaurants in the matter of the Federation Of Hotels and Restaurants Association Of India & Ors Versus Union Of India & Ors. and also again in the year 2009 in the matter of Delhi Gymkhana Club Ltd V Union Of India again elaborating the scheme and law in detail.The question raised in the year 2007 in the case of Federation Of Hotels & Restaurants Association Of India & Ors V/S Union Of India was as to whether it is permissible for the hotel to charge their customers any price above the maximum retail price mentioned on the mineral water bottle .The court held in clear terms that charging price for mineral water in excess of the MRP printed on the packaging ,in the provision of service to the customers does not violate any of the provisions of the standards of weights and measurement act as it does not constitutes a sale or transfer of the commodity to them .Billing by hotelier/restaurant for service and goods is one and indivisible.It is further elaborated that a customer when enters a hotel or restaurant ,it is not simply to make a purchase of these commodities .His direct purpose of going therein is more than this-it is to enjoy its ambience ,hence held NO for courts to interdict the sale of bottled mineral water.
Again in the year 2009,the same issue came up before the Hon’ble H.C. of Delhi in the case of Delhi Gymkhana Club Ltd V/S Union Of India.Here the issue was about the price printed on the cold drink and objection on charging more than the price printed thereon.It was held that food items and beverages ,packaged or in any other form for the consumption in a comfortable atmosphere of the club not to be treated as sale to the members .Price at which they are to be provided is clearly mentioned on the menu.
One of the consumer forums in Delhi made a loud pronouncement recently that the defence of enjoyment of the ambience of the restaurant is not available to the opposite party in view of the various judgements of the state commission that water is a commodity which is altogether distinguishable from other eatables and therefore mineral water cannot be sold at more than the price at which it is ordinarily sold in the market and that charging more than MRP constitutes unfair trade practice.Moti Mahal Restaurant in Delhi is fined for that to the tune of Rs 50,000/-
Amazing!It was only mineral water in the issue in the matter of Federation Of Hotels & Restaurants Association Of India & Ors before the Ho’ble High court of Delhi in the year 2007 wherein in clear terms it was held by the high court of Delhi –“charging price for mineral water in excess of the MRP printed on the packaging ,in the provision of service to the customers does not voilate any of the provisions of the Standards Of Weights And Measurement act as it does not constitutes a sale or transfer of the commodity to them “. Law on the issue repeated in Delhi Gymkhana case also in the year 2009.We do not find an inch of difference in the facts of the case before high court of Delhi and facts before District forum.Price of Bottled water is in question in both the places.Consumer is terribly confused to see such orders . District forum being the lowest consumer redressal court is bound to follow superior court’s verdicts and maintain the judicial discipline.In all circumstances,water when purchased,consumer is sitting in the restaurant ,commanding the employees of the hotel/restaurant,attended by them,enjoying all comforts irrespective of the fact whether he ordrs for more items or not.Then how can he escape from paying for all this treatment and ambience which is surely not available to him standing on the roadside at a corner buying water from a paanwala.
The above observations made by the courts in their various judgements makes it ample clear a few things-
- Eatables consumed under a comfortable atmosphere ,enjoying the ambience and other facilities in the hotel ,restaurant or in the club cannot be separated for billing for their price ,services and other taxes leveled by the Govt.
- A restaurant provides many services, in addition to the supply of food. He provides furniture and furnishings, linen, crockery and cutlery, and in the eating places of today he may add music and a specially provided area for floor dancing and in some cases a floor show. Once a person enters the hotel/restaurant /club,he orders for the desired item,waiter comes,takes order,serve him on the table.Charges taken for any order include all these facilities whether it is water or a pinch of salt.
Consumer forums have been given plenty of discretionary power with the object to protect the interest of consumers.Its true that every interpretation is to be made keeping in view the intention of the Act .Hence wherever two interpretations are available ,the one which favours the consumers must be chosen .But it should not threaten the whole system of judicial institutions and disturb the judicial discipline. Rights of others is equally important and ignoring the superior court’s verdicts may raise loud alarm which may at the end of the day harm the credibility of consumer forums.
Dr Prem Lata
Member ,consumer forum