Today’s guest on Visceral Observations is Amit, a hardware engineer by profession. He is like us, yet more special. Because he is a concerned citizen who recently took cudgels for a consumer rights issue and won a case. Lets hear in first person about his experience at the consumer courts.
Hi Amit, Welcome to Visceral Observations!
Congratulations for winning the battle against MRP overcharging! 🙂 What was the problem you faced with vendor that led you to file a case in the consumer court?
I am a frequent flyer and fly through various domestic and international airports. It gets my gall to see the rampant overcharging that snack bars/small food outlets indulge in, with flagrant disregard to laws and rules.
In March, 2007, when I was at the Bangalore Airport departure lounge I decided to do something about it. I went to a shop called Port Lounge, run by PK Hospitality Services Limited. I bought a 200ml packet of Bejois Apple juice with MRP of Rs 10. I was charged Rs 30 for the same, a 200% markup on top of MRP. I asked the trader in the shop whether he knew that he was committing an illegal act by selling above the MRP. He said that they have to sell above MRP because of “airport taxes.” However, he refused to give me a bill explaining what these so-called taxes were. After much wrangling, I managed to get a bill printed with “Juice — Rs 30” on which I hand-wrote “Bejois – 100 ml” and got them to stamp it. (From day 1, I knew that I would be approaching the consumer court, so it was important that I gather every bit of proof.)
There were two legal violations committed by Port Lounge:
(1) Overcharging on MRP, which is an offence under the Packaged Commodities Rules
(2) Refusal to provide a consumer with a correct sale bill, which is an offence under Section 29 and Section 76 of the Karnataka VAT Act, 2003
Before we proceed to know about your personal experience in the court, have you been paid the monetary compensation by the vendor as instructed by the consumer court? I ask this because sometimes I hear compliance to the consumer court order is also a problem.
Yes, this is definitely a problem issue. My wife and I have faced this problem with another consumer case we won a few months ago. In the previous case, the Hon’ble Judges would instruct the local police to produce the O.P., but nothing much would come out of it.
In each of my visits to the consumer courts, I’ve found complainants who have won the case having to come back and inform the judge that they have still not been paid the monetary compensation awarded to them. Sometimes the amounts in question run into lakhs with delayed interest.
As for this case, it is quite difficult for me to follow up regarding payment of the monetary compensation since I am no longer in India. Moreover, getting the paltry monetary compensation out of the opposite party (O.P.) is not of interest to me, but making them stop over charging is.
Having said that: I am trying to find a consumer protection organization in Bangalore who would be willing to follow up to get the monetary compensation and keep it for their services.
What actions did you take before knocking the door of the consumer court?
None, actually 🙂 There is no point.
I’ve had previous interactions with the so called Dept of Weights and Measures which is supposed to be the governmental watchdog on behalf of consumers. Unfortunately, for lack of resources or otherwise, they are not really useful, and hardly respond to consumer complaints. 😦
The one time we got a reply was when my wife wrote in to The Hindu detailing her experiences with this department when trying to complain about overcharging autorickshaw drivers.
Charges for service and ambience
Moreover, I was quite familiar with the concept of charging beyond MRP in restaurants and hotels, where the “excess” payment is for the service and ambience. I was also quite familiar with:
- FHRAI’s ongoing litigation regarding the same
- Delhi High Court’s judgment in March, 2007 upholding the right of hotels and restaurants to charge customers higher than the MRP for a bottle of mineral water as the customer is being charged extra for the “ambience” of the place.
I wanted to prove that snack bars and food outlets do not come within this judgement. I wanted an actual judgment made by the consumer court in this regard. This is an
important point, since the judgement made by the Delhi High Court specifically left out “snack bars” and “food outlets”. O.P., in my this case, tried very hard to prove that they were operating a “starred restaurant” and not a snack bar/food outlet.
You have written in your blog, it was a process that involved “a lot of hassle, a lot of time and energy spent” Yet what led you to file a complaint at consumer forum?
Something I deeply believe in: Fight for your rights. Everywhere you hear, consumers are complaining. Roads are a problem, infrastructure is a problem, traffic is a problem, public transportation is a problem. Fine.
Isn’t it time that we do something about it instead of ceaseless bellyaching? Yes, I’ve spent my personal time, effort, energy, money in fighting for what I believe are my rights. But its for a greater public good and can’t really be measured in such terms.
What problems you faced while fighting your cases in consumer court?
No real problems, really. Well, none those were insurmountable. The court I was assigned to was in one direction from where I used to stay and then exactly in the opposite direction to where I used to work in Bangalore. So this was a real hassle travelling to the court in the morning for the hearing and then all the way to my workplace, what with Bangalore’s congested roads and traffic. But this was a personal problem and once that can
hardly be blamed on the court. Still, it might help to have the court inside town 😉
- Approaching the consumer court is not fun and games. Be prepared to spend significant time and effort showing up for the hearings, unless you hire a lawyer of
course. And frankly, most of the lawyers I saw in the courts were duds…they can hardly open their mouth and make a good argument. So I’d rather you did this yourself.
- It is possible that the dates given for the hearing are not suitable for you to appear in person. One can ask for a change of date; it depends on luck and the mood of the judges. So this is kind of an arbitrary process.
Any inputs on the process of filling consumer court complaint? What documents are essential to file a consumer court case?
Regarding the process of filing a complaint, etc, there is some information on the internet which explains the process, there are address and contacts of consumer protection agencies, sample complaint forms, etc. I’ve summed up some good sources here on my blog.
All in all, the process is layman-friendly and people are encouraged NOT to use lawyers. I didn’t have a lawyer, I made about 11 appearances for the MRP case. Neither did my wife hire lawyer for her case, and she must have made about 8 appearances.
Difference in procedure between two courts
However, I was quite surprised by the difference in procedure between two courts I’ve attended in Bangalore:
In one, the judges would be very helpful, would use layman’s language, would explain what was going on at each step. This is really useful for people who have no legal background.
In another court, the judges would use only legal terms “rejoinder” and “sub-rejoinder” and “argument” and “citation” and what not, and would never explain what was going on. So this became quite painful, especially when my case was moving slowly and I attended hearing after hearing without having a deep understanding of what was the legal process to be followed. There are a few occasions when I felt quite frustrated by the lack of information flowing from the court to me.
The people in the consumer court offices were fairly helpful. Sometimes they act like the old office babus of yesteryears… but persistence gets over their arrogance or stupidity (take your pick 🙂 ).
Documents or other items related to proof
It is absolutely essential to keep all correspondence (letters/e-mails), bills, warranties, details of customer care contacted (dates/time/names/what was promised), photographs, even product advertisement/brochures/flyers that promise a particular feature, guarantee, free item, money back whatever. Also, very useful is to be able to submit a copy of another consumer court case that has relevance for this case. This is called “citation” and is very common in legal matters.
How long did it take for your cases to finish? With backlog of cases, do you think a consumer stands a fair chance of getting quick judgement at consumer courts?
Both of the cases took about 6 or 7 months. Normally, the cases are supposed to be disposed off within 3 months, but this rarely happens. Still, it is quite different than the normal courts where the first hearing might take place after a few years. So, yes, the consumer definitely stands a fair change of getting a quick (relatively) judgment.
Interview to be continued. In the next part, Amit will speak about other common issues such as overcharging by autorickshaws that he has handled.Amit also blogs about his experiences and consumer rights at The Everyday Bloggy.