Manufacturers and service providers violating the right of consumer to information will have to pay for the consequences. This message has come through in a number of orders of the apex consumer court and this week, I will put together some of them for the benefit of those readers who want to know whether they are bound by terms and conditions that they were unaware of at the time of purchase.
Let me begin with the National Insurance Company vs Shri DP Jain ( RP No. 186 of 2007), where the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission made it clear that an insurance company cannot repudiate a claim on the basis of an exclusion clause that was not made known to the consumer.
Similarly, in Lufthansa German Airlines vs Dr R Bhaskaran (RP No. 3617 of 2007), where the airline refused refund on unused return tickets by quoting the Excursion Fare Scheme Chart, the apex consumer court said the airline cannot take refuge under terms and conditions about which the passengers were kept in the dark.
In Vodafone Essar South Ltd vs Arvind Reddy (RP No. 2775 of 2007) too, the commission reiterated that a service provider cannot bill a consumer on the basis of rates not specified in the tariff card and directed the telecom company to reverse the charges, pay compensation and costs to the consumer.
In the State Bank of Patiala vs Gopal Krishan Singla (RP No. 1063 of 2010), the commission held the bank liable for its failure to inform the depositor that according to government rules, any deposit beyond R60,000 in a financial year in his PPF account did not fetch any interest and directed it to pay interest on the excess amount of R4,80,000 deposited by the consumer.
The commission, in Chemisol Adhesive Pvt. Ltd vs Shri Dhanaji Shankar Davi (RP No. 3050 of 2009) held the manufacturer and the retailer liable for their failure to issue adequate warning and usage instructions on the product.
Similarly in Dr Shyam Kumar vs Mr Rameshbhai Harmanbhai Kachhiya (RP No. 1486 of 2001), the consumer court held the doctor liable for the consequences of his failure to give the patient adequate information about his health condition, the available options and the risks involved in the treatment.
Of course, the information provided to the consumer has to be correct and not false or misleading. Else, it becomes an unfair trade practice. Here is an example:
Sadhan Acharya: Last April, I bought an LED TV on the assurance of the sales person that the USB port on the set allowed us to watch movies on a pen drive. That assurance, however, turned out to be untrue, and ever since I have been complaining to the retail outlet from where the set was purchased. Initially, they said they would look into the matter and now they say that we can only watch still photographs. I feel really cheated, more so because I am a retired ex-serviceman and cannot afford to change my set at frequently. What do I do? .
This is a clear case of unfair trade practice, where the retailer or his employee deliberately misled you about the product.
Send an ultimatum (in writing) to the retailer saying that he either replace it with a model that does what was claimed (without any additional cost to you) or else you will go to the consumer court.
If they do not change the set or refund your money, file a complaint before the consumer court. Under the Consumer Protection Act, the television set sold to you also becomes a “defective product” as its quality or performance does not match the claims made by the retailer. You can seek redress for this, too.