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You don’t have to follow their terms

We, as consumers, often come across standard contracts that are highly one-sided and patently unfair to us.

delhi Updated: Nov 27, 2010 23:41 IST
pushpa girimaji

We, as consumers, often come across standard contracts that are highly one-sided and patently unfair to us.

The standard contracts of builders are a classic example. One can also find many oppressive conditions in the loan/hypothecation agreements of banks and financial institutions.

Similarly, you can find on the receipts of couriers, dry cleaners and even shopkeepers, terms and conditions that seek to take away certain rights of consumers.

In the absence of a specific law against such unfair terms, consumers are at the mercy of law courts for relief.

It is for this reason that the Law Commission of India, in its 103rd report submitted in 1984, had suggested urgent remedial measures.

The commission's comments made at that time are pertinent even today: "The ad hoc solutions given by courts in response to the innate sense of justice without reference to a proper yardstick in the form of a specific provision of statute law or known legal principle of law only produce uncertainty and ambiguity."

Then in 2006, the Law Commission looked at this issue afresh and, in its 199th report, recommended a specific law to protect consumers from terms which were procedurally or substantively unfair or both.

It suggested that the law and consumer courts be conferred with the power to raise an issue of unfairness on their own, even if none of the parties had raised it in the pleadings before the court.

Unfortunately, the government did not act on it.

Now, the consumer affairs ministry is understood to have incorporated in a draft bill seeking to amend the Consumer Protection Act with certain provisions to protect consumers from unfair terms.

Will that fully protect consumer interest in the way suggested by the Law Commission? One has to wait for the Bill for an answer.

Deepak Srivastava: I had given my new expensive coat worth US$ 360 to a local drycleaner in East Delhi. At the time of delivery, I observed that the coat was burnt and even the lining had been affected - it was as if instead of a steam press, the drycleaner had applied a hot iron directly on to the fabric. On my complaint, they have tried to repair the damage.

The terms printed at the back of the receipt reads that maximum of 20 times of the dry cleaning charge can be paid in case of damage and that, too, at the discretion of the company.

They charged me Rs 135 towards dry cleaning, whereas the cost of my garment is Rs 16,500. Where can I lodge a complaint and will I be bound by what is written on the receipt?

Answer: The dry cleaner cannot limit your compensation on the basis of the terms and conditions printed on the back of the receipt. So you
can demand as compensation, whatever you think is just and fair.

I would suggest that you send a formal letter to the drycleaner asking him to compensate you. You can also seek the help of the Mediation Centre run by the Delhi government (Phone number: 23379074) in this regard. If that fails, you can always go to the consumer court.

In the case of Tip Top Drycleaners, Ranchi, VS Sunil Kumar (Revision Petition No 1328 of 2003), the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission had made it clear that such terms printed on the back of the receipt were not binding on the consumer.

It pointed out that the consumer had obviously not seen it, nor signed his acceptance. "As a matter of fact nobody reads the conditions on the back of the receipt," the Commission had said.

Do you have any problems? Send in your queries to: pgirimaji@gmail.com