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Monday, July 22, 2013

Retd. Employee can not file a complaint before the consumer forum for his retirement benefits as he is not a consumer nor the dispute is consumer disputes comes under the jurisdiction of consumer forum = though the complaint was not maintainable as the District Forum did not have jurisdiction to entertain the complaint of the appellant as he was not a “consumer” and the dispute between the parties could not be redressed by the said Forum, but in view of the fact that the opposite party (State) neither raised the issue of jurisdiction before the District Forum nor preferred any appeal, order of the District Forum on the jurisdictional issue attained finality= 2(d) ‘consumer’ means any person who- (i) buys any goods for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any user of such goods other than the person who buys such goods for consideration paid or promised or partly paid or partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment when such use is made with the approval of such person, but does not include a person who obtains such goods for resale or for any commercial purpose; or (ii) [hires or avails of] any services for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any beneficiary of such services other than the person who [hires or avails of] the services for consideration paid or promised, or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payments, when such services are availed of with the approval of the first-mentioned person; [but does not include a person who avails of such services for any commercial purpose;= by no stretch of imagination a government servant can raise any dispute regarding his service conditions or for payment of gratuity or GPF or any of his retiral benefits before any of the Forum under the Act. The government servant does not fall under the definition of a “consumer” as defined under Section 2(1)(d)(ii) of the Act. Such government servant is entitled to claim his retiral benefits strictly in accordance with his service conditions and regulations or statutory rules framed for that purpose. The appropriate forum, for redressal of any his grievance, may be the State Administrative Tribunal, if any, or Civil Court but certainly not a Forum under the Act. 17. In view of the above, we hold that the government servant cannot approach any of the Forum under the Act for any of the retiral benefits. 18. Mr. Hooda has made a statement that all the dues for which the appellant had been entitled to had already been paid and the penal rent has also been dispensed with and the State is not going to charge any penal rent. If the State has already charged the penal rent, it will be refunded to the appellant within a period of two months. In view thereof, we do not want to pass any further order. In view of the above, the appeal stands disposed of. Before parting with the case, we record our appreciation for the assistance rendered by Shri Prateesh Kapur, learned Amicus Curiae. He is entitled for full fees as per the Rules.

published in http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgst.aspx?filename=40564
                                 REPORTABLE


                       IN THE SUPREME COURT OF  INDIA
                        CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION


                        CIVIL APPEAL NO. 5476 OF 2013
                (Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No. 11381 of 2012)




      Dr.                Jagmittar                Sain                Bhagat
      ...Appellant




                                   Versus




      Dir.       Health        Services,        Haryana        &        Ors.
      ...Respondent








                                  O R D E R

      1.    Leave granted.


      2.    This appeal has been preferred against the  judgment  and  order
      dated 26.11.2009 passed by the National  Consumer  Disputes  Redressal
      Commission, New Delhi (hereinafter referred to as  the   ‘Commission’)
      constituted under  the  Consumer  Protection  Act,  1986  (hereinafter
      referred to as the ‘Act’), in Revision Petition No. 1156 of 2007,  MA.
      No. 291 of 2008; and MA. No.  450  of  2008,  by  way  of  which,  the
      Commission has dismissed the claim of the appellant  as  well  as  the
      review petition seeking certain reliefs.
      3.    The facts and circumstances giving rise to this appeal are that:
      A.    The  appellant  joined  Health  Department,  of  the  respondent
      State, as Medical Officer on 5.6.1953 and took voluntary retirement on
      28.10.1985.  During the period of service,  he  stood  transferred  to
      another district but he retained the  government  accommodation,  i.e.
      Bungalow No. B-8 from 11.5.1980 to 8.7.1981. Appellant claimed that he
      had not been paid all his retiral benefits, and  penal  rent  for  the
      said period had also been deducted from his dues of  retiral  benefits
      without giving any show cause notice to him.


      B.    Appellant made various  representations,  however,  he  was  not
      granted any relief by the State authorities.


      C.    Aggrieved,  the  appellant  preferred  a  complaint  before  the
      District Consumer Disputes  Redressal  Forum,  Faridabad  (hereinafter
      referred to as the `District Forum’) on 5.1.1995 and  the  said  Forum
      vide  order  dated  24.3.2000  dismissed  the  complaint   on   merits
      observing  that  his  outstanding  dues  i.e.  pension,  gratuity  and
      provident fund etc. had correctly been  calculated  and  paid  to  the
      appellant by the State authorities.


      D.    The appellant approached  the  appellate  authority,  i.e.,  the
      State Commission. The State Commission dismissed the appeal vide order
      dated  31.1.2007  observing  that  though  the   complaint   was   not
      maintainable as the  District  Forum  did  not  have  jurisdiction  to
      entertain the complaint of the appellant as he was  not  a  “consumer”
      and the dispute between the parties could not be redressed by the said
      Forum, but in view of the fact that the opposite party (State) neither
      raised the  issue  of  jurisdiction  before  the  District  Forum  nor
      preferred  any  appeal,  order  of   the   District   Forum   on   the
      jurisdictional issue  attained finality. However, there was  no  merit
      in the appeal.


      E.    Aggrieved, the appellant filed Revision  Petition  No.  1156  of
      2007 before the Commission.  The said revision  stood  dismissed  vide
      order dated 1.4.2008 and the review filed by the  appellant  has  also
      been dismissed vide order dated 26.11.2009.
            Hence, this appeal.


      4.    Shri Narendra Hooda, learned Senior  AAG,  Haryana,  has  raised
      preliminary issue of the  jurisdiction  submitting  that  the  service
      matter of a government servant cannot be dealt  with  by  any  of  the
      Forum in any hierarchy under the Act.  Therefore,  the  matter  should
      not be considered on merit at all.  More so, all the outstanding  dues
      of the appellant had been paid, and none of  the  issues  survive  any
      more.


      5.    Shri Prateesh Kapur, learned Amicus Curiae, has raised  a  large
      number of grievances, inter-alia,  that till today the  appellant  has
      not been paid all his retiral benefits as some of his outstanding dues
      have been withheld by the authorities, thus, he is entitled to recover
      the same with interest; whether the Forum was competent  to  entertain
      the complaint ought to have been decided by the District  Forum  first
      as a preliminary issue. It is difficult for a litigant to go  back  to
      any other appropriate Forum after such a long  time.  In  the  instant
      case, the appellant approached the District Forum in 1995, the  matter
      could not be finalised till date, and at such  a  belated  stage,  the
      appellant if asked to approach the other forum, a great hardship would
      be caused to him.


      6.    We have considered the rival submissions made by learned counsel
      for the parties and perused the records.

      7.    Indisputably, it is a  settled legal proposition that conferment
      of jurisdiction is a  legislative  function  and  it  can  neither  be
      conferred with the consent of the parties nor by a superior Court, and
      if the Court passes a decree having no jurisdiction over  the  matter,
      it would amount to nullity as the matter goes  to  the  roots  of  the
      cause. Such an issue can be raised at any stage  of  the  proceedings.
      The  finding  of  a  Court  or   Tribunal   becomes   irrelevant   and
      unenforceable/ inexecutable  once  the  forum  is  found  to  have  no
      jurisdiction.  Similarly,  if  a   Court/Tribunal   inherently   lacks
      jurisdiction, acquiescence of party equally should not be permitted to
      perpetuate and perpetrate, defeating the  legislative  animation.  The
      Court cannot derive jurisdiction  apart  from  the  Statute.  In  such
      eventuality the doctrine of waiver also does not apply. (Vide:  United
      Commercial Bank Ltd. v. Their Workmen, AIR 1951 SC 230; Smt. Nai  Bahu
      v. Lal Ramnarayan & Ors., AIR 1978 SC 22; Natraj Studios (P)  Ltd.  v.
      Navrang Studios & Anr., AIR 1981 SC 537; and Kondiba Dagadu  Kadam  v.
      Savitribai Sopan Gujar & Ors., AIR 1999 SC 2213).


      8.    In Sushil Kumar Mehta v. Gobind  Ram  Bohra  (Dead)  Thr.  Lrs.,
      (1990) 1 SCC 193, this Court, after placing reliance on  large  number
      of its earlier judgments particularly in Premier Automobiles  Ltd.  v.
      K.S. Wadke & Ors., (1976) 1 SCC 496; Kiran Singh v. Chaman Paswan, AIR
      1954 SC 340;  and Chandrika Misir & Anr. v.  Bhaiyalal,  AIR  1973  SC
      2391 held, that a decree without jurisdiction is a nullity.  It  is  a
      coram non judice; when a  special  statute  gives  a  right  and  also
      provides for a forum for adjudication of  rights,  remedy  has  to  be
      sought only under the provisions of that Act and the Common Law  Court
      has no jurisdiction; where an Act creates an obligation  and  enforces
      the performance in specified manner, “performance cannot be forced  in
      any other manner.”

      9.    Law does not permit any court/tribunal/authority/forum to  usurp
      jurisdiction on any ground whatsoever, in case, such a authority  does
      not have jurisdiction on the subject matter.  For the reason  that  it
      is not an objection as to the place of suing;,  “it  is  an  objection
      going  to  the  nullity  of  the  order  on  the  ground  of  want  of
      jurisdiction”. Thus, for assumption of jurisdiction by a  court  or  a
      tribunal, existence of jurisdictional fact is a  condition  precedent.
      But once such jurisdictional fact is found  to  exist,  the  court  or
      tribunal has power to decide on the adjudicatory  facts  or  facts  in
      issue.  (Vide: Setrucharlu Ramabhadra  Raju  Bahadur  v.  Maharaja  of
      Jeypore, AIR 1919 PC 150; State of Gujarat v. Rajesh  Kumar  Chimanlal
      Barot & Anr., AIR 1996 SC 2664; Harshad  Chiman  Lal  Modi  v.  D.L.F.
      Universal Ltd. & Anr., AIR 2005 SC  4446;  and  Carona  Ltd.  v.  M/s.
      Parvathy Swaminathan & Sons, AIR 2008 SC 187).


      10.   The Act was enacted to provide  for  the  better  protection  of
      interest of consumers, such as  the  right  to  be  protected  against
      marketing of goods which are hazardous to life and property; the right
      to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity,  standard
      and price of goods, to  protect  the  consumer  against  unfair  trade
      practices;  and  right  to  seek  redressal  against  an  unscrupulous
      exploitation of consumers, and further to provide  right  to  consumer
      education etc. as is evident from the statement of objects and reasons
      of the Act.


      11.   Section 2 of the Act which is a definition  clause  defines  the
      following as under:
           “2(b) ‘Complainant’ means-
           (i) a consumer; or
           (ii) any voluntary consumer  association  registered  under  the
           Companies Act, 1956 (1 of 1956), or under any other law for  the
           time being in force; or
           (iii) the Central Government or any State Government;
           (iv) one or more consumers, where there are  numerous  consumers
           having the same interest;
           (v)  in  case  of  death  of  a  consumer,  his  legal  heir  or
           representative; who or which makes a complaint;


           2(c) ‘complaint’ means any  allegation  in  writing  made  by  a
           complainant that-
           (i) an unfair trade practice or a restrictive trade practice has
           been adopted by any trader or service provider;
           (ii) the goods bought by him or  agreed  to  be  bought  by  him
           suffer from one or more defects;
           (iii) the services hired or availed of or agreed to be hired  or
           availed of by him suffer from deficiency in any respect;


                       xx         xx         xx


           2(d) ‘consumer’  means any person who-
           (i) buys any goods for a consideration which has  been  paid  or
           promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system
           of deferred payment and includes any user of  such  goods  other
           than the person who buys such goods for  consideration  paid  or
           promised or partly paid or partly promised, or under any  system
           of deferred payment when such use is made with the  approval  of
           such person, but does not include  a  person  who  obtains  such
           goods for resale or for any commercial purpose; or
           (ii) [hires or avails of] any services for a consideration which
           has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or
           under  any  system  of  deferred  payment   and   includes   any
           beneficiary of such services other than the person who [hires or
           avails of] the services for consideration paid or  promised,  or
           partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred
           payments, when such services are availed of with the approval of
           the first-mentioned person; [but does not include a  person  who
           avails of such services for any commercial purpose;


                       xx         xx         xx


           2(g) ‘deficiency’ means any fault, imperfection, shortcoming  or
           inadequacy in the quality,  nature  and  manner  of  performance
           which is required to be maintained by or under any law  for  the
           time being in force or has been undertaken to be performed by  a
           person in pursuance of a contract or otherwise  in  relation  to
           any service;


            2(o) ‘service’ means service of any description which  is  made
           available to potential users and includes, but not  limited  to,
           the  provision  of  facilities  in  connection   with   banking,
           financing,   insurance,   transport,   processing,   supply   of
           electrical or other energy, board or lodging or  both,  [housing
           construction], entertainment, amusement or the purveying of news
           or other information, but does not include the rendering of  any
           service free of charge or under a contract of personal service.”




           Section 11 of  the  Act  deals  with  the  jurisdiction  of  the
      District Forum as:
            “(1) Subject to the other provisions of this Act, the  District
           Forum shall have jurisdiction to entertain complaints where  the
           value of the goods or services and  the  compensation,  if  any,
           claimed [does not exceed rupees twenty lakhs.”


            The aforesaid statutory provisions make it  crystal  clear  that
      the Act is made to deal with the rights of consumers wherein marketing
      of goods, or “services” as defined under the Act have  been  provided.
      Therefore, the question does arise as to whether the Forum  under  the
      Act  can deal with the service matters of government servants.


      12.   In Morgan Stanley Mutual Fund v. Kartick Das, (1994) 4 SCC  225,
      this Court examined the issue as to whether a prospective buyer can be
      “consumer” under the Act, and  held:
            “The consumer as the term implies is one who consumes.  As  per
           the definition, consumer is the  one  who  purchases  goods  for
           private use or consumption. The meaning of the  word  ‘consumer’
           is broadly stated in the  above  definition  so  as  to  include
           anyone who consumes goods or services at the end of the chain of
           production. The comprehensive definition aims at covering  every
           man who pays money as the price or cost of goods  and  services.
           The consumer deserves to get what he pays for in  real  quantity
           and true quality. In every society, consumer remains the  centre
           of gravity of all business and  industrial  activity.  He  needs
           protection from the manufacturer, producer, supplier, wholesaler
           and retailer.


                       xx         xx         xx


               Therefore, it is after allotment, rights may  arise  as  per
           the contract (Article of Association of Company). But  certainly
           not before allotment. At that stage, he is  only  a  prospective
           investor (sic in) future goods……There is no  purchase  of  goods
           for a consideration nor again could he be called  the  hirer  of
           the services of the company for a  consideration.  In  order  to
           satisfy the requirement of above definition of consumer,  it  is
           clear that there must be  a  transaction  of  buying  goods  for
           consideration under Section 2(1)(d)(i)  of  the  said  Act.  The
           definition  contemplates  the  pre-existence  of   a   completed
           transaction of a sale and purchase. If  regard  is  had  to  the
           definition of complaint under the Act, it will be clear that  no
           prospective investor could fall under the Act”.




      13.     In Secretary, Board of Secondary Education, Orissa  v. Santosh
      Kumar Sahoo & Anr., AIR 2010 SC 3553, this Court  resolved  the  issue
      as to whether the Forum under the Act had  jurisdiction  to  entertain
      and allow a complaint filed by a person for correction of his date  of
      birth recorded in the matriculation certificate,  observing  that  the
      impugned order was liable to be set aside  because  all  the  consumer
      forums  failed  to  consider  the  issue  of  maintainability  of  the
      complaint in a correct perspective. Before the District Forum could go
      into the issue of correctness of the date of  birth  recorded  in  the
      matriculation certificate of Respondent 1, it ought to have considered
      whether the so-called failure of the appellant to make  correction  in
      terms of the prayer made by Respondent 1  amounted  to  deficiency  of
      service.
            The court remitted the matter to the District  Forum  to  decide
      the issue of maintainability of the complaint.
      14.    This Court in Bihar School Examination Board v.  Suresh  Prasad
      Sinha, AIR 2010 SC  93,  considered  the  question  as  to  whether  a
      candidate can file a complaint before the District Forum under the Act
      raising any grievance regarding  his  examinations  conducted  by  the
      Bihar School Examinations Board constituted  under  the  Bihar  School
      Examinations Board Act, 1952 and answered it in negative observing  as
      under:
            “The object of the Act is to cover in its net, services offered
           or rendered for a consideration.  Any  service  rendered  for  a
           consideration is presumed to be a  commercial  activity  in  its
           broadest  sense  (including  professional  activity  or   quasi-
           commercial activity). But the  Act  does  not  intend  to  cover
           discharge  of  a  statutory  function  of  examining  whether  a
           candidate is fit to be declared as having successfully completed
           a course by passing the examination. The fact that in the course
           of conduct of the examination, or evaluation of answer  scripts,
           or furnishing of marksheets or certificates, there may  be  some
           negligence, omission or deficiency, does not convert  the  Board
           into a service provider for a  consideration,  nor  convert  the
           examinee into a consumer who can make a complaint under the Act.
           We are clearly of the view that the  Board  is  not  a  ‘service
           provider’ and a student  who  takes  an  examination  is  not  a
           ‘consumer’ and consequently, complaint under the Act will not be
           maintainable against the Board.”


      (See also: Maharshi Dayanand University v. Surjeet Kaur, (2010) 11 SCC
      159).


    15.       In Regional Provident Fund Commissioner v. Bhavani, AIR  2008
        SC 2957,
this Court dealt with the issue as to whether Dr.  Padia's
        submissions regarding the non-applicability of the Act to the  case
        of  the  Regional  Provident  Fund  Commissioner   -   the   person
        responsible for the working of a  Pension Scheme, could  be held to
        be a 'service giver' within the meaning of Section 2(1)(o)  of  the
        Act, as it was neither a case of  rendering  of  free  service  nor
        rendering of service under a contract of personal service so as  to
        bring the relationship between the parties within  the  concept  of
        'master and servant'. The court held:
           “In  our  view,  the  respondent  comes  squarely   within   the
           definition  of  'consumer'  within  the   meaning   of   Section
           2(1)(d)(ii), inasmuch as, by becoming a member of the Employees'
           Family Pension Scheme, 1971, and contributing to the  same,  she
           was availing of the  services  rendered  by  the  appellant  for
           implementation of the Scheme. The same is the case in the  other
           appeals as well.”




      16.   In view of the above, it  is  evident  that
by  no  stretch  of
      imagination a government servant can raise any dispute  regarding  his
      service conditions or for payment of gratuity or GPF  or  any  of  his
      retiral benefits  before  any  of  the  Forum  under  the  Act.    The
      government servant does not fall under the definition of a  “consumer”
      as defined under Section  2(1)(d)(ii)  of  the  Act.  Such  government
      servant  is  entitled  to  claim  his  retiral  benefits  strictly  in
      accordance with his service conditions and  regulations  or  statutory
      rules framed for that purpose.  The appropriate forum,  for  redressal
      of any his grievance, may be the  State  Administrative  Tribunal,  if
      any, or Civil Court but certainly not a Forum under the Act.

      17.   In view of the above, we hold that the government servant cannot
      approach any of the Forum  under  the  Act  for  any  of  the  retiral
      benefits.


      18.   Mr. Hooda  has made a statement that all the dues for which  the
      appellant had been entitled to had already been  paid  and  the  penal
      rent has also been dispensed with and the State is not going to charge
      any penal rent. If the State has already charged the  penal  rent,  it
      will be refunded to the appellant within a period of  two  months.  In
      view thereof, we do not want to pass any further order.


            In view of the above, the  appeal  stands  disposed  of.  Before
      parting with the case, we record our appreciation for  the  assistance
      rendered by Shri Prateesh Kapur, learned Amicus Curiae. He is entitled
      for full fees as per the Rules.




                  ……………………….........J.
                                                                  ( Dr. B.S.
      CHAUHAN )





      ……………………….........J.
                                                                    (   S.A.
      BOBDE )
      New Delhi,
      July 11, 2013
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