News briefs on how buyers can enforce their rights and seek remedial measures
VIP status provides no immunity against accidents. Senior BJP leader and the then Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi was injured in a bizarre incident at the domestic airport in Delhi in December 2007.
Modi had checked in for a JetLite flight to Ahmedabad and had boarded the ferry bus to board the craft. The bus came perilously close to an Air Deccan aircraft and the driver applied the brakes to avert collision. Modi fell and hit a pole inside the bus. He suffered a spinal injury and had to be hospitalized. He filed a case against the airline with the consumer disputes redressal forum, New Delhi, alleging that the bus driver was talking on the phone, oblivious to the presence of the other aircraft. The forum held JetLite guilty of deficiency and awarded Modi compensation of Rupees 1 lakh, besides Rupees 50,000 as litigation expenses.
Lesson in humanity
Often, claims are rejected by insurers on the ground of preexisting diseases. But a district forum has observed that concealment of facts cannot be a valid reason for denying claims unless a patient has undergone treatment and hospitalization days before taking the policy. Kabiru Dhamani had procured a medical insurance policy from New India Assurance in June 2004. He was hospitalized and treated for cardiac-related ailments at a Nagpur hospital in 2006 and in 2007, and subsequently died. The family filed an insurance claim but the insurance company said that the claim was not admissible as the policyholder had concealed his pre-existing ailments before procuring the policy. Aggrieved, the family filed a complaint before the forum, which took note of Kabiru’s family’s assertion that the insurance company was aware that he was a heart patient. It directed the company to pay the insurance amount of Rupees 2.3 lakh and compensation of Rupees 1 lakh to the family of the deceased.
Telecom operators can no more activate value added services (VAS) on mobile phones without consumers’ consent. The New Delhi consumer disputes redressal forum has directed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to change its rules to curb exploitation of consumers who are charged for VAS without asking for it. The consumer forum’s directions came on the complaint of a Dwarka-resident, who alleged that Idea Cellular Limited activated voice chat on his mobile number without taking his consent and also charged him for it. He also mentioned that despite his request for deactivation of that service, the company continued to charge him. The forum observed that the case highlighted a “general experience faced by various users of telecom services”, and directed Idea to pay the complainant Rupees 50,000 as compensation and deposit Rupees 10 lakh as punitive damages to the Prime Minister Fund for ignoring the “interest of consumers and the existence of consumer court for no good reasons”. The forum pulled up TRAI for amending its earlier rules wherein the service provider had to obtain a prior explicit request or consent for subscription to such similar services before activating them.
When the malaise is known, why is the remedy so far behind? The functioning of consumer forums across the country is severely hampered by manpower shortages leading to long wait on the part of consumers for the resolution of their grievances. The same is the case with Madurai District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum (DCDRF) where there has been no permanent chairman for three years. The forum is headed by only an interim president. As his tenure too will end soon, consumer activists are clamoring for appointing a new full-term president. They allege that complaints at the forum are heard only three days in a week and that too mostly during morning session. More than a 1,000 grievance applications are now pending with DCDRF. As of now, the forum has been able to decide cases filed between 2004 and 2005.
Bridging the gap
Help for harried consumers is on the cards in West Bengal. The state government has decided to set up ten consumer assistance bureaus in various places to mitigate consumer woes. The role of these bureaus will be to take complaints from consumers, and then move the court for them. Beginning at the Kolkata-based office of the assistant director, consumer protection department, each district in the state will have one such bureau to look after consumer grievances. The consumer affairs department has already started approaching several NGOs to work in tandem with the state government in bringing succor to the aggrieved consumers. The department will hold meetings with the NGOs once every three months to take stock of the functioning of consumer bureaus. The government will provide NGOs with basic infrastructure facilities including an office room to receive complaints from the aggrieved consumers and do the necessary follow-up. It seems to be a grassroots approach to the consumer empowerment!