SC:Construction worker who’s beneficiary in statutory scheme is consumer

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 17th March 2020, in the matter of The Joint Labour Commissioner and Registering Officer and Anr v. Kesar Lal observed that 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.

Question(s) before the Hon’ble Supreme Court:

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.

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 observed that:

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) is a service which is rendered free of charge. The workers who are registered under the provisions of the Building and Other Construction Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 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 fulfil 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 the Consumer Protection Act 1986. (Para 13)

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. (Para 13)

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. (Para 13)

Public authorities 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 Consumer Protection Act 1986. (Para 14)

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.

Copy of judgement: Judgement_17-Mar-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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