Archive for September 10th, 2007

We Need A Big Change-Consumer Rights

I am back with “We Need a Big Change” series. This time it is, as title suggest, about consumer rights. I will start with a personal grievance.

I was applying for admission in a university for Masters in mass communication and journalism. The envelope that was provided by university, to send my demand draft, was little strange. Instead of having “To” address in the centre of envelope as it usually is, it was on the right while the center place was reserved for writing “From” address that was to be mine. There were only two days to go, I paid for a speed post hoping my application will reach on time. What happened next was something I will never forget. Two days later, to my horror, I discovered that my application had been delivered back by Indian Post to my home address! Welcome to India!

I agree that “From” and “To” column were unusually placed on that envelope, but I expect people employed at postal department to be literate. You can imagine how I would have felt about my application not reaching on time. I added a demand draft for 500/- as late fees (thank god, for that option) and resent.

I was enraged, I went about to ask where I could complain about the negligence of the postal department. After a lot of asking around, I got to know there actually was a division in the postal department to registered complaints. I smugly filed that complaint hoping to get this issue noticed. I thought perhaps I can claim my late fees. That was about four years ago, I have never heard from postal department about it. How naïve I was to expect championing of consumer rights in my motherland! 😦

That was first time I thought there should be a forum for consumers. Good news is, guys, we have such forums—National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and also a respective State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

Bad news? Only 43% Indians know about it, only 24% of them know how to use it. 😦

Let’s take an example to prove my point. You get a new credit card, you use it to the fullest. You realize you haven’t yet got the bill. You call the customer care, wait in queue for 30 minutes, remember you are paying for the call. Believe me, I am not exaggerating, I waited for 45 minutes in SBI credit card customer helpline number Some service they have!

After you get in the call with customer care executive, you are told you will be sent your duplicate bill. Yet you don’t get it and finally you have reached your due date. You are asked to pay your late fees, for no fault of your own. What do you do?

  1. You pay up.
  2. You hem and haw and then pay up.
  3. You try to file a complaint with consumer court with insufficient evidence, nothing happens and you pay up . Very rare people file complaint though…
  4. You bargain and den some nice executive waives it off only to find same thing has repeated again next month. This time executive would not waive off your late fees no what how you explain. You pay up to get rid of the hassle.

Did you know that you could have gone to the banking ombudsman appointed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) under Banking Ombudsman Scheme 2006 for grievance redressal? I know, like me, you didn’t know about it. You could have done it simply by writing on a plain paper or filing online complaint or by sending an email to the ombudsman.

The credit card companies till date have collected more than Rs 6,000 crore in a decade from customers in India by way of fines and late fee. The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) has ordered a probe into the fees levied by them. (Information Courtsey, Times of India).

Think of number of people who could benefit by this information about ombudsman. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs did their best to promote awareness by “Jaago Grahak Jaago” campaigns but there is more we citizens collectively can do about it.

Do you have a strategy in mind how to handle at individual level? Do you have some experiences where you could do with advice on consumer rights? Feel free to add them here. It’s time we made sure that consumer is not king only till they buy the product rather their rights should be preserved after they have got the product.

It’s late in the night now but I have a strategy forming in my mind. I would like to share it with you. I will come back with more on this.

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