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. Each hierarchy in the Act is empowered to entertain a complaint by the consumer for value of the goods or services and compensation. The word ‘compensation’ is again of very wide connotation. It has not been defined in the Act. According to dictionary it means, ‘compensating or being compensated; thing given as recompense;’. In legal sense it may constitute actual loss or expected loss and may extend to physical mental or even emotional suffering, insult or injury or loss. 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. The provision in our opinion enables a consumer to claim and empowers the Commission to redress any injustice done to him. Any other construction would defeat the very purpose of the Act. The Commission or the Forum in the Act is thus entitled to award not only value of the goods or services but also to compensate a consumer for injustice suffered by him.”
This Court then went to hold as follows :
“10. Who should pay the amount determined by the Commission for harassment and agony, the statutory authority or should it be realised from those who were responsible for it? Compensation as explained includes both the just equivalent for loss of goods or services and also for sufferance of injustice. For instance in Civil Appeal No…. of 1993 arising out of SlP (Civil) No. 659 of 1991 the Commission directed the Bangalore Development Authority to pay ` 2446 to the consumer for the expenses incurred by him in getting the lease-cum-sale agreement registered as it was additional expenditure for alternative site allotted to him. No misfeasance was found. The moment the authority came to know of the mistake committed by it, it took immediate action by allotting alternative site to the respondent. It was compensation for exact loss suffered by the respondent. It arose in due discharge of duties. For such acts or omissions the loss suffered has to be made good by the authority itself. But when the sufferance is due to mala fide or oppressive or capricious acts etc. of a public servant, then the nature of liability changes. The Commission under the Act could determine such amount if in its opinion the consumer suffered injury due to what is called misfeasance of the officers by the English Courts. Even in England where award of exemplary or aggravated damages for insult etc. to a person has now been held to be punitive, exception has been carved out if the injury is due to, ‘oppressive, arbitrary or unconstiutional action by servants of the Government’ (Salmond and Heuston on the Law of Torts). Misfeasance in public office is explained by Wade in his book on Administrative Law thus :
“Even where there is no ministerial duty as above, and even where no recognised tort such as trespass, nuisance, or negligence is committed, public authorities or officers may be liable in damages for malicious, deliberate or injurious wrong-doing. There is thus a tort which has been called misfeasance in public office, and which includes malicious abuse of power, deliberate maladministration, and perhaps also other unlawful acts causing injury.” (p. 777).
The jurisdiction and power of the courts to indemnify a citizen for injury suffered due to abuse of power by public authorities is founded as observed by Lord Hailsham in Cassell and Co. Ltd. vs. Broome (1972 AC 1027 on the principle that, ‘an award of exemplary damages can serve a useful purpose in vindicating the strength of law’. An ordinary citizen or a common man is hardly equipped to match the might of the State or its instrumentalities. That is provided by the rule of law. It acts as a check on arbitrary and capricious exercise of power. In Rookes vs. Barnard (1664 AC 1129 it was observed by Lord Devlin, ‘the servants of the government are also the servants of the people and the use of their power must always be subordinate to their duty of service’. a public functionary if he acts maliciously or oppressively and the exercise of powers results in harassment and agony then it is not an exercise of power but its abuse. No law provides protection against it. He who is responsible for it must suffer it. Compensation or damage as explained earlier may arise even when the officer discharges his duty honestly and bona fide. But when it arises due to arbitrary or capricious behaviour then it loses its individual character and assumes social significance. Harassment of a common man by public authorities is socially abhorring and legally impermissible. It may harm him personally but the injury to society is far more grievous. Crime and corruption thrive and prosper in the society due to lack of public resistance. Nothing is more damaging than the feeling of helplessness. An ordinary citizen instead of complaining and fighting succumbs to the pressure of undesirable functioning in offices instead of standing against it. Therefore the award of compensation for harassment by public authorities not only compensates the individual, satisfies him personally but helps in curing social evil. It may result in improving the work culture and help in changing the outlook. Wade in his book Administrative Law has observed that it is to the credit of public authorities that there are simply few reported English decisions on this form of malpractice, namely, misfeasance in public offices which includes malicious use of power, deliberate maladministration and perhaps also other unlawful acts causing injury. One of the reasons for this appears to be development of law which apart, from other factors succeeded in keeping a salutary check on the functioning in the Government or semi-government offices by holding the officers personally responsible for their capricious or even ultra vires action resulting in injury or loss to a citizen by awarding damages against them. Various decisions rendered from time to time have been referred to by Wade on Misfeasance by Public Authorities. We shall refer to some of them to demonstrate how necessary it is for our society. In Ashby vs. White (1703) 2 Ld Raym 938 the House of Lords invoked the principle of ubi jus ibi remedium in favour of an elector who was wrongfully prevented from voting and decreed the claim of damages.The ratio of this decision has been applied and extended by English Courts in various situations. In Roncarelli vs. Duplessis (1959) 16 DLR 2d 689 the Supreme Court of Canada awarded damages against the Prime Minister of Quebec personally for directing the cancellation of a restaurant-owner’s liquor licene solely because the licensee provided bail on many occasions for fellow members of the sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which was then unpopular with the authorities. It was observed that, ‘what could be more malicious than to punish this licensee for having done what he had an absolute right to do in a matter utterly irrelevant to the Alcoholic Liquor Act? Malice in the proper sense is simply acting for a reason and purpose knowingly foreign to the administration, to which was added here the element of intentional punishment by what was virtually vocation outlawry. In Smith vs. East Elloe Rural District Council (1956 AC 736 the House of Lords held that an action for damages might proceed against the clerk of a local authority personally on the ground that he had procured the compulsory purchase of the plaintiff’s property wrongfully and in bad faith. In Farrington vs. Thompson (1959 UR 286) the Supreme Court of Victoria awarded damages for exercising a power the authorities knew they did not possess. a licensing Inspector and a police officer ordered the plaintiff to close his hotel and cease supplying liquor. He obeyed and filed a suit for the resultant loss. The Court observed :
“Now I take it to be perfectly clear, that if a public officer abuses his office, either by an act of omission or commission, and the consequence of that is an injury to an individual, an action may be maintained against such public officer.”
In Wood vs. Blair (The Times, July 3, 4, 5, 1957 (Hallet J and Court of Appeal) a dairy farmer’s manageress contracted typhoid fever and the local authority served notices forbidding him to sell milk, except under certain conditions. These notices were void, and the farmer was awarded damages on the ground that the notices were invalid and that the plaintiff was entitled to damages for misfeasance. This was done even though the finding was that the officers had acted from the best motives.[ Ghaziabad Development Authority Versus Balbir Singh 17-03-2004]