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.

17 Responses to “We Need A Big Change-Consumer Rights”

  1. 1 Pawan Joshi September 10, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    Nice information, I do agree with your point. I wants to add some point in this regard. Yes, we have consumer court as well as information right to know information in a department. But what you will do, when your personal information get misused over internet.

    Please pardon me about the act, I have done. I commit it and feel sorry openly. Normally it does not happen.

    But think, day after tommorrow, its a time to celebrate your friends birthday but friend is in USA, what you will do, obviously you can call her to wish (thanks to TRY for thinking about indian customers and put down call rates as well as roaming) but what extra you will do,

    You open an internet website, you can name this, Ecard.com, birthdaysurprise.com or something else…

    Select a beautiful card and send it by submitting entries in a form. You add your email address, her email address and comment.

    But is this safe? I can’t comment

    After some days, you will get a huge number of emails. When you will see full email then you will realise that these emails are sent to you but you dont have links to these societies, companies and you dont want these promotional offers.

    But what was your fault? Is this your fault that you have used service of that e-card website, obviously not…

    Actually some of hackers add robot to those sites which are accessed most.

    So, always keep in mind, never submit your business email address there, it may give you painful day….

    Another thing related to this, can be like …

    When we do online shopping from a cyber cafe, your credit card number and other information can be left in cache of the computer..

    You can do two things…

    Avoid online shopping from cyber cafe or public computer. Its very private information you have which you even dont share with your best friends..

    However, if it is bit necessary, do it in a safe way..

    In india, e-commerce and internet is in its beginning stage, we dont have much option or law to sue these kind of people but what we can do, is only precaution while working..

    I am sure that everybody who use internet is aware of these kind of mistake but we oftion forget about this thing…

    Now, I am feeling sleepy so I will write more about this on some another day.

  2. 2 Ashish September 11, 2007 at 5:20 am

    You will be surprised to know, how many people like to avoid bills to get some discounts, so they don’t have to pay tax. Chinese goods are also quite popular in India and you do know most of them don’t come with warranties. When you bypass the law the first time, it can’t help you when you’re in trouble. 🙂

    I disagree with the previous commentator. Most of these websites ASK you to agree [mostly a tick mark] if you would like to receive e-zines and newsletters from them and their associates. Mostly its choice-based while some REQUIRE you to choose that. You can avoid that by not choosing or simply choosing some other site. You can check for phishing [false emails] by a simple URL check. Even if its showing you the Yahoo! sign in page and the url is pdskfj.com, you know its not authentic and you’re being routed.

    Most of the new browsers come with phish checks. Bottomline is there will always be people trying to scam you, they’ll never go away. To quote snape, “Its a monster with multiple heads which sprouts a more monstrous one the more you attack it.” We need to be aware.

    Oh yeah and I maintain a Cybercafe and I always suggest people to signout and clear the history if they feel their security is threatened. If you’re more paranoid, you could download the Portable Apps package and the TorFox secure browser on a 512 MB UDisk and use it because these apps don’t require installing and run from the UDisk itself. 🙂

    I think I’ve stretched the discussion far away from the topic… lol.

  3. 3 Ashish September 11, 2007 at 5:37 am

    Something I just remembered. There was a huge hulabaloo a few months back over Fake MP4 players with false memory advertising on Ebay.com Mostly, sellers conned people by showing false capacities and when contacted said Mb means Megabit and not MB [Mega Byte]. Ebay when contacted would rarely act until people harassed them.

    A forum [mympxplayer.org or something] campaigned against these sellers and most people found it AFTER buying these players [me included but mine turned out to be authentic.. long story] Cases like these still turn out, but more and more people are now organised, if the seller cons then he gets a TON of negative feedback. Effective and even shook eBay for some measure. Just because the authorities sleep doesn’t mean you have to.

    Point is, people still get conned but their numbers are far less and eBay looks into the matter more seriously. 🙂

  4. 4 gautam September 11, 2007 at 6:13 am

    i wud like to know wat u did, or wat procedure u followed against the postal deptt…
    i am sure u must be feeling several times in a day being not served fully as a consumer or discrepancy in services by the service provider…on a routinely basis..every day..month..
    so vat u did after waiting for so long on the phone every time every billing cycle..
    u like to being exploited every time or to devote so much time in following the above mentioned path every month…
    I want to know from u sincerely how many times u went to consumer court.. how many times u complained to ombudsman…i just wnted to know wat u did actually….not wat can b done..

    then tell me u want this long and irrelevant procedure or something fast and result oriented and which fixes problem for ever… u don’t need to suffer at their hand (service provider)any more…

  5. 5 gautam September 11, 2007 at 6:18 am

    in my view, govt. had made or just formulated things which reflect that govt. is concerned @ consumers.. but actually these are impracticable and irrelevant laws… because the govt.. favours corporates internally…new laws need to b framed which penalises companies heftly so they won’t take consumers for a ride.. and consumer can complain easily and not time consuming..
    like RTI

  6. 6 Poonam Sharma September 11, 2007 at 7:48 am

    @Pawan: Dat is true it is dificult to protect data these days. But then awareness is lowly coming up, we are beginning to know about phishing and our rights to privacy.

    I agree with, Ashish, when he says we should be careful about things such as signing out and deleting history when working on public domain. We have to be careful about where we put our data…

    @Ashish: You are right, there are more cases of consumers campaigning against defective products and forcing the companied for recall (in case their product is defective) and be careful in future. Here is a link about consumer campigns people have conducted on socil networking web sites: http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=e4d14903-052c-47ce-b33b-61cabec30744

    Key is to be aware and stand up for our rights. 🙂

    As you aptly summed up “Point is, people still get conned but their numbers are far less and eBay looks into the matter more seriously. “…

  7. 7 Poonam Sharma September 11, 2007 at 7:58 am

    @Gautam: Welcome back, I am glad you voiced your dissent here 🙂

    You are right what in our busy lives these tiffs with credit card companies or others requires hell lot of patience and time. Especially when Indian market, as you pinted out earlier, has no toll free numbers, lack of infrastructure or associates (that is the reason why we wait so long in queue to speak to a live person), these are certinly hassles. That’s why most people pay up to get rid of the trouble.

    This complacency, I say, is understable but that is what we need to get rid off. If we hope a better future. What you are suggesting, new govenment laws that are hassle free are not going to instant. Till den do we wait and suffer at the end of these profit-making comapanies? No, we make use of existing laws.

    The Consumer Protection Act, 1986 is 21 years old! But it remains most under utilized, if we are too busy to make use of existing laws to protect us. How can we expect others or the governement to make amends?

    Aware citizen protect themselves.

  8. 8 Poonam Sharma September 11, 2007 at 8:09 am

    Gautam, you asked me what I did….I had trouble with SBI card…they charged me for some insurance I never asked for….they sent me a balance tranfer for 14,000/- that I never asked for…to top it they made mistake in data entry as well, my card was charged for double balance transfer! Without using my card even once, my first bill was whopping 38000/-

    I called customer care sevral times, waited for 45 minutes…it was hell…each time an executive wud wave off some amounts.i got transfered to their more departments…wrote feedback email to their head….no reply….

    Frutrated, I asked to cancel the card. They didn’t. 😦

    But then, as didn’t have time to go to consumer court. I filed an online complint at core.nic.in. Thought I did not get response from core or sbi, my bills were cleansed..after mentioning my complain in customer care…Sbi did wake up and gave me an explanation of what happened..it seems while selling the represntative omitted to tell me the card came with insurance and balance tranfer was an errror…Yeah, i didnt get any compensation from the ban (niether did i ask) but I didn’t have any more trouble with this card yet. I don’t think, that insurance thing has been permanently taken off irrespective of the scheme i was in.

    Yes, core has yet to respond but that is not because it is long procedure to file a complaint but that my case is pending like they are in courts. (But once court holds its judgement, u get compensated along with interst for the period you had to wait.) If I were more active, I cud hav gone to near by consumer court to get compensation. One such compensation, I am sure bank will wake up.

    And about the postal thing, I never did anything becasue I didnt know abt my rights den. 😦 But check this piece titled “Post offices can be hauled up for poor services” at http://www.tribuneindia.com/2002/20020729/biz.htm#2

  9. 9 gautam September 11, 2007 at 8:24 am

    i also asked vat u did against the post office and in other cases… against cellular operators..etc..against auto drivers who don’t go with meter or having errand meters..
    consumers are doing vat they feel convenient to do..a lot of people are aware but its still difficult to follow these.. still a lot of people fight but as per their convenience…

    point is to raise the voice for new laws…. only we hav to, no one else will do.. govt. wont do it on its own… we consumers will hav to raise our voice… so realize its need and make people aware @ the new need.. form forums, groups… ur blog is a good platform. atleast few people are reading it.. mail to ur friend list.. publish it where u can.. talk to organizations which are involved in consumer rights.. make presentation to them.. only we hav to do this..
    i know it will take time… but we hav to start it.. we are already very late…
    lets dream @ new society of people and by the people…and build it….
    i know our democracy is this.. but we have to improve it..
    our freedom fighters dream @ it and build it.. now the onus lies on us…..new generation…if we are true indian.. then we hav to clean our system..

  10. 10 Nishu September 11, 2007 at 11:47 am

    nither can i write this much .. nor can i read thing much ..
    if culd read i would rather prepare for IAS

  11. 11 Shalinee September 12, 2007 at 6:03 am

    Hey poonam i have on more link to add…where we can log our greviencesregarding the problems they faced while dealing with Government officials or departments like Passport Office, Electricity board, BSNL/MTNL, Railways etc etc.

    this link is http://darpg-grievance.nic.in/

  12. 12 Poonam Sharma September 12, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Shalinee, that is good one that I missed adding. Thanks for adding it here.

    This web site is updated (mostly on monthly basis) and does tell you number of court cases pending in ehich sate. You can also track your own complaint as well unlike at core.nic.in.

  13. 13 lallopallo September 13, 2007 at 3:53 am

    Miss, I feel you need to edit your posts. They are way too long and will limit your audience. I feel you have some interesting things to say and discuss, hence this suggestion.

  14. 14 Ashutosh Baranwal September 16, 2007 at 4:30 am

    You people seriously have a lot of time and you all have found a nice way to kill it. Anyways, keeep writing, sitting in your Air Conditioned drawing rooms, this way you will surely change the world.

  15. 15 Whatever. September 16, 2007 at 5:19 am

    yeah yeah this site , that site
    when there is no sight , no site can help

    as for @ ashutosh
    any problem with air condition or with drawing rooms? well writting in room without an air condition and bath room -( not drawing room ) would that make a change!!!!!
    and yeah btw u are equally lame to read blog! u jus wanna sound some one different…
    dude go get a life , and if u have one stop commenting like 10 year old on blogs!

  16. 16 Poonam Sharma September 16, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    @lallopallo: dats a good advice but brevity does not seem to be my virtues.Too many thoughts that I want to pen 😦

    @Ashutosh: I wish I had more time, I would write more, about more issues, and campaign more…so much to do…so less time…If even one person is imapcted or informed by what I write, I would say I have been successful…

    @whatever: true, when there is no sight, no site can help….

  1. 1 Consumer Rights Awareness II « Visceral Observations Trackback on September 16, 2007 at 12:02 pm

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