In The Supreme Court Of India Civil Appellate Jurisdiction Special Leave Petition (Civil) No.18636 Of 2019
Bench: Justices Uday Umesh Lalit & Aniruddha Bose
Decided On: October 4th, 2019
Brief facts of the case:
In the instant case, the principal issue involved in the matter is whether a Charitable Trust could maintain an action under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and claim compensation under the Act.
Earlier, in the year 2017, the Supreme Court in the matter of Pratibha Pratishthan & vs. Manager, Canara Bank held that a Trust is not a person and therefore not a consumer. Consequently, it cannot be a complainant and cannot file consumer complaint under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Supreme Court said that the National Commission was quite right in holding that the complaint filed by the appellant Trust was not maintainable hence, dismissed the appeal.
However, in the instant case, the bench doubted the ratio in Pratibha Pratisthan v. Manager, Canara Bank, in which it was held that a trust is not a person and therefore not a consumer and consequently, it cannot be a complainant and cannot file a consumer dispute under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act. Thus, while saying it is difficult to accept that “trust” would not come within the definition of a “consumer” the Supreme Court has referred to larger bench the issue whether a ‘trust’ is a ‘consumer’ under Consumer Protection Act so as to file complaints before the Consumer Forums.
The District Forum accepted the claim of the Complainant-Trust however, the appeal arising therefrom was allowed by the State Commission and National Commission on the ground that a Trust could not be a “consumer” within the meaning of the Act. The reliance was placed on a decision of this Court delivered in Pratibha Pratisthan vs. Manager, Canara Bank, to hold that a “trust” would not be a “person” and therefore not a “consumer” within the meaning of the provisions of the Act. Consequently, it cannot be a complainant and cannot file a consumer dispute under the provisions of the Act.”
The definition of “person” came up for consideration in Ramanlal Bhailal Patel v. State of Gujarat, and it was observed by this Court that the ordinary, popular and natural meaning of the word “person” is “a specific individual human being”. But in law the word “person” has a slightly different connotation and refers to any entity that is recognised by law as having the rights and duties of a human being. Thus the word “person”, in law, unless otherwise intended, refers not only to a natural person (male or female human being), but also any legal person (that is an entity that is recognised by law as having or capable of having rights and duties). The General Clauses Act thus defines a “person” as including a corporation or an association of persons or a body of individuals whether incorporated or not.
Bench of Justices Uday Umesh Lalit & Aniruddha Bose said that the expression “person” includes “every other association of persons whether registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 (21 of 1860) or not”. Moreover, the legislative intent appears to have a wider coverage and therefore the concerned provision includes number of categories under the definition of “person” so much so that even an unregistered firm which otherwise has certain disabilities in law, is also entitled to maintain an action.
The Supreme Court concluded by saying that it is difficult to accept that a “trust” would not come within the definition of a “consumer” and the issue requires to be revisited and the matter requires re-consideration. The bench also requested the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India to constitute a bench of such strength as the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India may consider proper.
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