How Government Agencies Harass Consumers through Endless Litigation

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It is not for nothing that Indian courts are clogged and government is the biggest litigant. What is worse, the actions of government agencies in shirking responsibility for deficient service actually ends up harassing the people, tantamount to using public money with no accountability.
Whenever a complaint is filed against a government department, the standard ploy to evade accountability is to claim that the complainant is not a ‘consumer’ within the definition of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (COPRA). If nothing else, it ensures a delay in legal proceedings while the court first decides this issue.
Until recently, every one of us had to engage with the post-office for multiple reasons. In the initial years after COPRA came into force, any complaint against the postal authorities used to be brushed aside on the claim that post-office was doing duty as a part of the government and no action can be taken against the government.
Over the years, it has been settled that when a government agency is not performing a sovereign duty, but providing services of commercial nature, it cannot hide behind the cloak of sovereignty and shirk its responsibility towards its consumers.
Let’s look at some examples of how government agencies harass consumers by dodging responsibility and delaying grievance resolution.
Late Rama Chandra Jain had purchased 692 Indira Vikas Patras (IVP) in the name of his sons, daughters, etc, from the head post-office at Bolangir (Odisha). He lost all the 692 IVPs and reported it to the local police station on 25 June 2001. This, in turn, was intimated to superintendent of post-office, Bolangir, requesting it to stay payment of the maturity value of the lost IVPs until the claim was properly verified.
The deceased Mr Jain had also purchased 88 IVPs in favour of his son, the complainant in this case. On maturity of these 88 IVPs, the complainant raised a demand of Rs8,80,000 towards maturity value. The claim was rejected by the post-office citing some rules.
A complaint was filed in the district forum which ruled in favour of the son, on the basis of a precedent in the case of Ram Nath Mathuria vs Union of India in RP No. 1725/2001 decided by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) in March 2002.
In that case, it had been held that “in the absence of any other claim on the basis of the original IVPs, maturity value should be released in favour of the claimants after taking an indemnity bond to secure interest of the department.”
Accordingly, the district forum directed the post-office to release payment of the maturity value of 88 IVPs amounting to Rs880,000 to the complainant on his furnishing an indemnity bond within 35 days of the order. For any delay in payment, a penalty of Rs20 per day would be imposed until realisation.
The post-office filed an appeal before the state commission; this was dismissed on 30 December 2016 because representatives of the post-office failed to turn up for hearings before the commission. Shockingly, the post-office then filed a writ petition before the Odisha High Court in 2017 against the order of the state commission. As was to be expected, the Court dismissed the writ petition as withdrawn, since it was misconceived. That didn’t end the matter. The post-office again filed a miscellaneous case before the state commission which, too, was dismissed on 13 April 2018.
Once again, notwithstanding the pain inflicted on the complainant, the post-office had the temerity to file a revision petition in NCDRC against the state commission’s order.
The counsel for the post-office contended that complainant was not a consumer and, hence, no deficiency in service had been committed by the post-office. As such, the complaint was not maintainable.
But, remember, the district forum had already given a detailed order covering this issue and had even referred to an NCDRC order of 2002 on the subject.
NCDRC noted that there was no other claimant for the said amount; but the post-office could verify and take due precautions like indemnity bond, etc, for securing its interests and directed it to pay at least the maturity value to the complainant, after having failed in the several rounds of litigation.
In 2002, NCDRC had elaborately discussed a similar matter and directed the postal department to release the money, as sufficient time had elapsed since the date of maturity. Therefore, NCDRC concluded that it was clear that there was no error in the order passed by the district forum.
The sad part is that a hapless consumer, who was a customer of the post-office, was dragged through various rounds of litigation by an obdurate government agency for no fault of his (Superintendent of Post Office, Bolongir vs Jambu Kumar Jain, Rourkela—NCDRC order dated 11/09/2018).
Another case involves the regional provident fund commissioner’s office, Haryana (RPFC) and a provident fund (PF) subscriber. The subscriber filed a complaint against the RPFC on the ground that his pension had been wrongly fixed as Rs551 per month instead of Rs835 per month as per the Employees Pension Scheme, 1995. The complainant claimed that he was a member of Employees Provident Fund Scheme, 1995, for more than 35 years; therefore, he was entitled to the maximum benefit under the Scheme.  After hearing both parties, the district forum, on 25 August 2003, observed that the minimum monthly pension will be Rs 335 plus Rs500 adding up to Rs835 and not Rs551.
The order also directed the RPFC to re-examine the complainant’s case on the basis of a notification by the labour ministry on 16 November 1995. The RPFC was ordered to comply with the consumer forum’s order within 30 days. When the RPFC failed to comply with the order, the district forum issued bailable warrants of Rs5,000 with one surety for the like amount on 1 May 2006. RPFC filed a revision petition before the state commission against both orders; but it was also dismissed.
RPFC then filed a revision petition before NCDRC which heard counsel for RPFC including a request to condone a 246-day delay in filing the petition. Although NCDRC condoned the delay through its order of December 2008, it imposed a cost of Rs10,000 on RPFC.
NCDRC noted that the primary issue involved was to re-fix the complainant’s pension as per directions of the district forum. However, it noted that application for condonation of delay made two things very clear. One, that the department had agreed to abide by the order of the state commission and fix the pension as per the order of the district forum. Secondly, that the revision petition was based on the notification dated 15.6.2007 which was perhaps not available before the district forum or the state commission. Since the notification was a new ground that had been taken up by RPFC in the revision petition, it could not be considered at that stage. Finding no merit in the revision petition, NCDRC dismissed it.
Once again, it is the hapless consumer who was made to run from one forum to another due to the dilatory tactics adopted by a government department with public money.
While we correctly raise a hue and cry for poor service rendered by private companies, the fact is that government departments, often, fail the consumer even more because of the ineptitude, lack of accountability and high-handedness of government babus.
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Death by Mosquito Bite is Accidental Death

“Death of Policyholder due to Malaria after Mosquito Bite is an accidental death and hence Insurance Company is liable to pay the sum assured.”

In an interesting Case of National Insurance Co. Ltd. V/s Mosumi Bhattacharjee, (R.P. No.1270/2016), a question came before the National Commission to decide whether death of a Policy holder due to Malaria after a mosquito bite can be termed as accidental Death ?

Facts in short.
1. Late Mr. Debashish Bhatacharjee, the husband of the Complainant took the home loan from Bank of Baroda and along with it, he also availed facility of Term insurance like policy by name “Bank of Baroda Loan Suraksha Vima”, issued by the National Insurance Co. Incase of an accidental death, the policy amount was to be paid to the claimants

2. During the subsistence of the Policy, the Policy holder died due to Malaria and hence his legal heirs (LRs) applied to the Insurance Company fir getting the sum assured.

3. But the Insurance Company turned down the claim on the ground that Malaria itself is a disease and not an accident. Hence the LRs filed the complaint before the District consumer forum, which was allowed in their favour. Hence the Insurance Company filed the appeal in state commission, which was also rejected and hence the matter came to national Commission.

Held :
1. The National Commission upheld both the judgments of lower foras and observed that the Policy does not define the Term “Accident”. It relied upon the definition of Accident given in oxford dictionary, wherein it is defined as “An Accident is something that happens unexpectedly and not planned in advance and causes injury”.
2. Thus no one can predict about the mosquito bite and it can happen anywhere and anytime, like an accident. It relied upon the earlier judgment of Matbarsingh V/s Oriental Insurance Co.) wherein it has been held that Snake-bite, dog-bite, frost-bite are also accidents. It rejected the argument of the National Insurance company that Malaria itself is a disease and not an accident.

A) I feel this is an important judgment. Few days back, at least a person in every family was suffering from Dengue / chikungunya and Malaria. Few patients were succumbed to death due to such diseases.This judgment may be helpful to such families. Obviously terms of Policy, if any, will play an important role.
B) This decision also underlines the importance of having Term Insurance like policies. Consult an expert in this field.

 

https://www.casemine.com/judgement/in/590a32924a932663936ff762

Airline can’t leave behind flyers with boarding passes

Kalpana and Swadesh Debbarma and their two minor children were booked on an Indigo Airlines flight from Kolkata to Agartala. They were issued boarding passes, but the flight took off without them.

They approached the airline with a written complaint, but it was not accepted, and the staff even allegedly forcibly took away their boarding passes. Their pleas to put them on some other flight are said to have gone unheeded. The family was compelled to book a hotel room and also spend on food till they could arrange money to buy fresh tickets. After two days, they finally travelled back to Agartala.

Due to this, the couple, both of whom are engineers with the Tripura government, could not attend office for two days, resulting in loss of salary.

The family approached the District Forum. The airlines contested the case, contending the family did not reach the boarding gate 25 minutes prior to flight departure so it was considered as ‘Gate No Show’ and the boarding passes were cancelled in accordance with the conditions of carriage. The airline stated that it had offered to accommodate the family on the next flight subject to availability of seats and payment of reaccommodation fees, but its offer was turned down. It denied liability to refund the fare.

The Forum allowed the complaint. Both sides appealed. The one filed by the airline was dismissed while Debbarma’s appeal was allowed by the Tripura State Commission. It ordered the airlines to refund ticket charges of Rs.16,432, reimburse Rs10,000 for hotel accommodation, and also awarded Rs10,000 toward compensation and Rs5,000 toward costs.

Indigo then filed a revision. The National Commission questioned the airlines if there was any evidence to show the boarding passes were cancelled as the family could not be located despite several announcements. The airline was unable to produce any proof. The Commission observed that once a passenger checks in, movement is restricted to a very limited area, so it is beyond comprehension why a passenger would not report at the gate despite announcements. The Commission further questioned why the airline, which takes a passenger’s contact details, had not attempted to telephonically contact the family. The airlines had no explanation to offer.

The Commission deprecated the attitude of the airline in snatching away the boarding passes and indicted it for failing to reduce the inconvenience to the family with two minor children. It also castigated the airline for filing a revision even though a meagre amount of Rs20,000 had been awarded as compensation.

Accordingly, by its order of September 12, 2018 delivered by the bench of justice RK Agrawal and M Shreesha, the National Commission dismissed Indigo’s revision.

Impact: If a person who has been issued a boarding pass does not report at the boarding gate, the airline has a duty to telephonically contact such a passenger instead of leaving him behind.

 

Jehangir Gai – Times of India 170918

(The author is a consumer activist and has won the Govt. of India’s National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His email is jehangir.gai.columnist@outlook.in)

If ill-treated, elderly parents can take back property gifted to son: Bombay HC

Elderly parents, if ill treated, can take back property gifted to their son, says the Bombay High Court. Upholding an order passed by the Maintenance Tribunal, the Bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Anuja Prabhudesai said under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, the gift deed can be cancelled.

According to a report from the Economic Times the Act, passed in 2007, has provisions that protect parents and elderly persons who have signed away their property or assets to a person so that they would be taken care of, but are then left destitute.
Quoting the Bench, the report says, “The gift deed was made at the request of the son and his wife. It is implied that the elderly father and his second wife would be looked after by them after transfer of 50% share in the flat. Obviously, the son and his wife though ready and willing to look after the father were unwilling to do so in respect of the second wife. In the above circumstances, we do not find any error in the order (cancelling the gift deed), therefore, we are not inclined to entertain this petition.”
Sharing details of the case, the report says, the senior citizen, after death of his wife, wanted to remarry. At that time, his son and daughter-in-law requested him to transfer 50% share in his flat at Andheri, which he did in May 2014. However, after the marriage, the son and daughter-in-law started insulting second wife of the senior citizen, and both were forced to leave their Andheri flat. The father then filed application in the Maintenance Tribunal, which ruled in his favour. However, the son challenged this order in the High Court.

‘Food items and bottled water should be sold at regular prices inside multiplexes’

The Bombay High Court has ruled that food items and bottled water be sold at regular prices inside multiplexes. The directive was issued by a division bench of Justices S.M. Kemkar and M.S. Karnik last week in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Mumbai resident Jainendra Baxi. He had challenged the prohibition on carrying outside food in movie theatres and multiplexes across Maharashtra, according to the Economic Times.
Justice Kemkar observed: “The price of food and water bottles sold inside movie theatres are, indeed, exorbitant. We have ourselves experienced it. You (multiplexes) should sell it at the regular price.”
The court said that if multiplexes were prohibiting people from bringing outside food, then there should be a total prohibition on eatables. “Then you (multiplexes) cannot have your own vendors selling food and other snacks inside,” said Justice Kemkar.
The government pleader, Purnima Kantharia, told the court that the state would soon frame a policy on the issue, after taking into consideration the suggestions of the petitioner and the Multiplex Owners’ Association (MOA). The MOA is a nationwide body of cinema theatre owners. The policy is likely to be framed within the next six weeks, she told the court. The bench will now hear the petition on 12th June.

Consumer confidence has waned since December 2017 – RBI Survey

Consumer confidence has waned since December 2017 with respondents to an RBI survey being more pessimistic about the current economic situation and employment opportunities compared to a year ago. The only area where sentiment is in the optimistic zone is in spending on essential and non-essential items, according to a report in the Economic Times.
“Households’ current perceptions on the general economic situation dived sharply from the neutral level polled in the last round. Their one-year-ahead outlook also deteriorated, but remained in the optimistic domain,” the RBI said in a statement. What this means is that while most people believe that economic growth will pick up in 12 months, there are fewer people feeling that way compared to earlier.
“Respondents continued to express concern about the current employment situation, and outlook for the year ahead was less positive than in the previous round,” the RBI said. Households’ assessment of the current price situation and the outlook a year ahead has broadly remained unchanged.
The responses to the survey had gone into pessimist territory from June 2013 when the rupee had crashed during the ‘Taper Tantrums’. After that, they have been largely optimistic since March 2013. They slipped back to pessimism again in the quarter following demonetisation in November 2016 and have been there ever since, according to the Economic Times.

https://advisor.moneylife.in/article/consumer-confidence-has-waned-since-december-2017-and-ndash-rbi-survey/2666.html

Bank liable for reneging on settlement of dues

Case Study: Ajay Singh Chauhan took a loan from Citibank. He defaulted in making payments of some EMIs. On 27th April, 2007, the bank offered a structured repayment plan for settlement of the entire dues. As per the offer, the entire outstanding would be considered as settled on payment of Rs 40,000, provided the amount was paid by the following day and Chauhan paid the amount the same day.

On 21st May, 2008, Citibank sent a letter demanding a further payment of Rs 30,000. On being questioned, the bank said its dues could not be considered as having been settled since Chauhan had not returned a signed copy of the bank’s letter accepting its offer.

Chauhan then filed a complaint before the Jaipur District Forum alleging deficiency in services and the complaint was contested by the bank. The forum upheld the complaint and ordered a “no dues” certificate to be issued. Further, considering the bank’s conduct, Citibank was ordered to pay Rs 10 lakh, out of which Rs 1 lakh would go to Chauhan as compensation for harassment and mental agony. The remaining 

Rs.9 lakh was meant for the Rajasthan State Consumer Welfare Fund. In addition, Chauhan was also awarded Rs 20,000 towards litigation costs.

The bank challenged this order before the Rajasthan State Commission but its appeal was dismissed. Citibank then filed a revision petition, contending Chauhan was a perpetual defaulter in paying EMIs.

The National Commission observed that the question of being a habitual defaulter was not relevant, as the issue was about the validity of the settlement. The commission noted there was no dispute about Chauhan having paid Rs 40,000 within the time given in the offer. The commission held Citibank’s demand for a further amount, made after more than a year, was not justified and did not behove a bank of its stature.

On 6th March, the commission held Chauhan was entitled to get a “no dues” certificate. It also considered the award of Rs 1 lakh as compensation and Rs 20,000 towards cost payable to Chauhan was justified. However, the penal compensation payable to Rajasthan State Consumer Welfare Fund was reduced to Rs 50,000/.

Conclusion: A bank cannot renege from its settlement offer when the borrower clears dues in the stipulated period.

Jehangir B Gai

ePaper, The Times of India, Bombay, April 2, 2018, Page 4:

(The author is a consumer activist and has won the Govt. of India’s National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His email is jehangir.gai.columnist@outlook.in)