Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Supreme Court: Government servant can not raise dispute about his service conditions or for service benefits before consumer forum

After considering relevant cases on the point, this Court
concluded as under:
“20. In view of the above, it is evident that by no
stretch of imagination can a government servant 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 of his
grievance, may be the State Administrative Tribunal,
if any, or the civil court but certainly not a forum
under the Act.
21. 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.”

The decision of this Court rendered in Jagmittar Sain
Bhagat was holding the field when the matter was decided by
the State Commission and the National Commission. A plea was
squarely raised by the appellants about the inapplicability of
the provisions of the Act. However, that plea was not gone
into.
In keeping with the principles laid down by this Court in
the case of Jagmittar Sain Bhagat, we hold that the complaint
in the present case was not maintainable before the District
Forum under the provisions of the Act.
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL N O.8472 OF 2019

MINISTRY OF WATER RESOURCES  Vs  SHREEPAT RAO KAMDE 
UDAY UMESH LALIT, J.
Dated:NOVEMBER 06, 2019
Delay condoned.
Leave granted.
This appeal challenges the order dated 31.01.2019 passed
by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New
Delhi (for short “the National Commission”) dismissing
Revision Petition No.3368 of 2018.
The facts relevant for the purpose of present decision as
culled out from paragraphs 2 and 3 of the decision of the
State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (for short the
“the State Commission”) in the present matter, are:-

“2. In brief a complaint bearing no.709/2011 was
filed by Sh. Shreepat Rao Kamde against the Chairman,
Central Water Commission and Secretary, Ministry of
Water Resources, Govt. of India. Complaint was also
directed against the Dy. Controller of Accounts.
Complainant had alleged that he retired from Central
Water Commission as Director on 31.01.2011. He had
given the particulars of his Account number in State
Bank of India for the purposes of crediting his
pension and retiral benefits. He had submitted his
address after retirement as B-132, Mansarover Garden,
New Delhi-110015.
3. Grievance of the Complainant was that the OPs had
sent retiral and other benefits to an address in
Chambal Division, Jaipur instead of sending it to
Monitoring & Appraisal Office Jaipur. GPF
accumulation was sent by way of a draft of
Rs.45,08,673/-. The said draft of Rs.45,08,673/-.
The said draft was payable in Jaipur. Amount of
General Provident Fund was received by him only on
10.05.2011.”
Consumer Complaint No.709 of 2011 was filed by the
present respondent before the Consumer Disputes Redressal
Forum-VI, District New Delhi, with factual assertions as above
and submitting inter alia that there was an administrative
delay in extending to the respondent the quantum which was
payable to him towards General Provident Fund dues. The
complaint was thus filed under the provisions of the Consumer
Protection Act, 1986 (“the Act” for short) claiming interest
for the delayed payment of General Provident Fund dues and for
compensation etc.

Upon being noticed, the appellants appeared and submitted
inter alia:
“11. That the dispute arising between the complainant
and the opposite parties does not come within the
ambit of Section 12 of Consumer Protection Act, as
the present complaint is not related to any goods
sold or delivered or agreed to be sold or delivered
or any service provided or agreed to be provided,
while the disputes is related to service matter and
as such the Hon’ble Forum has not jurisdiction to try
and entertain the present complaint.”
The matter was considered by the District Forum and vide
its order dated 01.10.2012, the claim petition was accepted
and it was directed:
“In view of this complainant is entitled to interest
on delay for a period of two months on Rs.45 lakh, as
deficiency owning to administrative delay, and to be
compensated as per rules. The amount roughly works
out Rs.63,750/-. We award a total compensation of
Rs.90,000/- inclusive of this amount, harassment and
litigation expenses.”
The matter was carried in appeal by the appellants by
filing First Appeal No.494/2014/8659/2013 before the State
Commission. In Appeal Memo, a submission was squarely raised
that considering the nature of dispute and particularly when
the respondent was an employee of Central Water Commission,
the Forum under the provisions of the Act did not have any
jurisdiction to entertain the dispute. The plea was taken as
under:

“D. Because the Hon’ble Forum did not consider the
nature of disputes as the respondent was an employee
of Central Water Commission and the disputes relate
to the interest on delayed payment of retiral dues
and as such the Hon’ble Tribunal has no jurisdiction
to entertain the aforesaid disputes, being the matter
of Central Administrative Tribunal. Section 2(1)(d)
(i) & (ii) of Consumer Protection Act states as
under:
(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
purposes; 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 promises, or partly paid
and partly promises, or under any system of
deferred payment, 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 purposes.”
The State Commission however affirmed the view taken by
the District Forum and dismissed said First Appeal. Being
aggrieved, the appellants carried the matter further by filing
revision before the National Commission. The Revision was
however delayed by 121 days and the National Commission
refused to condone delay and consequently the revision was
dismissed.

That order of the National Commission is now under appeal
before us.
While issuing notice, this Court had directed the
appellants to deposit a sum of Rs.90,000/- before the District
Forum giving liberty to the respondent to withdraw the sum
upon furnishing sufficient security.
Since the respondent chose not to enter any appearance,
by subsequent order dated 04.10.2019, this Court had requested
Dr. Manish Singhvi, learned Senior Counsel to assist the Court
as Amicus Curiae.
Ms. Madhavi Divan, learned ASG appearing in support of
the appeal relied upon the decisions of this Court in
Jagmittar Sain Bhagat & Others v. Director, Health Services,
Haryana & Others, (2013) 10 SCC 136, and, Secretary, Board of
Secondary Education, Orissa v. Santosh Kumar Sahoo,(2010) 8
SCC 353.
The issue whether in respect of retiral dues, the matter
could be maintained before the District Forum constituted
under the provisions of the Act, squarely arose in the case of
Jagmittar Sain Bhagat, which is evident from the facts as
noted in paragraphs 2 to 4. Said paragraphs are quoted here
for facility:

“2. The facts and circumstances giving rise to this
appeal are that: the appellant joined the 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. The 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 showcause
notice to him.
3. The appellant made various representations,
however, he was not granted any relief by the State
authorities. 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.
4 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.”

After considering relevant cases on the point, this Court
concluded as under:
“20. In view of the above, it is evident that by no
stretch of imagination can a government servant 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 of his
grievance, may be the State Administrative Tribunal,
if any, or the civil court but certainly not a forum
under the Act.
21. 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.”
The aforesaid decision also noticed a line of cases decided by
this Court where claims under the provisions of the Employees’
Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 in
respect of employees of establishments covered under the
Schedule to said Act had come up before this Court. Those
cases were also dealt with and finally the conclusion was
arrived at in paragraphs 20 and 21 as stated above.
This Court also considered the case of Santosh Kumar
Sahoo, which had found that the Act was not intended to cover
discharge of statutory function of examining whether a
candidate was fit to be declared as having successfully
completed a course by passing the examination.

On the point of entitlement of a Government servant in
respect of dues as stated and whether such Government servant
can maintain any action under the provisions of the Act, the
law is thus well settled.
The decision of this Court rendered in Jagmittar Sain
Bhagat was holding the field when the matter was decided by
the State Commission and the National Commission. A plea was
squarely raised by the appellants about the inapplicability of
the provisions of the Act. However, that plea was not gone
into.
In keeping with the principles laid down by this Court in
the case of Jagmittar Sain Bhagat, we hold that the complaint
in the present case was not maintainable before the District
Forum under the provisions of the Act.
This Court had directed the appellant to deposit the sum
in question in the Registry of the District Forum. That
direction has been complied with. Considering the facts and
circumstances of the case, where the respondent had initiated
the litigation way back in the year 2011, even if we have
found that the complaint was not maintainable, it is directed
that the respondent shall be entitled to withdraw the
deposited sum without furnishing any security. If any security
was furnished in terms of the earlier directions, the same
shall stand discharged.

In the end, we must express our sincere gratitude for the
assistance rendered by Dr. Manish Singhvi, learned Amicus
Curiae.
The appeal stands disposed of, in aforesaid terms. No
costs.
.................................J.
[UDAY UMESH LALIT]
.................................J.
[INDU MALHOTRA]
NEW DELHI;
NOVEMBER 06, 2019

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