Filing Complaints with Consumer Courts

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, many of us have I tested out their efficacy with a couple of cases, and emerged fairly satisfied. Many among has 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 we never bothered with the Consumer Court thereafter. But, wrong doings even in competitive situations are inevitable, and we have been faced with situations forcing us to approach the Consumer Forum to seek redressal.

Based personal experiences of some PRaja members, here are some tips in pursuing Consumer Courts for the deficiency in service and value.

Consumer courts - exeperiences

Wiki page to hold together blog posts that report consumer court experiences. Moderators, please outline consumer court blog posts under this wiki page.

 

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.







 

How to file a complaint with consumer court in Bengaluru?

Thanks to our friend Mr. Muralidhar Rao, here is a brief summary on how to file the complaint with the consumer court. The process of approaching a consumer forum/court to get your grievances whether in terms of wrong billing by utility companies, deficiency in service provided vis-a-vis  against the charged fees etc., involves mainly 5 steps:

  1. Filing a complaint with the consumer court
  2. Admission of the case
  3. Hearing of the case
  4. Final Order
  5. Appeal against the court order

Filing the complaint

  1. Submit the complaint in quadruplicate - typical format attached, along-with DD/ PO for Rs 100/- (upto compensation claim of Rs 1 lakh), and note down the serial number allotted (eg 2826/2009, in my complaint against AIRTEL).
  2. Address where the complaint needs to be filed: The Bangalore Urban DCDRF, 8th floor, BWSSB Wing, Cauvery Bhavan, Bangalore 560009.
  3. Obtain the date of admission (in court) - It can be decided by the PRO himself, and the complainant advised accordingly at the time of filing itself. From the  experience recorded by another litigant, apparently, this is decided by the judges, and can be known only some 2/ 3 days after the filing of the complaint. And, though, can get most information required over phone from the PRO, apparently, the sometimes might not be lucky (may be my gray hair helped). They readily respond to phone calls, and as long as your queries are specific, you can get the information required over phone itself. Otherwise, they will suggest you visit the office.
  4. Phone nos: 2221 1137, 2571 5747

Admission of the Case

  1. On the date of admission, which is presently well within 15 days of lodging a complaint, you need to be present in the court at 11AM, the time of opening of the court. (Of course, if you are engaging a lawyer, perhaps he/ she can represent you).
  2. Before entering the court hall, check the listing on the notice board just outside the hall.
  3. The admission cases will be listed first, and all that happens that day, is recording your presence, and assigning a day for the next hearing, allowing for sufficient time for the complaint copy to be reached by the court to the opposite party.

Actual Hearing of the Case

  1. At the next hearing, which is the actual hearing of the case, both the parties will be asked to submit affidavits at the subsequent hearing, date for which is given on this day. If a litigant chooses to submit an affidavit at this stage itself, I am not sure it will be accepted by the court.
  2. Next comes submission of written arguments, thereafter verbal arguments, and finally the order, all in succession, some 15 days apart, and for each of which you need to be present in person.
  3. If you are unable to be present at a hearing, call up the PRO and get the next hearing date by giving the complaint no and the date of the hearing you missed. If you absent yourselves at two consecutive hearings, at the third, the case is likely to be closed. The case can be revived through a simple letter addressed to the Forum, if it is approached within a month of closure.

Finally, the court order/ruling

  1. After verbal arguments are heard by teh court, on or after 15 days, court finally prounces its order, and for which you need to be present in person.

Appeal

  1. An order can be challenged by an aggrieved party, within one month of the date of the order, with the appellate authority. If not appealing, and not complying, the court can issue an arrest warrant against the defaulter.

 Court etiquette:

  1. Of course, switch off mobiles, or put them on silent mode, and maintain silence.
  2. If you manage to get a chair, do not slouch into it, and do not sit cross-legged.
  3. When the judges make their entry, stand up, and resume your seat only after the judges have taken their seat.
  4. When the court is in session, if leaving, back out the first few steps, before turning around.
  5. No reading of newspapers or magazines within the hall, while waiting for your case to come up.

Sample-1: Complaint against AIRTEL

To

The Bangalore Urban DCDRF,

8th floor, BWSSB wing, Cauvery Bhavan,

Bangalore 560009

 

Name & address of the complainant:

Ram Singh, - - -

Name & address of the Opposite Party:

AIRTEL Relationship Centre, A/1 Mamoor Plaza, 80ft road, KHB Colony, 5th block, Koramangala, Bangalore 560095.

Complaint: At about 4:45 PM on Friday, the 9th Oct,'09, I went over to the above office of AIRTEL, and bought a fresh pre-paid SIM card on payment of Rs - - - by my credit card, after completing all the connected formalities. The number given was 9- - - . The SIM no apparently is 899 - - -.

The person attending told me that the connection will be activated in half an hour. When the activation didn't happen even after two hours, I thought I'll try Customer-care. But, my tortuous experience thereafter (detailed in the annexure-1) made me almost give up, and look for another service provider.

 The connection was meant for my 65 yr-old mother-in-law, with whom I was anxious to remain in touch (she not enjoying the best of health) while on my tour in USA between 14th Oct and 1st Nov.

As it turned out, the connection was eventually effected only on 7th Nov, after my daughter went over to the Koramangala AIRTEL office and gave a piece of her mind to the people concerned there.

Prayer: During the entire tenure of my US tour, I was totally tense from not being able to be in touch with my mother-in-law, causing me considerable mental agony, for which I am now seeking a nominal compensation of Rs 10,000/- from AIRTEL.

 

Ram Singh

Date: