17 June 2024


Supreme Court

The Joint Labour Commissioner and Registering Officer and Ors. Vs. Kesar Lal




'Consumer' includes not only a person who has hired or availed of service but even a beneficiary of a service

In facts of present case, the Respondent obtained a Labour Beneficiary Identity Card on 29th December, 2011 under the Welfare Board from the Appellants after depositing the registration fee of Rs. 25 and an annual contribution of Rs. 60. The identity card was valid for a period of one year, from 29th December, 2011 to 28th December, 2012. Seeking to avail financial aid under the scheme, the Respondent submitted an application on 6th November, 2012 in anticipation of the marriage of his daughter which was to take place on 24th November, 2012. Nine months after the application was submitted, the Joint Commissioner of Labour, issued an order of rejection, finding technical defects as a ground for the decision.

The Respondent instituted a consumer complaint before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. The complaint was dismissed. In appeal, the State Commission set aside the order of the District Forum and directed the Appellants to pay an amount of Rs. 51,000 to the Respondent together with Rs. 10,000 as compensation, Rs. 5,000 for expenses and interest of 18 per cent per annum from the date of the institution of the complaint. The National Commission by its judgment 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 per annum to 9 percent per annum.

The neat issue which has to be adjudicated upon in present appeal is whether a construction worker who is registered under the Building and Other Construction Workers' (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and is a beneficiary of the Scheme made under the Rules framed pursuant to the enactment, is a 'consumer' within the meaning of Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.

The expression 'beneficiary' is defined in Section 2(b) to mean 'a building worker registered under Section 12 of Act of 1996. The expression 'fund' is defined in Section 2(k) to mean 'the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Fund of a Board constituted under Sub-section (1) of Section 24'.

The Board has been entrusted with specific functions which have been defined in Section 22 of Act of 1996. These functions squarely fall within the definition of the expression 'service' within the meaning of Section 2(1)(o) of Act, 1986. 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 exception in Section 2(1)(o) of Act, 1986 is a service which is rendered free of charge. The workers who are registered under the provisions of the Act of 1996 are beneficiaries of the schemes made by the Board. Upon registration, every worker is required to make a contribution to the fund at such rate per month as may be prescribed by the State government. The fund into which the contributions by persons who are registered under the Act are remitted, comprises among other sources, the contributions made by the beneficiaries. The fund is applied inter alia for meeting the expenses incurred to fulfill the objects and purposes authorized by the legislation.

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 in Section 2(1)(o) and Section 2(d)(ii) of Act, 1986. 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 Act does not require an enquiry into whether the cost of providing the service is entirely defrayed from the price which is paid for availing of the service. A 'consumer' includes not only a person who has hired or availed of service but even a beneficiary of a service. The registered workers are clearly beneficiaries of the service provided by the Board in a statutory capacity.

The provisions contained in Act, 1986 must be construed in a purposive manner. Parliament has provided a salutary remedy to consumers of both goods and services. Public authorities such as the Appellants who have been 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 Act, 1986.

There is no reason to interfere with the ultimate decision of the State Commission to award the claim, subject to the modification of the rate of interest by the order of the National Commission. Appeal dismissed.

Tags : Scheme Beneficiary Direction Legality

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