The Supreme Court has recently held that a beneficiary of a statutory welfare scheme is entitled to the same accountability from the statutory authorities as that of a consumer who has hired or availed of service, by invoking the remedies under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 as “A ‘consumer’ includes not only a person who has hired or availed of service but even a beneficiary of a service.”
The question before the Supreme Court was whether a construction worker who was a beneficiary under a scheme formulated under the Rajasthan Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Rules in 2009 could qualify as a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Section 2(d) of the Consumer Protection Act 1986?
The Court said, “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.”
On a reading of various provisions, the Court added that the services rendered by the Welfare Board to the beneficiaries were not provided free of charge so as to constitute an exclusion from the statutory definitions contained in the Consumer Protection Act 1986. It was also found that the welfare fund was created to meet the expenses of the Board in the discharge of its statutory functions; towards payment of salaries, allowances and remuneration and for meeting the expenses on objects and for purposes authorized by the Act. In this backdrop, the Court pointed out that the Board was entrusted with specific functions which fell squarely within the definition of the expression ‘service’ within the meaning of Section 2(1)(o) of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
The Bench comprising of Justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi appended that the provisions contained in the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 were to be construed in a purposive manner.