Haj Pilgrims Aren’t Consumers Of Haj Committee, Can’t Claim Refund, Says NCDRC [Read Order]
The Haj Committee of India, which makes arrangements for Indian pilgrims going on Haj to Saudi Arabia, renders services without any profits and therefore, the pilgrims cannot be said to be its consumers and cannot claim any compensation from it, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) has held.
“…the Haj Committee is rendering services without any profit motive and is collecting only the actual expenses incurred by it, on making arrangements for the Haj Pilgrimage. No fee or service charges are being collected by the Haj Committee of India from the pilgrims, for reducing its services to them. Therefore, the complainants cannot be said to be the consumer of the Haj Committee of India within the meaning of Section 2(1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act,” said NCDRC presiding member VK Jain.
In the instant case, complainants Abbas Ali and his son Faiyaz Hussain, a resident of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, had submitted an application in the year 2008 to the Haj Committee for going on Haj pilgrimage.
The applicants had a choice of three categories, including ‘Green category’, which was the best of all the three categories, that could be chosen by the applicants. Draw of lots was held to select the pilgrims who could go to Haj pilgrimage. The name of the complainants did not figure in the lottery but later-on, when the additional quota was released, their names were selected and they deposited Rs.96,940 each for the said pilgrimage. Their grievance is that in Saudi Arabia, they were not accommodated in the green category but were kept in ‘Azizia category’ where the facilities available in green category were not provided.
The complainants, therefore, filed a consumer complaint, seeking a refund of Rs.22,362 alleged to have been collected in excess from them.
The Haj Committee of India, under the Ministry of Minority Affairs of the Government of India, contested that the complainants were not consumers within the meaning of the Consumer Protection Act.
While arguing on merits, the committee submitted that by the time the arrangements for the complainants and others, who went on pilgrimage under additional quota, were made, the rate of Riyal had gone high and as a result, the complainants could not be accommodated in green category within the amount which they had paid.
It submitted on account of increase in the rate of Riyal, the cost for the green category had increased to Rs.1,06,742 as against Rs.96,940 which the complainants had paid.
While the district forum dismissed the complaint, the State Commission allowed the appeal of the complainants and directed the committee to not only refund Rs. 22,362 charged in excess but also pay a compensation of Rs. 10,000 besides the litigation cost of Rs. 5,000.
The committee then moved a revision petition.
The NCDRC’s attention was drawn to the Guidelines for Haj-2008 wherein clause 18 expressly stated that the Haj Committee was set up under the Haj Committee Act, 2002 in order to make arrangement for the Indian Pilgrims intending to go on Haj pilgrimage and the services it renders is without any consideration.
Clause 18 reads: “I understand that Haj Committee of India, constituted under the Act of Parliament renders service to the Pilgrims without any consideration. I also understand that the services of Haj Committee of India are free of charge. Haj Committee of India, as such does not come within the purview of Consumer Protection Act of 1986. I therefore, shall not claim any compensation against Haj Committee of India under Consumer Protection Act.”
Holding that the complainants were not consumers, the commission said, “…I hold that the Consumer Forum would have no jurisdiction to entertain a complaint of this nature. The impugned order (of State Commission) is therefore set aside and the complaint is consequently dismissed, with no order as to cost.”Read the order here