In a never-before decision, the apex consumer court of the country has asked a consumer to pay for a long-distance evidence-gathering session. The consumer: Kunal Saha, who has alleged that wife Anuradha died because of medical negligence.
In what is being seen as a double blow to Saha, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has ordered that the evidence-gathering session — to be spread over three days in November — be shifted to the Calcutta District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum (Unit I). One of Saha’s persistent pleas has been to shift every case away from courts in Bengal, as he feels he will not get justice here.
The twin decisions, paving the way for the first cross-examination by video-conferencing between Saha’s Columbia residence and the court in Alipore, were taken by a full bench of the national commission in New Delhi on Tuesday. It was Saha who set off the process that will culminate in these never-before occurrences. His legal team pleaded with the apex consumer court on September 10, seeking a directive for the start of the cross-examination schedule, as Saha was in New Delhi at that time.
The court, instead, asked Saha to suggest alternatives. One of the suggestions — cross-examination by video-conferencing –— caught the court’s fancy.
The dates were fixed for November 5, 6 and 7 but the legal team employed by the three doctors accused of medical negligence (Sukumar Mukherjee, Baidyanath Haldar and Abani Raychaudhuri) pleaded for a deferment as Calcutta High Court was hearing a criminal case on the same matter on a day-to-day basis.
Besides, Saha’s evidence was almost entirely based on depositions by witnesses recorded during the trial in the chief judicial magistrate’s court — the same case is now being heard in the high court — the doctors’ lawyers said, explaining why it would be difficult for them to fight both cases (one in the consumer court in Delhi and the other in Calcutta High Court) simultaneously. “All three of us are based in Calcutta,” the team told the court.
The five-member apex consumer court then directed that all cross-examination be conducted in Calcutta itself, with city forum president P.N. Bhaduri, as commissioner, recording all the evidence. But Bhaduri would have to be paid Rs 5,000 for every sitting and he would have to be paid by Saha, his legal team was told.
Saha was also directed to arrange for video-conferencing between the courtroom in Calcutta and his Columbia residence. But all this would have to be done either in the morning (before the consumer started its work) or the evening (after the court’s working hours), as the commission did not want to disrupt normal forum activities.
Saha, contacted in Columbia, said: “I will be spending about $ 3 a minute,” estimating his expenses. He claimed a victory in the court refusal to adjourn the hearing.