Whether providing information is service under CP Act

Whether providing information to consumer is a service under CP Act

Consumer protection act was enacted in 1986, with an initial focus on goods as defined under Sale of Goods Act. Thereafter through vide amendment in 1993, a number of services were also brought under the purview of this act and one out of them was defined under section 2{o} of the consumer protection act as: “……the purveying of news or other information but does not include the services free of charge or under a contract of personal service”

As per the above provision, purveying information was a service under the above Act and in case of default or deficiency in providing such services; it could lead to a case before the consumer court.

Defining ‘information’
The word ‘Information’ has taken a very wide meaning and scope after the Right to Information Act 2005 came into force. It has changed the total scenario in the country and legal debates and discussions are never ending on issue of its scope. The question now arises as to whether consumers can invoke the provisions of Consumer Protection Act (CPA) for deficiency in services against the erring authority when special law i.e. RTI Act is available to the consumer for relief.

What is RTI?
Beyond any reasonable doubt RTI Act is a specific law as against the general law for consumers i.e, Consumer Protection Act. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of General Manager Telecom V M Krishna &other 2009 CTJ 1062 [SC] held ‘When there is a special remedy available provided in section 7-B of the Indian telegraph act regarding disputes in respect of telephone bills then remedy under the Consumer Protection Act is by implication barred. As the special law overrides the general law’

We may also refer to the earlier orders of apex court in this context. In1995 when Supreme Court held the case of Chairman Thiruvalluvar Transport Corporation v Consumer Protection Council 1995 CTJ193 SC [CP] that Motor Vehicle Act is a special act and it overrides the Consumer Protection Act.

Almost a similar situation is with RTI Act also. Consumer Protection Act is an earlier act and section 3 of the act provides – that it is an additional remedy available to consumers and not in derogation of other law for the time being in force which means, unless specifically barred by some special law, consumers can exercise its jurisdiction on the issues which cannot otherwise be considered under its scope.

***(Blurb) Incidentally RTI Act has gained so much of popularity that people have almost forgotten that it is otherwise also their fundamental right not only to know what they ought to know, but also what they need or want to know. (Blurb) ***

More so in the context of ‘information’, it is not only because of its scope of additional remedy but also for the reason the word ‘purveying information’ is specifically defined under sec 2[o] of the act as referred above. Hence to my view RTI Act does not come in derogation to any existing law. If information word is provided in the act as services, specifically in sec 2 [0] RTI Act, that does not change the provisions of the act which is also passed by the same parliament. Incidentally RTI Act has gained so much of popularity that people have almost forgotten that it is otherwise also their fundamental right to know what they ought or need to know – Article 21 covers everything under personal liberty.

RTI Act v Consumer Protection Act
Now the real question here is to decide whether it will be in derogation to the prevailing law prevailing if provisions of Consumer Protection Act are invoked ignoring RTI Act or can there be any contradictions in relief if both the remedies are open to the public at large. Here we must bear in mind that while we quote the citation we have to be careful in what context the judgment was delivered by Apex court. The observation was made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of National Insurance Co Ltd v Laxmi Naraina Dhut 2007 CTJ 445 [SC], as hereunder:
“A statute is an edict of legislature and in construing the same, it is necessary to seek the intention of its maker. If a provision is open to more than one interpretation, the court has to choose that interpretation which represents the true intention of the legislature”

RTI Act provisions
Under RTI Act Central Information Commission or State Information Commission as the case may be, can impose penalty on the erring officer under sec 20[1] of the act. Further under sec 20[2], it may also direct for disciplinary proceedings. Sec 19[8] provides for compensation to the person for loss suffered due to delay in giving information.

Under Consumer Protection Act, one is paid compensation for the loss. If a person invokes both the remedies and is paid penalty or compensation from Central Information Commission and compensation from consumer forum for deficiency the beneficiary can choose only one remedy. Since central information commission can act with more force and get the information much quickly people may prefer that especially if they are really in need. But no one is barred to come to consumer court as per the above discussion because neither it goes in derogation to RTI Act nor is specifically barred.

Situation is yet not ripe to say anything on the implication as yet no such case has come up to the Apex court but the orders coming from Central Information Commission show, commission do not deal with entitlement or right of a person to the benefits for which information is sought, its scope is limited to the Right To Information only with, no further details or law on the point of the subject matter as per the decision hereunder:

A Case Study
In the matter of Right to Information Act, 2005 – Section 18/19
Appellant: Mr. S.L. Saluja, Public authority, State Bank of India
The appellant has sought information under RTI Act regarding payment of leave encashment pertaining to him. In his application, he asked for the status and action on the matter. The CPIO replied that all leave to the credit of an officer lapse on dismissal of the officer, hence, he is not entitled for the leave encashment. Dissatisfied with the reply, the appellant filed an appeal before the Commission.

Decision made by Padma Balasubramanian, Information Commissioner.
The main grievance of the appellant is that he has not been paid leave encashment after his retirement and the Bank has stated since he was dismissed from service, he is not entitled for leave encashment and the appellant has been drawing attention to certain letters and what action the Bank has taken on those letters is not very relevant. The point at issue is whether the appellant is entitled for leave encashment or not. Matters concerning pension matter cannot be taken up under RTI. If the appellant is aggrieved he should take such matters before the appropriate legal forum as he cannot get any relief under RTI Act. Hence, the appeal is dismissed.

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