correctness of the judgment rendered in the case of HUDA vs. Sunita, (2005) 2 SCC 479. This Court therein held that the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (hereinafter referred to as “NCDRC”) had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the legality behind the demand of “composition fee” and “extension fee” made by HUDA, as the same being statutory obligation, does not qualify as “deficiency in service”. = Therefore, in line with the law laid down by us, we hold that the determination of the dispute concerning the validity of the imposition of a statutory due arising out of a “deficiency in service”, can be undertaken by the consumer fora as per the provisions of the Act. The decision of this Court in the case of Sunita (supra), wherein it was held that NCDRC has no jurisdiction to adjudicate the legitimacy of the aforementioned statutory dues, was rendered without considering any of the previous judgments of this Court and the objects of the Act. Consequently, the law laid down in the aforesaid case does not hold good before the eyes of law, and is thereby overruled.

SLP (C) NO. 4272 OF 2015
SLP (C) NO. 5237 OF 2015

  1. The reference before us arises out of the order dated 13.07.2018,
    passed by a two­Judge Bench of this Court, wherein they expressed
    doubt as to the correctness of the judgment rendered in the case of
    HUDA vs. Sunita, (2005) 2 SCC 479. This Court therein held that
    the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
    (hereinafter referred to as “NCDRC”) had no jurisdiction to
    adjudicate the legality behind the demand of “composition fee” and
    “extension fee” made by HUDA, as the same being statutory
    obligation, does not qualify as “deficiency in service”.
  2. It is pertinent herein to note the opinion expressed by the twoJudge Bench regarding the decision in the case of Sunita (supra)
    while passing the referral order:
    “We are, prima facie, of the view that this sixparagraph order, which does not, prima facie,
    contain any reason for the conclusion reached,
    requires a relook in view of the fact that the
    Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is a beneficent
  3. The counsel on behalf of the petitioner submitted that the order
    in the case of Sunita (supra) is well reasoned, as it validly holds
    that the NCDRC lacks jurisdiction to decide the legitimacy behind
    the demand of “composition fee” and “extension fee”. Relying on the
    aforesaid holding, the counsel further stated that “statutory dues”
    cannot be claimed as “deficiency in services”. Lastly, the learned
    counsel submitted that although the Consumer Protection Act,
    1986 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”) is beneficial in nature,
    demanding a liberal construction, the same cannot be used to
    extend the ambit of the Act by bringing in remedies or benefits
    which were not intended by the legislature.
  4. On the contrary, the learned senior counsel appointed by this
    Court as amicus curiae to assist and appear on behalf of the
    respondent claimed that the order passed in the case of Sunita
    (supra), is an aberration in a series of long­standing judgments by
    this Court. The learned amicus curiae thereafter placed strong
    reliance upon the judgments of this Court in Lucknow
    Development Authority v. M.K. Gupta, (1994) 1 SCC 243, and
    Ghaziabad Development Authority v. Balbir Singh, (2004) 5
    SCC 65, wherein it was held that the NCDRC has the jurisdiction to
    protect consumers against defective services rendered even by a
    statutory body. Further, the learned amicus curiae, while
    supporting the view that the Sunita case (supra) was per incuriam,
    has taken us through various judgments of this Court in this
    regard and submitted that the statutory authorities come under the
    ambit of the Act.
  5. Heard the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioner
    and the learned amicus curiae in this case. The precise question
    raised before us is whether the law laid down by this Court in the
    case of Sunita (supra) is valid. We may note that the validity of
    interpretation furthered in the case of Sunita (supra) hinges on the
    interpretation of Section 2(1)(d), 2(1)(e), 2(1)(f), 2(1)(g) and 2(1)(o) of
    the Act.
  6. At the outset, we must remind ourselves that answer to majority
    of legal questions before Courts essentially lie in the process of
    This Court in Commissioner of Customs (Import),
    Mumbai v. Dilip Kumar and others, (2018) 9 SCC 40, had
    emphasized that the purpose of interpretation is to find the
    legislative intent of an Act. It is established by umpteen number of
    cases in India and abroad that beneficial or remedial legislation
    needs to be given ‘fair and liberal interpretation’ [refer Om Prakash
    v. Reliance General Insurance and Anr., (2017) 9 SCC 724]. In
    this regard we may note that, the liberal construction, extends the
    letter to include matters within the spirit or purpose.2
    1 Justice Felix Frankfurter, Some Reflections on Reading of Statutes, Columbia Law
    Review, VOL. 47, Issue 4, PP. 527­546
    2 Sutherland, Statutes and Statutory Construction, §5505 (Callaghan, 1943).
  7. Having observed the law on beneficial interpretation, we need to
    observe the concerned statutory provisions of the Act:
    Section 2 (1) (g) “deficiency”­ means any fault,
    imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the
    quality, nature and manner of performance which
    is required to be maintained by or under any law
    for the time being in force or has been undertaken
    to be performed by a person in pursuance of a
    contract or otherwise in relation to any service.
    Thus, meaning of deficiency is explained as any fault, imperfection,
    shortcoming or inadequacy in quality, nature and manner of
    performance of any service or supply of goods, in terms of
    standards set by the parties themselves through contract or
    otherwise, or imposed by the law in force. The basis for application
    of the consumer laws hinges on the relationship between the
    service provider and consumer. The usage of ‘otherwise’ within the
    provision subsumes other modes of standard setting alternative
    instruments other than contracts such as laws, bye­laws, rules and
    customary practices etc.
  8. Service is defined under Section 2(1)(o) of the Act, which reads as
    (o) “service” means service of any description
    which is made available to potential users and
    includes, but not limited to, the provision of
    facilities in connection with banking, financing
    insurance, transport, processing, supply of
    electrical or other energy, board or lodging or
    both, housing construction, entertainment,
    amusement or the purveying of news or other
    information, but does not include the rendering of
    any service free of charge or under a contract of
    personal service;
    This definition is not exhaustive rather the legislature has left the
    task to expound the provision on a case to case basis to the
    judiciary. The purpose of leaving this provision open ended, without
    providing an exhaustive list indicates the requirement for a liberal
    interpretation. Broadly speaking, it is inclusive of all those services
    performed for a consideration, except gratuitous services and
    contract of personal services. Moreover, aforesaid provision reflects
    the legislative intent of providing impetus to ‘consumerism’. It may
    be noted that such a phenomenon has had a benevolent effect on
    the Government undertakings, wherein a new dynamism of
    innovation, accountability and transparency are imbibed.
  9. On perusal of the impugned precedent, it may be noted that it
    does not provide clear­cut reasoning for the view held by the Court,
    except to the extent of pointing out that statutory obligations are
    not encompassed under the Act. Such broad proposition
    necessarily required further elaboration, as there is a possibility of
    over­inclusivity. Further, there is no gainsaying that all statutory
    obligations are not sovereign functions. Although all sovereign
    functions/services are regulated and performed under
    constitutional/statutory instruments, yet there are other functions,
    though might be statutory, but cannot be called as sovereign
    functions. These sovereign functions do not contain the consumerservice provider relationship in them and are not done for a
    consideration. Moreover, we need to be mindful of the fact that
    sovereign functions are undergoing a radical change in the face of
    privatization and globalization. India being a welfare State, the
    sovereign functions are also changing. We may note that the
    government in order to improve the quality of life and welfare of its
    citizens, has undertaken many commercial adventures.
  10. Sovereign functions like judicial decision making, imposition of
    tax, policing etc, strictly understood, qualify for exemption from the
    Act, but the welfare activities through economic adventures
    undertaken by the Government or statutory bodies are covered
    under the jurisdiction of the consumer forums. Even in
    departments discharging sovereign functions, if there are subunits/wings which are providing services/supply goods for a
    consideration and they are severable, then they can be considered
    to come within the ambit of the Act. [refer to Standard Chartered
    Bank Ltd. v. Dr. B. N. Raman, (2006) 5 SCC 727]
  11. Having observed the provisions and the interpretation of
    pertinent provisions, we need to refer to Lucknow Development
    Authority Case (supra), wherein this Court was concerned with the
    question as to the amenability of statutory authorities like Lucknow
    Development Authority, for development of plots, to the Consumer
    Protection Act, 1986.
  12. This Court in Lucknow Development Authority Case (supra)
    elaborated the meaning of ‘Consumer’, as occurring under Section
    2(1)(b), in the following manner:­
    “3……The word ‘consumer’ is a comprehensive
    expression. It extends from a person who buys any
    commodity to consume either as eatable or
    otherwise from a shop, business house, corporation,
    store, fair price shop to use of private or public

    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 instance, 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.”
    (emphasis supplied)
  13. Further, this Court elaborated on the meaning of the ‘service’ in
    the following manner:­
    “4. 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.
    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. The word ‘any’ dictionarily means ‘one or
    some or all’. In Black’s Law Dictionary it is explained
    thus, “word ‘any’ has a diversity of meaning and may
    be employed to indicate ‘all’ or ‘every’ as well as
    ‘some’ or ‘one’ and its meaning in a given statute
    depends upon the context and the subject­matter of
    the statute”. The use of the word ‘any’ in the context
    it has been used in clause ( o) indicates that it has
    been used in wider sense extending from one to all.

    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.”
    (emphasis supplied)
    Thereafter, this Court answered the relevant question in the
    following manner:­
    “5. This takes us to the larger issue if the public
    authorities under different enactments are
    amenable to jurisdiction under the Act. It was
    vehemently argued that the local authorities or
    government bodies develop land and construct
    houses in discharge of their statutory function,
    therefore, they could not be subjected to the
    provisions of the Act. …
    … Any attempt, therefore, to exclude services offered
    by statutory or official bodies to the common man
    would be against the provisions of the Act and the
    spirit behind it. … A government or semi­government
    body or a local authority is as much amenable to the
    Act as any other private body rendering similar
    service. Truly speaking it would be a service to the
    society if such bodies instead of claiming
    exclusion subject themselves to the Act and let
    their acts and omissions be scrutinised as public
    accountability is necessary for healthy growth of
  14. What remains to be examined is if housing
    construction or building activity carried on by a
    private or statutory body was service within the
    meaning of clause (o) of Section 2 of the Act as it
    stood prior to inclusion of the expression ‘housing
    construction’ in the definition of “service” by
    Ordinance No. 24 of 1993. … So any service except
    when it is free of charge or under a constraint of
    personal service is included in it. Since housing
    activity is a service it was covered in the clause
    as it stood before 1993.

    8…..Under our Constitution sovereignty vests in
    the people. Every limb of the constitutional
    machinery is obliged to be people oriented. No
    functionary in exercise of statutory power can
    claim immunity, except to the extent protected
    by the statute itself. Public authorities acting in
    violation of constitutional or statutory provisions
    oppressively are accountable for their behaviour
    before authorities created under the statute like
    the commission or the courts entrusted with
    responsibility of maintaining the rule of law. …
    Therefore, when the Commission has been vested
    with the jurisdiction to award value of goods or
    services and compensation it has to be construed
    widely enabling the Commission to determine
    compensation for any loss or damage suffered by a
    consumer which in law is otherwise included in wide
    meaning of compensation.
    (emphasis supplied)
  15. Coming back to the Sunita case (supra), this Court held that the
    NCDRC had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the legality behind the
    demand of composition or extension fee by a developmental
    authority. This Court observed that the statutory obligations of a
    developmental authority and the plot holder under the authority’s
    statutory framework cannot be construed as acts or omissions
    resulting in a “deficiency in service”. In view of the law laid down by
    us, the interpretation provided by the Sunita case (supra) cannot
    be sustained as the service provided by the petitioner herein
    squarely comes under the ambit of ‘service’.
  16. We do understand that the confusion, which arose from the
    aforesaid situation, is that the authority does have the power to levy
    certain statutory fee. However, that itself does not prohibit the
    Consumer forums from evaluating the legality of such exactions or
    fulfilment of conditions by the authority before such exaction. In
    broad terms, non­fulfilment of conditions or standards required,
    amounts to ‘deficiency in services’ under the Act. Having said that,
    out of abundant caution, we note that the legality does not extend to
    the challenge of vires of a rule prescribing such fee. Such
    contentions are best agitated before the Constitutional Courts.
  17. On a different note, if the statutory authority, other than the core
    sovereign duties, is providing service, which is encompassed under
    the Act, then, unless any Statute exempts, or provides for
    immunity, for deficiency in service, or specifically provides for an
    alternative forum, the Consumer Forums would continue to have
    the jurisdiction to deal with the same.3 We need to caution against
    over­inclusivity and the tribunals need to satisfy the ingredients
    under Consumer Protection Laws, before exercising the jurisdiction.
  18. Moreover, we also need to note that the distinction between
    statutory liability which arise generally such as a tax, and those
    that may arise out of a specific relationship such as that between a
    service provider and a consumer, was not considered by this Court
    in the case of Sunita (supra). For instance, a tax is a mandatory
    imposition by a public authority for public purpose enforceable by
    3 Section 3 of the Act.
    law; and is not imposed with respect to any special benefit
    conferred, as consideration, on the tax payer. There is no element of
    quid pro quo between the tax payer and the public authority.
    However, the above is not the only form of due charged by a
    statutory authority. In a catena of judgments, this Court has
    recognized that certain statutory dues may arise from services
    rendered by a statutory authority. In the case of Commissioner,
    Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra
    Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt, 1954 SCR 1005, a seven
    Judge­Bench of this Court held that­
    “46. Coming now to fees, a “fee” is generally
    defined to be a charge for a special service
    rendered to individuals by some
    governmental agency. The amount of fee
    levied is supposed to be based on the
    expenses incurred by the Government in
    rendering the service, though in many cases
    the costs are arbitrarily assessed. Ordinarily,
    the fees are uniform and no account is taken of
    the varying abilities of different recipients to pay
    [ Vide Lutz on Public Finance, p. 215]. These are
    undoubtedly some of the general characteristics,
    but as there may be various kinds of fees, it is
    not possible to formulate a definition that would
    be applicable to all cases.
  19. …The distinction between a tax and a fee
    lies primarily in the fact that a tax is levied
    as a part of a common burden, while a fee is
    a payment for a special benefit or privilege.
    Fees confer a special capacity, although the
    special advantage, as for example in the case of
    registration fees for documents or marriage
    licences, is secondary to the primary motive of
    regulation in the public interest [Vide Findlay
    Shirras on Science of Public Finance, Vol. I, p.
    202]. Public interest seems to be at the basis of
    all impositions, but in a fee, it is some special
    benefit which the individual receives.”
    (emphasis supplied)
  20. A five Judge Bench of this Court, in the case of Kewal Krishan
    Puri and Anr. v. State of Punjab and Anr., (1980) 1 SCC 416,
    also took note of the fact that certain statutory dues can arise from
    a quid pro quo relationship between the authority and an individual
    upon whom the liability falls.
    “23. …(6) That the element of quid pro quo
    may not be possible, or even necessary, to be
    established with arithmetical exactitude but
    even broadly and reasonably it must be
    established by the authorities who charge
    the fees that the amount is being spent for
    rendering services to those on whom falls
    the burden of the fee.”
    (emphasis supplied)
  21. Therefore, it is a clearly established principle that certain
    statutory dues, such as fees, can arise out of a specific relation.
    Such statutory dues might be charged as a quid pro quo for a
    privilege conferred or for a service rendered by the authority. As
    noted above, there are exactions which are for the common burden,
    like taxes, there are dues for a specific purpose, like cess, and there
    are dues in lieu of a specific service rendered. Therefore, it is clear
    from the above discussion that not all statutory dues/exactions are
    amenable to the jurisdiction of the Consumer Forum, rather only
    those exactions which are exacted for a service rendered, would be
    amenable to the jurisdiction of the Consumer Forum.
  22. At the cost of repetition, we may note that those exactions, like
    tax, and cess, levied as a part of common burden or for a specific
    purpose, generally may not be amenable to the jurisdiction of the
    Consumer Forum. However, those statutory fees, levied in lieu of
    service provided, may in the usual course be subject matter of
    Consumer Forum’s jurisdiction provided that there is a ‘deficiency
    in service’ etc.
  23. We may also refer to the case of Ghaziabad Development
    Authority (supra) wherein this Court, relying upon Lucknow
    Development Authority case (supra), held that the power of the
    Consumer forum extends to redressing any injustice rendered upon
    a consumer as well as over any mala fide, capricious or any
    oppressive act done by a statutory body. The relevant para of the
    judgment reads as under:
    “6. ….Thus, the law is that the Consumer
    Protection Act has a wide reach and the
    Commission has jurisdiction even in cases of
    service rendered by statutory and public
    authorities. Such authorities become liable to
    compensate for misfeasance in public office i.e. an
    act which is oppressive or capricious or arbitrary
    or negligent provided loss or injury is suffered by
    a citizen.

    Where there has been capricious or arbitrary
    or negligent exercise or non­exercise of power
    by an officer of the authority, the
    Commission/Forum has a statutory obligation
    to award compensation. If the
    Commission/Forum is satisfied that a
    complainant is entitled to compensation for
    loss or injury or for harassment or mental
    agony or oppression, then after recording a
    finding it must direct the authority to pay
    compensation and then also direct recovery
    from those found responsible for such
    unpardonable behaviour.
    (emphasis supplied)
  24. Therefore, in line with the law laid down by us, we hold that the
    determination of the dispute concerning the validity of the
    imposition of a statutory due arising out of a “deficiency in service”,
    can be undertaken by the consumer fora as per the provisions of
    the Act. The decision of this Court in the case of Sunita (supra),
    wherein it was held that NCDRC has no jurisdiction to adjudicate
    the legitimacy of the aforementioned statutory dues, was rendered
    without considering any of the previous judgments of this Court
    and the objects of the Act. Consequently, the law laid down in the
    aforesaid case does not hold good before the eyes of law, and is
    thereby overruled.
  25. The reference stands answered accordingly. The instant special
    leave petitions may be placed before an appropriate Bench for
    considering the case on merits after obtaining orders from the
    Hon’ble Chief Justice of India.
    (N.V. RAMANA)
    SEPTEMBER 16, 2019.