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Consumer Court experience

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Governance

Given the choice, very few amongst the middle and upper classes in the country will ever want to have anything to do with the government or its agencies, plainly because they lack the basic 'technology' of handling them. But, fortunately or unfortunately, the government is omnipresent in our country, providing as it is all vital services like power/ water/ gas supplies, and railways/ bus transport services, etc, and, somewhere or the other, you'll necessarily have to cross its path, whether you like it or not. This has given birth to a flourishing 'middleman industry' across the country, with members from the highly respectable fraternity of CA's and lawyers at the upper end, to plain touts at the lower end, providing an array of services across the spectrum. But, all these come at a cost which the aam aadmi can ill afford.

Well, it is inevitable that, in the none too distant future, the government will be forced to give up many of its present functions as a service provider, and hand the jobs over to the private sector. In such a scenario, the government's role as the facilitator, regulator, watchdog, etc gain a lot more significance than has generally been accorded to it today. One such role is in the effective functioning of the Consumer Courts.

Decades back, when the Courts were first established, I tested out their efficacy with a couple of cases, and emerged fairly satisfied. I attended the court personally, and generally found the procedures consumer friendly and fast. As more and more services switched to private players from government ones, the vast improvements in the service levels, given the keen competition between the players, lulled one into a sense of complacency, and I never bothered with the Consumer Court thereafter. But, wrong doings even in competitive situations are inevitable, and I was soon faced with two situations where I was forced to approach the Consumer Forum to seek redressal. I was pursuing this route more to establish accountability than for the compensation proper, whatever.

I have put down my experience as below for the benefit of the public, as also to see if the forum itself will want to make itself more consumer friendly than it presently is.


The complaint1, and the award:
The first complaint was against AIRTEL for a one-month delay in activating a fresly purchased SIM card, in spite of repeat complaints over phone, mail and two personal visits.

At the end of some 7 appearances between 2/03/10 (my first appearance in court, in this case) and 24/06/10, for admission, submission of affidavit, replies, arguments, and order, the court decided that there was merit in my complaint of deficiency in service, and passed an order for payment of compensation of Rs 3,000/-, and re-imbursement of costs of Rs 500/-, as against my 'prayer' for Rs 5,000/-, plus Rs 5,000/- respectively. Like I had stated earlier, I was pursuing this route more to establish accountability than for the compensation proper, and in that respect, I can consider this a victory for the consumer.

Actually, I have been an AIRTEL customer from its earliest days - my mobile number starts with 98450. Also, both my land lines are served by AIRTEL. And, I have generally been happy with their services, which fact I have mentioned in a few posts here. And, that indeed was my reason for going to them, when I needed a quick connection for a specific purpose, even as so many other bargain offers are available today from equally reputed service providers. As it turned out, it was quite a tortuous experience, as detailed in the following extract from my complaint:

I tried each of 121, 98450 12345, 98450 98450 by rotation, every day (4th day running today), some 10 to 15 times (which ultimately seemed to land up at the same call centre). Apparently, between 5 PM and 10 AM (and also during the lunch hour - between 1 PM and 3 PM - the call centre is perhaps in Kolkata - typical of the babu culture there), the call centre executives are just not available, with the 'press 9' option itself being unavailable. During the so-called working hours, by the time you manage to navigate your way through the labyrinthyne procedures to a call centre executive, I would dare any human being not to have lost his patience. But, if you give vent to your indignation in less than the politest of ways, the chances are you'll be cut off unceremoniously.

Considering my earlier experiences, I would like to look at this an aberration. But, if AIRTEL does not change its ways, in today's highly competitive world, it is certainly headed for doom, particularly considering the huge debts it has incurred recently.


The experience proper:
The complainant has firstly to make out the complaint in quadruplicate, as per the prescribed format, and submit the same alongwith a DD/PO for Rs 100/- (upto compensation claim of Rs 1 lakh) to the The Bangalore Urban DCDRF, 8th floor, BWSSB Wing, Cauvery Bhavan, Bangalore. This much I gathered from the web.

I first called up the office. The phone was readily picked up and attended to by somebody who responded to my queries fairly promptly. But, beyond a point, he went on to say "adakkella, neevu illi bardildre' haege?". So, a couple of days later, I decided to go over the the office. I left home at around 9.30 AM, walked upto Wipro Park Junction, caught the G-3, which took me upto Mayo Hall, from where, I took an auto to reach the Cauvery Bhavan at 11 AM (that's when the court starts). The building is fairly well maintained, with all the three lifts functioning, and in some kind of an order, ensuring a fairly smooth ride upto the 8th floor even during the peak hour. And, even with it being the peak hour, I got to meet the PRO readily (may be my grey hair helped). I had taken a draft of my complaint, on a perusal of which, the PRO suggested that I change the format to their standard (from the normal DO style that I generally use for correspondence with officials). I said that I'll go back, make the necessary changes, add the annexures, get the PO, and then submit it. I asked him if I could send the lot through my helper, as also as to what happens thereafter. He said that there was no issue about sending through the helper, and that they will accept the complaint and issue a serial number.

I did exactly as above, and the complaint was accepted and a serial number was issued. My helper called up to give me the numbers, which I noted down. Thereafter, I forgot about the matter thinking that I'll receive some kind of an intimation asking me to make my first appearance in the court, or since it was a plain open & shut case, I'll be intimated about the award to my "prayer". When nothing of the sort happened for over 3 months, I called up the office to check into the matter, when I was told that one of my complaints had been closed for want of my presence at the hearings, and in the other case, the next hearing was fixed for 2nd March. When I asked as to why I was not intimated about the dates of the hearings, I was told that I was supposed to collect the info about the date of the first hearing at the time of submission of the complaint. To my counter as to how I was supposed to know that, he had no proper answer. Whatever, he stated that the closed case could be 'restored' by a simple letter, about which he will instruct me when I meet him when I come for the hearing of the other case on the 2nd March.

On 2nd March, I went over in my car, since I had some other work to attend to after the court matters. I left home around 10 AM, and with great difficulty (Sony World jn - Koramangala, the entire length of Richmond road, and thereafter, right upto Cauvery Bhavan are stretches I wouldn't want to drive on if I had a choice), managed to reach Cauvery Bhavan by around 11AM. Fortunately, the parking is fairly well organised there, even if I had to pay Rs 16/- for the 2 hour slot, and within a few minutes I was in the court. Within about 10 minutes, my case came up (as listed in the roster), when the judge asked me for an 'affidavit'. When I expressed ignorance, he summarily asked me to go find out from someone who knew, and submit the same at the next hearing on 15th March. When I began to protest, a lawyer nudged me from behind as if to suggest that I may be causing disrespect to 'his honour'. Whatever, I backed out, and went to the office to check out as to what this so-called affidavit was all about, and also as to why they didn't tell me about it earlier. An assistant PRO, a lady, stated that I could get it made out by a notary, and helpfully suggested that many of them were available in the District Courts complex adjoining the Cauvery Bhavan. As to the explanation for their not telling me to have the affidavit made out along with the complaint, she went on to say something like 'that was the procedure', and that it was to be made out only when the court instructs at the first hearing, meaning more or less that a visit has to be made exclusively for the purpose of being asked to submit the affidavit. In today's world, when banks are beginning to charge you extra for collecting cash across the counter instead of through ATS, since these things take up the time of their staff, it is disconcerting that government set ups still do not attribute any value to either their own staff time nor of their clients/ consumers.

Well, whatever, I then went over the District Court Complex. A tout latched on to me offering to help. He wanted to know what kind of an affidavit I wanted. I said I myself didn't know. He then took me to a lawyer (amongst the many who are stationed there, under trees, shamiana's, etc), who in turn directed me to a typist. The typist surprisingly refused to even entertain me - not sure if it had anything to do with my appearance, or because he had had a scrap with the particular  lawyer/ tout combo. I then collected back the complaint copy from the tout, and asked him to leave me to handle the situation on my own. I walked over to the other end of the area to look for another lawyer who may want to help me. Amongst the many, I located one who appeared rather free, and asked him for his advice. He asked me who my lawyer was. I replied that I didn't have one. He asked me to go find one. To that, I asked him if he would like to offer his services for whatever the fees. He wasn't quite receptive to the idea. I then moved to another corner to try my luck there. This time I was a little more lucky, in that the Notary/ lawyer combo here suggested to me to go into the basement of an adjoining building where there are enough typists who will help prepare the document for me, and once that is done, they will do the rest. So, into the basement I went to see a whole world of typists (most equipped with computer/ printer sets) and their clients, busily churning out affidavits of all sorts, and perhaps other documents too.

After being turned down by one typist, I went to another, a lady, who chose to accept my custom. I had to wait for some ten minutes while she finished what she was on, and then took up my work. She took a look at my complaint copy, and readily went about drafting the document, which she titled "evidence of the complainant by way of affidavit". And, though in the opening para it stated "I have filed the above complaint against the respondent, the averments made in the complaint may be read as part and parcel of this affidavit to avoid repetitionof the facts", she insisted that at least a brief summary of the complaint has to be included as a part of affidavit. As such, I dictated to her a summary, after which she cut/ paste-d all the regular legal embellishments. A quick review thereafter, and the final print was taken out. Overall, a fairly professional job, quite justifying the Rs 150/- she charged for it. I then went back to the lawyer/ Notary combo, who affixed necessary signatures, seals, etc, for a mere Rs 20/- between them, which took me totally by surprise, though not an unpleasant one, for a change.

I went back to the Asst PRO to check if what I had got prepared was what the court was looking for. She affirmed so to my great relief, though, I still am not clear as to what purpose it is supposed to serve.

Well, with all these experiences, I realised I needed to be patient, and thereafter, it became fairly straight-forward. And, finally, I got the order in my favour.


Summary:
So, if anyone wants to lodge a complaint, perhaps the above notes can help. Some intersting points of note are:

1) Even though, I would have liked a more consumer-friendly system, which can very easily be incorporated using the net, even the present set up is fairly well organised.

2) Considering the number of appearances one has to make, it may be better to engage a lawyer (In fact, I was amongst the very few litigants appearing in person). But, since cost compensations awarded are nominal, the lawyer charges may turn out higher than the award if engaging a good lawyer. And, a bad lawyer may lose the case for you, in which case, you may land up paying costs to the opposite party.

3) Essentially, what it helps is establishing accountability, and perhaps the fear of loss of reputation when the matter gets published, like in this case.

Muralidhar Rao
 
PS: The second case is still in progress, and consequently sub-judice, and I'll post the details after the order is issued.







 

Comments

idontspam's picture

Information in the internet age

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my presence at the hearings, and in the other case, the next hearing was fixed for 2nd March. When I asked as to why I was not intimated about the dates of the hearings, I was told that I was supposed to collect the info about the date of the first hearing at the time of submission of the complaint

Interesting you mention this. Luckily for me the information system is so useless that I had to go the office next door and ask what is the next step. They told me to come the next day to find out the date for hearing. It was going good as I was not sure and I pestered them for information. BTW they will not talk for very long so be sure to get what you need. Advise will be technical and you have to figure out what it means. Then I gave up my guard

I was told in my second hearing that the accused has provided a defense and I have to provide a counter to that. And the judge murmured a date 15th something. I took it to be in the month after. I said "huh?" twice but no response and I was jostled out. Here is where I made the cardinal mistake of not coming back the day after to check on my next hearing date, comfortable that I had indeed heard the 15th of the next month. I did try to satisfy myself and tried looking online for dates etc nothing to be found, I tried the phone but was told to come over and check. I skipped thinking I had heard right. Nope. When I went 15th of next month with a carefully crafted rebuttal and al,l I was told I have to restart the process all over again as the judge had waited 3 hearings in vain and dismissed the case. I was gutted. Luckily for me the accused company fixed my issue as I threatned him to go back to court this time with a higher claim.

Bottomline, Information is verbally passed and written in the case file by the judge which you will not have access to. The clerks who read the file and make up the hearing chart will do so the day after and you have to go personally and ask the question. so for 5 minute work you have to travel from wherever you are and get the date. What is wrong in posting it online in this day and age or even revealing it over phone?

kbsyed61's picture

ISD, Murali, Can you summarize the step/process!

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Murali, IDS,

Your detailed post is very informative but for quick look up, could you pls summarize the steps/process one has to go through in such cases?

Syed

deepakar's picture

A concise how-to will help

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Murali sir, Interesting post, but I second Syed that we should distill this information into a "How to file a complaint in Consumer Court" guide with concise bullets. We are planning to have a whole series of How-tos on praja. More about that in a little while. My own experience with the consumer court here http://doseofdepps.blogsp...

Deepak Rajanna

murali772's picture

interesting response from a friend

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The following is the response from a friend to a posting I made on a Y-group forwarding the link to this blog:

Thanks for the little tips and 'summary'. Agree with you -  'consumer court' experience is not as bad as the name or reputation sounds.
 
I had once lodged a full-blown complaint against 'Nokia' for not proving me a replacement for a dysfunctinal mobile set after they had made 21 attempts to "service" it!! I heard from the Consumer Court promptly (and possibly Nokia was served some notice as well). But what was good that before I needed to reach the court, those Nokia guys chickened out with my fist banging threats with a lot of "Consumer Court" words thrown in!! They did give me a new set! Phew, but what an experience with Nokia service center! Miserable is an understatement. Completely agree with you about Airtel's shoddy ways too...
 
Did you know there is a guy to whom you can outsource all your "consumer court" needs!? :) During my miserbale Nokia days I was tempted to, but refrained (for lack of trust- factor) and decided to do it myself! Check this out http://www.icrpc.org/
 
My two cents - a lot of times just names-dropping "CONSUMER COURT" loudly on the face of dreadful service providers works wonders too! Though a lot of them have gotten so thick-skinned that one might have to go the whole hog as you did.

Yours, P

Talking of thick-skinned companies - Every visit I made to the court, one name that repeatedly figured, and invariably more than once, is 'Country Club'. And, surprisingly, now they are advertising on prime time TV too. I suppose there are enough suckers in this world.

 

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

the Act proper

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THE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT, 1986 - click on
http://ncdrc.nic.in/1_1.html#_Hlk149662096

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

arrest warrant being issued

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Well, one would have thought that the adverse publicity such incidents can cause would be sufficient reason for image conscious corporates like AIRTEL to buck up and get their act together. But, I was in for a total shock.

I was expecting them to approach me and pay up the award amount of Rs 3,000/- within the stipulated period of 1 month. But, even after 45 days had passed, and there was no indication whatesoever of any move from their side, I went over to the Consumer Forum PRO to find out what I needed to do.

The PRO directed me to file something called the "Execution Petition", which meant going back to the typist pool. With my by now familiar lady typist being on 'leave', I engaged an elderly gentleman (still uses an old style typewriter - says that the computer screen aggravates his diabetes) who offered me a package deal of the Execution Petition (as per prescribed format), plus another affidavit, all in triplicate and duly notarised, for Rs 350/-. And, as suggested by him, I had also added an additional Rs 1,650/- towards documentation and miscellaneous charges, to the original claim of Rs 3,000/- in the EP.

I then filed it with the PRO (along with a Rs 30/- stamped envelope), who after verification, gave me a fresh EP number. That was on 20th Aug. Two days later, when I called up, I was told that it was listed for admission on the 20th Sept. On 20th Sept, when I went over, and there was no repesentative of AIRTEL, I was told that the order will be issued on 5th Oct. So, yesterday, when I went over, and there was still no representation from AIRTEL, the judge said he will be issuing an arrest warrant.  

Should I be happy? I don't know. All I know is that the whole exercise cost me over 30 hours (10 days @ 3 hours a day) of my time, compensation for which I would not consider worth my while if it's any less than at Rs 30,000/-, in addition to the direct costs of the order of Rs 5,000/- incurred. But, at least, if it results in sending out a warning note to service providers not to take the consumer for granted, the purpose would be served.

Muralidhar Rao
Naveen's picture

Airtel Problem

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I too had a problem with airtel recently - they changed my plan to 499 & claimed that my usage was high enough to warrant it & informed me only when I enquired after receiving a bloated bill.

Thus, a plan change was carried out without consent or approval, which isn't what they state in their ads, etc.

I complained to them & they later changed the plan to my choice.

murali772's picture

ordeal over

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Yesterday, finally, the ordeal ended, with the AIRTEL lawyer handing over a DD for Rs 3,586/-, made out favouring me, in the Court. The lawyer stated that it covered the award amount, plus interest upto date. He had obviously ignored the additional claim made by me of Rs 1,650/- in the execution petition. But, with fatigue overtaking me, I decided not to pursue the matter and accepted the DD, closing the case therewith.

Under 'summary', I had earlier mentioned "essentially, what it helps is establishing accountability, and perhaps the fear of loss of reputation when the matter gets published, like in this case". Well, all I would like to say is that I generally had a much better opinion about AIRTEL; I am disappointed.

Before returning home, I went over to the PR manager, and told him about PRAJA, and offered our services in improving their public interface. He suggested to contact the Civil Supplies Ministry, under whose jurisdiction the Forum lies. May be, we could pursue that project.

Muralidhar Rao

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