In a landmark judgment with far-reaching consequences, Haryana state consumer disputes redressal commission has held that eligible beneficiaries of government social welfare schemes such as Rajiv Gandhi Parivaar Bima Yojana are "consumers" who have the right to approach consumer fora against the government in case of unjustified delay in deriving benefits from these schemes.
The commission set aside Haryana government's arguments that since a citizen does not pay any charges for government social welfare schemes, any service rendered without consideration (charge or fee) cannot be treated under a "consumer dispute".
The commission clarified that it would be a futile exercise to start such schemes without any mechanism for their enforcement just for the simple reason that citizens do not pay any consideration for that particular scheme.
The judgment came on a revision petition filed by district social welfare officer of Kurukshetra against a district consumer forum order in a case where the state government had delayed payment of claim to a Kurukshetra resident under Rajiv Gandhi Parivaar Bima Yojana by two years after filing of the claim.
The forum had directed the government to pay the petitioner a claim of Rs 1 lakh along with 12% per annum interest from the date of filing of the claim. The forum had also directed for a compensation of Rs 50,000.
Upholding the consumer forum's orders, the commission made it clear that "Consumer Protection Act, 1986, even authorises a non-government organization to file a complaint and has been included in the definition of 'complainant'.
"Had the consideration been the only criterion, the legislature would not have included a non-government organisation in the definition of 'complainant' which certainly does not hire any services upon consideration."