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By: Robin Pandey                                                                                             Date: 12/03/2022

(This pronouncement of Hon’ble Supreme Court is based on the case of Dilworth v Commissioner of Stamps)

Definition of "consumer'

The Supreme Court observed as follows: 

It is in two parts. The first deals with goods and the other with services. Both parts first declare the meaning of goods and services by use of wide expressions. Their ambit is further enlarged by use of inclusive clause. For stance, it is not only purchaser of goods or hirer of services but even those who use the goods or who are beneficiaries of services with approval of the person who purchased the goods or who hired services are included in it. The legislature has taken precaution not only to define complaint', complainant"', 'consumer' but even to mention in detail what would amount to unfair trade practice by giving an elaborate definition in clause (r) and even to define defect' and deficiency' by clauses (f) and (g) for which a consumer can approach the Commission.”

The Supreme further observed as follows: "The Act thus aims to protect the economic interest of a consumer as understood in commercial sense as a purchaser of goods and in the larger sense of user of services. The common characteristics of goods and services are that they are supplied at a price to cover the costs and generate profit or income for the seller of goods or provider of services. But the defect in one and deficiency in other may have to be removed and compensated differently. The former is, normally, capable of being replaced and repaired whereas the other may be required to be compensated by award of the just equivalent of the value or damages for loss.” 

Definition of 'goods ‘

A contention was raised that the applicability of the Act having been confined to moveable goods only, a complaint filed for any defect in relation to immoveable goods such as a house or building or allotment of site could not have been entertained by the Commission. The Supreme Court rejecting the said contention observed as follows: "The submission does not appear to be well founded. The respondents were aggrieved either by delay in delivery of possession of house or use of substandard material etc. and therefore they claimed deficiency in service rendered by the appellants. Whether they were justified in their complaint and if such act or omission could be held to be denial of Service in the Act shall be examined presently but the jurisdiction of the Commission could not be ousted (sic merely) because even though it was service it related to immoveable property."

Definition of 'service"

 What is the meaning of the word 'service'? Does it extend to deficiency in the building of a house or flat? Can a complaint be filed under the Act against the statutory authority or a builder or contractor for any deficiency in respect of such property. The answer to all this shall depend on understanding of the word 'service". The term has variety of meanings. It may mean any benefit or any act resulting in promoting interest or happiness. It may be contractual, professional, public, domestic, legal, statutory etc. The concept of service thus is very wide. How it should be understood and what it means depends on the context in which it has been used in an enactment.

The Supreme Court referred to the definition of 'service' in clause (o) of section 2 of the Act; it observed as follows:

"It is in three parts. The main part is followed by inclusive clause and ends by exclusionary clause. The main clause itself is very wide. It applies to any service made available to potential users. The words any' and 'potential' are significant. Both are of wide amplitude. .... In other words service which is not only extended to actual users but those who are capable of using it are covered in the definition. The clause is thus very wide and extends to any or all actual or potential users. But the legislature did not stop there. It expanded the meaning of the word further in modern sense by extending it to even such facilities as are available to a consumer in connection with banking, financing etc. Each of these are wide-ranging activities in day to day life. They are discharged both by statutory and private bodies. In absence of any indication, express or implied there is no reason to hold that authorities created by the statute are beyond purview of the Act. When banks advance loan or accept deposit or provide facility of locker they banks advance loan or accept deposit or provide facility of locker they undoubtedly render service. A State Bank or nationalised bank renders as much service as private bank. No distinction can be drawn in private and public transport or insurance companies. Even the supply of electricity or gas which throughout the country is being made, mainly, by statutory authorities is included in it. The legislative intention is thus clear to protect a consumer against services rendered even by statutory bodies. The test, therefore, is not if a person against whom complaint is made is a statutory body but whether the nature of the duty and function performed by it is service or even facility.


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