There is substantial rise in cases related to delay in granting retirement benefits or denial of the same. After years of service, the retirement benefits are every employees right and they are required to be released immediately. Any delay or denial in granting the same is unacceptable and deserves to be condoned. However, these issues continue to crop and employees, in some cases, have to wait for long period of time to get their rightful claims.
Under these circumstances, can employees approach Consumer Court to claim their benefits for faster redressal of their issue. The answer to that question is not straight forward and there are 2 different judgments of the Hon’ble Supreme Court that provide clarity in this regard.
In the case of Regional Provident Fund Commissioner v. Bhavani, the Apex Court when faced with the question of maintainability of Consumer Complaint with regard to getting pensionary benefits from the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner held that the Complainant was Consumer within the meaning of the Act. The Apex Court citing a previous judgment with respect to Employees Provident Fund Scheme held that “In fact, the same proposition has been explained in Regional Provident Fund Commissioner vs. Shiv Kumar Joshi [2000 (1) SCC 98], wherein in relation to the operation of the Consumer Protection Act to the Employees’ Provident Fund Schemes it was held as follows:
‘A perusal of the Scheme clearly and unambiguously indicates that it is a ‘service’ within the meaning of Section 2(1)(o) and the member a ‘consumer’ within the meaning of Section 2(1)(d) of the Act. It is, therefore, without any substance to urge that the services under the Scheme are rendered free of charge and, therefore, the Scheme is not a ‘service’ under the Act. Both the State as well as the National Commission have dealt with this aspect in detail and rightly come to the conclusion that the Act was applicable in the case of the Scheme on the ground that its member was a ‘consumer’ under Section 2(1)(d) and the Scheme was a ‘service’ under Section 2(1)(o).”
Under the said background, the Complainant was held to be consumer and permitted to maintain Complaint against the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner.
However, in the case of Dr. Jagmittar Sain Bhagat v Dir Health Services Haryana and Ors., wherein the District Forum, did not decide the preliminary issue with regard to maintainability of the Complaint under the Act, which was not raised by the opposite party, the Hon’ble Supreme Court holding that where jurisdiction is not granted by the statue specifically, not even consent between the parties could grant jurisdiction to the forum and order or decree passed would be a nullity.
The Apex Court observed “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.’ Held that the complaint of Government Employee claiming retirement benefits under Consumer Protection Act is not maintainable.”
Are the two judgments contrary in nature and set different precedents. The answer is no. The case of Regional Provident Fund Commissioner was considered by the Apex Court in the present case. While distinguishing the same, the Court observed “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.”
Thus, there is subtle difference between the two cases. The employee cannot file case against employer where master and servant relationship exist or where free service or service under personal contract is provide. Hence, employee cannot file case against its own employer claiming retirement benefits, however, when the issue is not with the employer but with the Fund Commissioner or third person giving service, such service cases would be maintainable as per the principles established by the Supreme Court of India in the aforesaid two cases.