The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Road jam' Sue govt for damages
-Public services fall under consumer act
Who will pay'

New Delhi, Aug. 9: People suffering loss, injury, mental agony or harassment because of traffic jams or choked drains after a deluge can move consumer courts to seek compensation from the government on account of deficiency in service.

The State Commission, the apex consumer body in Delhi, has held that every citizen was a consumer under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and government departments providing as well as maintaining services like roads, electricity and water through public funds were liable to pay compensation for any deficiency.

The order assumes significance as it is binding on all district consumer forums in Delhi and has a persuasive value in consumer cells in other states.

If a person fails to pay compensation imposed on him for providing a defective good or deficient service, he can be imprisoned for a minimum term of one month and a maximum of three years. The amount can also be recovered through the collector as arrears of land revenue.

A bench headed by Justice J.D. Kapoor said the government was accountable under the act as it did not provide these services for free. Citizens contributed to the state exchequer by paying taxes that were supposed to be used for providing the services, it added.

Under the act, a person is a consumer only if he paid for the services used by him or goods taken by him. Only a consumer can move consumer forums, which clears cases faster than civil courts.

The State Commission has now ruled that all citizens not only had the constitutional right to get these services but they also had the right to get these services without any deficiency as consumers.

The commission delivered the ruling while admitting a complaint by some residents of Delhi who alleged that the capital came to a standstill with choked drains and traffic jams after the rains on July 18.

In a complaint before the commission, they alleged that people suffered losses, mental agony and harassment due to callous deficiency in services provided by the government and its agencies

They sought a compensation of Rs 75 lakh, besides Rs 25 lakh as punitive damages.

Justice Kapoor said statutory obligation was one thing while quality of services to be provided was another.

“Some of the statutory obligations may involve providing these services but the quality of the services provided by these agencies to the potential users has to be tested on the anvil of the standard prescribed under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986,’’ he added.

After media reports that various public sector agencies were blaming each other for the pathetic condition, the panel issued notices to the Centre, the Delhi government and nine agencies under them.

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