Beneficiary of a statutory welfare scheme is entitled to remedies under the Consumer Protection Act. Public accountability is a significant consideration which underlies the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 1986
ABCAUS Case Law Citation
ABCAUS 3290 (2020) (03) SC
Important case law relied upon by the parties:
Bihar School Examination Board vs Suresh Prasad Sinha
Regional Provident Commissioner vs Shiv Kumar Josh
Ministry of Water Resources vs Shreepat Rao Kamde
Canara Bank vs United India Insurance Company Limited
National Campaign Committee for the Central Legislation on Construction Labour vs Union of India
In the instant case the issue to be adjudicated was whether a construction worker who registered under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and a beneficiary of the Scheme made under the Rules framed thereunder is a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
The respondent had obtained a Labour Beneficiary Identity Card under the Construction Workers Welfare Board from the appellants after depositing the registration fee and annual contribution.
The respondent submitted an application to Commissioner of Labour seeking to avail financial aid under the scheme in anticipation of the marriage of his daughter. However, the application was rejected on technical defects i.e inadequate papers/certificates.
The respondent instituted a consumer complaint before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. The complaint was dismissed. In appeal, the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission set aside the order of the District Forum and directed the appellants to pay the assistance to the respondent together with compensation and expenses and interest of 18 per cent.
The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission affirmed the decision,overruling the objection that the respondent is not a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of the Consumer Protection Act 1986. The National Commission, however, reduced the rate of interest from 18 percent.
Aggrieved, the Joint Labour Commissioner had filed appeal before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
The submission urged before the Court, were that the beneficiaries of the service pay such a meagre amount as contributions that they cannot be regarded as ‘consumers’ within the meaning of Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
The issue assumed significance as the outcome of the appeal was to determine whether a beneficiary of a statutory welfare scheme is entitled to exact accountability by invoking the remedies under the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court noted that a two Judge bench of this Court had observed that monies which have been earmarked for construction workers had not been spent.
Beneficiary of a Statutory welfare scheme is covered by Consumer Protection Act
The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that under the 1996 Act, every building worker who is registered as a beneficiary is entitled to the benefits provided by the Board from the fund. Every registered building worker is required to make a contribution on non payment of which for one year or more the worker ceases him to be a beneficiary. However on payment of arrears and upon the satisfaction of the Board the registration is to stand restored.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that the Board has been entrusted with specific functions which squarely fall within the definition of the expression ‘service’ under the Consumer Protection Act. The expression ‘service’ has been defined in the widest possible terms to mean ‘service of any description which is made available to potential users’. The workers registered under the provisions of the 1996 Act are beneficiaries of the schemes made by the Board. In view of the statutory scheme, the services which are rendered by the Board to the beneficiaries are not services which are provided free of charge so as to constitute an exclusion from the statutory definition contained the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that the true test is not whether the amount which has been contributed by the beneficiary is adequate to defray the entire cost of the expenditure envisaged under the scheme. So long as the service which has been rendered is not rendered free of charge, any deficiency of service is amenable to the fora for redressal constituted under the Consumer Protection Act 1986. The provisions contained in the Consumer Protection Act 1986 must be construed in a purposive manner.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court stated that the Parliament has provided a salutary remedy to consumers of both goods and services. Public authorities like the appellants constituted under an enactment of Parliament are entrusted with a solemn duty of providing welfare services to registered workers. The workers who are registered with the Board make contributions on the basis of which they are entitled to avail of the services provided in terms of the schemes notified by the Board. Public accountability is a significant consideration which underlies the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court said that the evolution of jurisprudence in relation to the enactment reflects the need to ensure a sense of public accountability by allowing consumers a redressal in the context of the discharge of non-sovereign functions which are not rendered free of charge.
Accordingly, the Petition was dismissed.
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