Consumer Court Judgements
Good Governance and Citizen's Charter
Acknowledging good governance as an exemplary aim, the role of Charters was vigorously debated. Concern over lack of commitment and interest in the matter shown by MPs and media, resulting in the non-implementation of Charters, was expressed. Successful cases of cheap and effective publication and mass distribution of Charters in Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were set forth as good examples. The need for advocacy and lobbying with policymakers to ensure continuation of delivery was recognized. The role of right to relevant and precise information, transparency and accountability of public funds as the essential elements of good governance was discussed.
- The involvement of NGOs, CCC and consumer groups in the Charter Campaign to reach consumers and service providers is to be enhanced.
- The CCC is to widen its membership with consumer groups.
- Tripartite meetings are to help reach better understanding between government, service providers and citizen's groups.
- Provisions for performance failure at the service provider's are to be integrated into the Citizen's Charter.
- Charters to be distributed in regional languages.
- The Charters to be simplified and abridged; and transparency and accountability to be introduced into the consultation process.
- Charter advocacy and sensitization to be handled by elected representatives, media, the panchayats and also by the lower rung of government administration.
- The CCC is to co-operate with government departments. Consumers and citizens are to be mobilized by the CCC into an effective pressure group.
- Right to information is to be inherent in the Charter movement.
- The Citizen's Charter is to be made an election issue.
- Consumer groups should specialize in vital sectors to be able to develop expertise and function effectively.
Role of Women in the Consumer Movement
The workshop started by recognizing the vital role played by women by being on the vanguard of the consumer movement since the Chipko movement in 1976 and beyond. Women have been spearheading resistance against issues such as breast milk substitutes and environmental exploitation. The plight of women exploited through dubious investment schemes, the beauty business and advertising was also brought to light. Reminding everyone that 85 percent of purchases are made by women in the household, the speaker called upon women to use their experiential knowledge as a means of change in society.
- Women to be reached on the grassroots level to bring out their consumer awareness.
- Women to form about 50% of membership of every consumer organization.
- Women are to be selected for state commissions, redressal forums, advisory committees and consumer cells.
Service Standard in Banking Sector
The following areas were mainly in focus during the workshop:
- Non-performing assets: Bad debts on account of the Corporate Sector in connivance with corrupt banking personnel.
- Inconvenience with officers: Complaints such as deficit of interest payments suffered by consumers through delays in clearance; unnecessary objections raised by bank officers, filing of complaints, problems with pension checks etc. were given voice.
- Bank Frauds: The need to protect the middle class poor women and the deprived class from wilful default and fraudulent dealings of bank officers was set forth.
- Introduction of e-banking: Emphasizing the needs of the new economy consumers, the speaker made references to restructuring and service standard changes required in the bank systems and provisions for new technology training and orientation and towards computerizing and tele-banking.
- Consumer representation to be involved in the complaints redressal machinery of banks at all levels.
- RBI's recommendation for voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) should be implemented to avoid fraud and accumulation of non-performing assets
- Unnecessary strikes causing heavy losses to commercial transactions and harming consumer's interest must be avoided.
The context for this workshop was provided by the need to organize educational workshops for the benefit of common investors, particularly the small ones. Several common difficulties faced by investors today (e.g. while dealing in shares and the steps taken by the Kolkata Stock Exchange) were discussed. Issues relating to fraudulent investment companies and non-banking financial institutions were also discussed.
The speakers expressed genuine enthusiasm for holding and participating in 'investor workshops' in the future.
- In view of non-repayments of public debts by non-banking financial institutions, the Convention urges the Government to make defaulter companies accountable for paying dues without any further harassment.
- The Investor Education and Promotion Fund should be effectively utilized for the awareness of investors.
- Prior permission from SEBI or other competent authority to be made mandatory for gifts of movable or immovable property (other than registered charitable trust) worth more than Rs.25000.
- The rate of income tax on long-term capital gain from sale of any asset should be restricted to ten percent as is now in the case of transfer of securities.
- The Company Law Board should be cautious in allowing waiver of interest or repayment of deposits by installments to the investors, and for safeguarding the investor's interest. A consumer representative should be appointed by the Company Law Board, the workshop resolves.
Rural Consumer and Social Justice
This Workshop tried to highlight some of the severest problems faced by the rural consumer and the poor. Wide spread maladies and malpractices like adulteration, substandard PDS supplies and housing materials, under-weighing and over-pricing of essential commodities in the rural markets were pointed out. The necessity of vigilant committees to monitor prices and law awareness camps in rural areas to protest injustice was stressed.
Other proposals included General Insurance Company for insuring cattle, banks to release entire sanction amount, adequacy of scheme money, harassment of rural consumers.
- Consumer Protection Act may be amended to cover free medical services in the government hospitals as a consumer right. This is to guarantee the free treatment usually denied to and paid for by the rural consumers in Government Hospitals.
- To ensure a fair and just weight regime to the rural consumers. Testing kits and monitoring cells (to check overpricing and quality of product) are to be made available.
- Consumer education through pamphlets and other common media is to be made available in regional language. Consumer institutes are to be established at block level and VCOs are to extend their activities to rural areas. This would enable wider coverage.
- NGOs are to be established in the rural areas to represent at the Central Consumer Protection Council, state CPC and Consumer Coordination Council. These NGOs need to be facilitated through public financing.
- State Commissions are to have periodic meetings and model projects devised and assigned to voluntary consumer organizations.
- Human rights and ideas of social and economic justice and free governance enshrined in the Indian Constitution are to be assured and protected.
New Indian Competition Law and its Impact on consumers
Competition, Competition Law, Competition Authority (administrative and investigative) and Competition Watchdog were the key points discusses in the workshops. The need for new Competition Law for India was expressed in view of the changing economic scenario in a globalizing world, especially given the competition abuses that common consumers are facing today.
Other issues included initiatives taken by the Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), the need for action on anti-dumping and safety standards.
- Anti-dumping clauses and safety standards should be built into the Competition Law so that consumer and public interests are taken care of.
- The Law must be given power to enforce Competition Law in its letter and spirit and check competition abuses in the market place.
- Resources should be made available to the Competition Authority for its proper functioning.
- A separate fund must be made available for generating awareness on competition issues.
Consumer Product Testing and Consumer Awareness
Various processes involved in comparative testing and their implications were explained in detail. Test programs involving research institutions and manufacturers, market surveys along with sampling and coding procedures were among the issues discussed.
- The workshop resolved in favor of preparing more kits to test product-reliability and identification at field level, conducting such tests in competent laboratories and disseminating results through mass media in simple language.
- Testing organizations are to be strengthened and popularized through magazines.
- Interactions with national and international standards body to be encouraged to update existing standards.
- Sale of foreign goods and services to be allowed as per foreign and domestic standards.
Damage to house due to leakage from Municipal Public Sewerage - Held that it is a proper Consumer Dispute.
Allegation of Complainant was that the Municipal Council, Water Supply and Sewerage Board had laid down pipes just in front of the house of Complainant for flushing water of drains and sewerage and it had damaged her house. The pipe was lengthy, but just in front of house of Complainant; it had been damaged and leaking out water and refuse etc., which had gone into walls of Complainant's house. It had damaged cracked and spoilt upto 14 feet of Complainant's house walls. The walls were wet with saline water which had made the front portion of house dangerous for living due to fear of coming down at any time and causing loss of life and property. A complaint was filed with District Forum for replacing defective pipes, compensation of Rs. 25,000/- for damage done to house and costs for complaint.
Decision of District Forum
District Forum dismissed Complaint by holding that Complainant was not a Consumer and, thus, no relief could be granted to her. Complainant holds a sewerage connection. She can be called a consumer only if she can be considered having hired services of opposite' parties for proper maintenance of sewerage connection.
Decision of Punjab Commission
Factual position in regard to:
- Affidavit of architect;
- Estimate of damage filed due to M.C. sewer and underground drainage system;
- Plan of Complainant's house showing damages.
Placed on record have not been considered at all while holding by District Forum that Complainant was not a Consumer.
State Commission has held in another case that Complainant therein had been paying water and sewerage charges to opposite parties for last so many years and she was entitled to all civic amenities provided under Punjab Municipal Act and therefore, she fell within definition of 'Consumer' under Consumer Protection Act. In that State Commission had directed O.Ps to rectify defects in drainage and sewerage system and it was held that Complainant was a 'Consumer'.
Honorable Supreme Court ruled that a Government or Semi-Government body or local authority was as such amendable to Consumer Protection Act as any other private body rendering similar service. Relevant portion of order of Supreme Court reads as under:
"A Government body or Semi-Government body or a local authority is as much amendable to the Act as any other private body rendering similar service. Truly speaking, it would be a service to the society if such bodies instead of claiming exclusion subject themselves to the Act and let their acts and omissions scrutinized as public accountability is necessary for healthy growth of society."
State Commission holds that, in the case in hand, it could not be held by D.F. that Complainant was not 'Consumer' of O.Ps Case remanded back for decision taking into consideration factual position on record.
Consumer receives color monitor and other accessories for a computer as per contract
FactsAn Engineering Graduate, doing business in partnership with his wife and running a small-scale industry for programming geometrical profiles, purchased a computer against 100% payment by cheque for Rs. 1,32,000/-. At the time of installation the colour monitor and certain other accessories were not provided with a promise to supply them soon. Complainant waits for some time and after two months and then asks the supplier to either supply the colour monitor or to refund the amount.
Defence in regard to Non-Supply of Colour Monitor
- There was no negligence as colour monitor was not forthcoming from the supplier, Sterling Computers Ltd.
- Having accepted the installation of the computer the Complainant was stopped from raising any claim later on.
- Time was not the essence of contract.
Order of State Commission
Hon'ble State Commission directed to:
Refund the price of computer i.e. Rs. 1,32,000/- along with interest @ 15% till date of payment and cost of Rs. 1,500/-. Appeal filed before National Commission.
Observations of National Commission
- No merit in argument that time is not the essence of the contract. Having accepted the money in full and then not to supply the goods itself is a deficiency. It should have been given /installed at the first instance along with the computer. "Shortly Supply Computer Monitor"-this shortly cannot be extended endlessly.
- The doctrine of estoppels does not help at all as installation was accepted in good faith on a written assurance that colour monitor shall be provided shortly. Complainant waits for two months and only after that asks to either supply colour monitor or to refund the amount. Installation of computer on qualified basis does not stop the complainant from raising his claim.
- There is only one point on which there is merit and that relates to the silence in the State Commission's order on the return of the computer. It cannot be the case of the complainant while he asks for refund he should also be permitted to keep the computer.
Order of National Commission
Order of State Commission is modified to the extent that complainant shall return the computer within 7 days of receipt of amount directed to be paid which must be done within a period of four weeks. Cost fixed at Rs. 3, 00/- to the complainant.
Telegraphic amount returned to customer with an additional interest due to delay.
Amount of Money sent by Telegraphic order did not reach payee at all despite furnishing full address of payee.
Stand of Post Office
There is complete immunity from liability for loss, mis-delivery or delay or damage caused in postal transmission. There was no fraudulent or willful act on the part of Post Office. Reliance placed on S.6 Post Office Act, 1898.
Decision of District Forum (DF)
DF directed Post Office to return telegraphic money order amount with interest @ 12% from date of sending money order till payment, return money order charges, and to pay compensation of Rs. 2,000 far mental agony and anguish suffered. Pay within 30 days otherwise pay interest @ 18% for award amount.
Decision of Tamil Nadu State Commission on appeal by the Post Office
- S.6 of Post Office Act, 1898 is not at all applicable which gives complete immunity from liability for loss, mis-delivery, delay or damage caused in postal transmission.
- Relevant Section applicable which gives complete immunity from liability for loss, mis-delivery, delay or damage caused in postal transmission
- Relevant Section applicable in case on hand is S.48(c) of Act, 1898.
- Payment of any money order being refused or delayed by the commission of any fraud or willful act or default of any officer of Post Office, exemption from liability may not be there.
- Exemption from liability in respect of money orders cannot be claimed incase of commission of fraud, willful act or default resulting in payment of money order being refused or delay occasioned therefore.
What material required to point out practice of fraud or willful act or default.
What sort of proof on such aspects required to mulct liability either on Government or any officer of Post Office.
Complainant cannot be expected to have any sort of knowledge as relatable to further acts done by Post Office in dispatch of money order form and other related matters for payment to addressee.
It is for Post Office to furnish particulars to enable Post Office of addressee to effect payment of money order by personnel of Post Office of addressee in as much as those details are exclusively within personal knowledge of Post Office.
Section 106 of Evidence Act states when any fact is especially within knowledge of any person, burden of providing that fact is upon him. Thus, it is for Post Office to divulge all information within their exclusive knowledge for making payment of money due to the addressee of money order.
There is total absence of proof on part of Post Office on such aspect of matter. As such adverse inference is to be drawn (S. 114(g) Evidence Act) to the effect that evidence which could be and is not produced, if produced, be unfavourable to person who withholds it. Hence committal of fraud / willful act defaults by Post Office resulting in non-payment of money order.
As decided by D.F. but compensation of Rs. 2,000 disallowed as both interest and compensation not in accordance with law.
The facility of a gas connection is a right for all those within Municipality limits
Appeal before National Commission
Arjan Singh was denied registration for gas connection, initially, by a gas agency on the ground that Umri lies outside Municipal limits hence outside his service area and, subsequently, by two others, on the same ground. The latter arrived at the same conclusion based on inquiries made from the former gas agency.
The grouse is twofold:
First Gas connection was denied on wrong demise which is a deficiency in service while in fact Umri was within Municipal Limits;
Second, latter two instead of enquiring from Arjan Singh decided to enquire from former Gas agency.
As per Arjan Singh, these three gas agencies connived to deprive him the facility of gas connection.
Relief ordered by District Forum
- Gas connection be given within one month:
- Rs. 10,000 payment as damages and costs, jointly and severally
Modification of order by State Commission
Hon'ble State Commission modified the order of District Forum to the extent of deleting Rs. 10,000 awarded as damages and costs.
Arjan Singh takes up the matter to National Commission.
- Deficiency on the part of gas agencies is writ large.
- Harassment caused to Arjan Singh cannot be denied.
- State Commission has given no reason to disagree with or to modify the order of the District Forum.
- Ram Singh was compelled to knock on the doors of Consumer Forums to get justice and in the process, incur expenditure to attend the Forums, engage a lawyer, etc.
- State commission has given no reasons to waive off Rs. 10,000 given as damages and costs.
- Costs fixed at Rs. 5,000 to be payable to Arjan Singh.
General Insurance Company takes more than two years, from date of preferring claim.
Sukhwinder Singh had availed Accident Claim Policy. Sukhwinder met with an accident. He sustained injuries and after remaining in different hospitals died after 19 months.
Deceased lodged a claim immediately after accident. Insurance Company, one after another, appointed two separate Surveyors (Doctors at that) who visited the deceased at his residence. Whole of record is replete with details of injuries / fracture. Insurance Company is harping on the point that cause of death was jaundice and not the accident, but there is no proof on such. There is no death certificate giving the cause of death on record for Consumer Forum to examine the point. Insurance Company takes more than two years from date of preferring claim, and nine months from date of death, to repudiate claim.
Case of Insurance Company
Insurance Company repudiates claim on the ground that deceased, while taking policy, had concealed material facts relating to health that he had or was suffering from jaundice.
He was an alcoholic and had severe liver problem. He died on account of this ailment and not on account of accident. Sukhwinder was alcoholic and it was after such a bout that he was hit on the road. He had jaundice for a long time and he concealed this fact at the time of taking the policy.
Case of Widow Smt. Shavinder Kaur.
Both the Surveyors who visited deceased at his residence saw him in plaster- ridden bed; as a result of accident. He did not conceal any information at time of taking policy. Insurance Co. is unnecessarily trying to harass widow.
Dismissed the complaint.
State Commission allowed appeal of Shavinder Kaur.
Insurance Company and Shavinder, both, approached National Commission.
Insurance Company prays setting aside order of State Commission. Shavinder throws counter-blast and prays for enhancement of compensation from Rs. 1 lakh directed by State Commission.
Observations of National Commission
No material on record to show that deceased had jaundice at the time of taking policy; and, second, that this fact was within his knowledge. In order to lean on fact of concealment, Insurance Company has to prove its knowledge.
In any case, it was not a life policy but Accident Claim Policy.
Long delay of 2 years from date of accident and 9 months from date of death, to repudiate claim itself is a clear case of deficiency in service.
No interference in order of State Commission for payment of Rs. 1 Lakh, the insurance amount, with interest @ 12% effective from about 5 months from date of accident and costs of Rs. 2,000 awarded by State Commission. No revisions dismissed.