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The customer is king

The customer is king
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First Published: Mon, Jun 04 2007. 11 59 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Jun 04 2007. 11 59 PM IST
For Delhi-based advocate Nivedita Sharma, 2007 couldn’t have begun more dramatically. Tired of endless calls from banks and telecom company executives promoting their schemes, she took a friend’s suggestion and filed a complaint before the Delhi State Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (DSCDRC) late last year against the telecom operator, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), and two “offending” banks. Telemarketing still continues, but the commission’s order in January this year, was beyond Sharma’s wildest imagination: She was awarded Rs50,000 as compensation, the cellular operator and the association were fined Rs50 lakh, and the banks were asked to pay a penalty of Rs25 lakh for “committing nuisance” by calling and sending SMSes at odd hours.
Says Nitin Saxena, president of the All India Consumer Education Society: “Instead of surrendering to the dubious methods adopted by companies, consumers should take up their grievances with the authorities concerned. The three-tier dispute settlement mechanism—district forum, state-level commission and the national commission—established under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, is a result of the consumer movement in our country, which many are not even aware of.”
Saxena is right. Did you know that the Act clearly states that in case of a deficiency in the goods or services provided to you, for which you have paid, a complaint can be filed at a district-level consumer dispute redressal commission if the claim amount is not more than Rs20 lakh or a state-level consumer court for claims more than Rs20 lakh but less than Rs1 crore. All the claims above Rs1 crore can be filed with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC). And, did you know that you can approach the commission directly and don’t need a lawyer?
The defaulters
Service companies, despite their pompous claims, are the biggest defaulters when it comes to redressing consumer grievances. “In 2005, the number of complaints we received against banks was around 600. But last year, it shot up to 6,000,” says H. Kulshrestra, chairman of Banking Ombudsman in New Delhi. While banks, insurance and telecom companies have always found themselves on the wrong side of the customer’s wrath, new service providers such as airlines and property builders, too, have been in the defaulters’ list of late. The following is a Mint guide on your options, and the agencies you can approach if you have a complaint against a service provider:
FINANCIAL SERVICES
Did you know that if your bank refuses to give you a loan, delays repaying deposits, dishonours cheques wrongfully, refuses to give you a chequebook or overcharges you for ATM transactions, you can take it to the consumer court?
How to file a complaint
1) You can file your complaint with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)-appointed Banking Ombudsman, register it online on the RBI website or send an email. Says Kulshrestra: “We give 30 days’ notice to an opposite party. It is a fast process, and usually takes 30 days for us to resolve the issue.”
2) If you are not satisfied with the Ombudsman’s judgement, you can also appeal to the deputy governor of RBI within 45 days of the order.
3) If you have an issue against a listed company, you can lodge an online complaint on the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) website.
Recent judgement
1) In March 2005, in the case, Citigroup Maruti Finance Ltd vs Vijaylaxmi, the DSCDRC ruled that a vehicle finance company cannot terminate the agreement and use force to possess the vehicle in case of payment default.
2) In September 2005, the NCDRC ruled that a refusal to return a borrower’s title deeds pledged with the bank amounts to deficiency of service. In the case, C.L. Khanna vs Dena Bank, the bank was directed to pay compensation of Rs1 lakh for the loss caused to the complainant and cost quantified at Rs25,000.
INSURANCE
According to NCDRC figures, the commission receives the maximum number of complaints against public sector insurance companies for refusing claims and poor problem-solving mechanisms. “Insurance companies are keen to enrol consumers, but when it comes to claims, they don’t want to pay,” says Rajyalakshmi Rao, member, NCDRC.
How to file a complaint
1) You can register your complaint with the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority (IRDA). It has its own ombudsman scheme. Says Rao: “IRDA has good rules, but it doesn’t have much power to implement them.”
2) Experts say you should approach consumer forums or take advise from voluntary organizations.
Recent judgement
1) In a landmark judgement in October 2006, NCDRC ruled that insurance companies cannot refuse a genuine claim by a customer. The commission quashed the state commission and district forum judgements in the case of 61-year-old Praveen Damani of Bilaspur, UP, and ordered Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd pay Rs1,38,691 with interest at 9% per annum from July 2002 till the date of payment along with Rs10,000 as compensation. Damani had taken a Mediclaim policy from Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd in June 2000 and assured his wife and son for a sum of Rs3.5 lakh for a premium of Rs5,174. The insurance company refused to foot his hospital bill of Rs26,747 on the grounds of pre-existing disease after he complained of chest pain.
REAL ESTATE
Without any regulatory body, filing complaints against real estate developers is a tough job. This is also reflected in the growing number of complaints against the sector. Arun Saxena, chairman, International Consumer Rights Protection Council, says the council is flooded with complaints against builders.
How to file a complaint:
There is no department that caters to sector-related problems, but if the company doesn’t resolve it, you can approach the consumer forums.
Recent judgement
1) Brigadier Kamal Sood filed a case against DLF Universal Ltd with the national commission in 2000 for demanding Rs4 lakh on the pretext of escalation charges. He argued that the company had clearly stated in its brochure that “all prices are escalation free”. The court directed the builder to refund the amount recovered along with compensation and interest costs to the complainant.
TELECOM SERVICES
COAI promised to set up an ombudsman for the industry in February this year. However, the National Consumer Helpline is still flooded with complaints about improper billing, poor quality of customer service, faulty instruments, misrepresentation of tariff plans and even poor access to the service.
How to file a complaint
1) Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) does not redress individual grievances. Groups can, however, file a joint application with it.
2) You can take assistance from voluntary organizations such as the National Consumer Helpline.
AIRLINE SERVICES
With air travel becoming more affordable than ever, complaints against various airlines have been pouring in. Compensations for flight delays and cancellations, delays in refund payments, no seats despite confirmed tickets are some of the common problems consumers complain of.
How to file a complaint
The Airline Passengers Association of India, Chennai, is the only independent agency with which consumers can file their complaints.
Recent judgements
1) In December last year, an Air Deccan passenger was awarded Rs75,000 as compensation for flight delay in Delhi. While the company contested the delay by saying it was due to a technical snag, the commission accused the airline of deficiency in service for “keeping consumers waiting”.
2) The same consumer court also upheld that flight delays of more than two hours should be compensated for by paying Rs10,000 to domestic commuters, and Rs20,000 for international commuters.
Railways
Complaints regarding catering deficiencies and refunds of ticket amounts are the most common against the railways.
How to file a complaint
You can file an online complaint on the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp. Ltd (IRCTC) website. A separate link is also provided to check the status of the application.
Pharma services
How to file a complaint
1) Every state has its food and drug administration division where consumers can report against supply of spurious drugs or misleading claims of pharmaceutical companies.
2) Besides government agencies, various consumer courts have also pulled up doctors and hospitals in case of medical negligence.
Recent judgement
In October 2006, the DSCDRC awarded a compensation of Rs1.5 lakh to a six-year-old boy who became permanently disabled due to improper plastering of his arms by an Ayurvedic doctor.
Power
Voltage fluctuations, replacement of defunct transformers, meter problems, wrong billing/reading, overload and breakdowns are some common electricity problems.
How to file a complaint
There is no centralized body to address these problems as every state has its own power supplying body and they have their own grievance cell. For example, you can call BSES Yamuna Power Ltd and BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd on 011
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First Published: Mon, Jun 04 2007. 11 59 PM IST
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