Consumer courts have to be made more effective
The time has come to increase the number and effectiveness of consumer courts. Protecting the rights of the vast consumer class is critical for the economy’s survival and long-term growth
The news that came three weeks before Diwali, the festival of lights and prosperity, is adding to the excitement. In these difficult times, when the whole of the world, including the United States, Europe, and China are beset by fears of a recession, only seven countries have managed to dodge the bullet. India is one among them. How did India get this special place? Our vast consumer base, self-sufficiency in food, and a rapidly growing population of professionals and their passion are the answers.
We’ll talk later about farmers who ensure our food security, but for now, let’s look at the situation and rights of professionals and consumers. What are their current circumstances? Before I answer this question, let me tell you about the ordeal undergone by one of my relatives. She is a doctor by profession, and this happened to her one fine morning a week ago.
Her driver was on leave, so she decided to use either Ola or Uber. She began by booking a cab through her mobile app. She received the confirmation message right away, along with the taxi’s details. She expressed her delight, saying, “Hey, now I don’t need a driver.” But she had no idea what difficulties she would face in the next hour.
She rushed towards the lift so that the cab driver would not have to wait. Her apartment is on the 17th floor of one of Noida’s best societies. The lift had just begun to descend when the power went out. The builder, who sold the flats for millions of rupees, had not made any arrangements to ensure that the lift operates normally during a power outage. The next few minutes were filled with darkness and dread.
As she stepped out, she was surprised to see in her taxi app that the cab had remained where it had been at the time of confirmation. It had not moved an inch. The doctor rang the call centre, and despite more than 10 minutes of frantic efforts, the driver cancelled the ride. The young woman called a cab again, but the same thing happened. The third driver cancelled the ride when he was almost at the pick-up location. As a result, ₹40 was debited from her account. She could have got this money back by filing a complaint, but the issue isn’t about money. These incidents affected the doctor and the patients who had made an appointment with her in advance.
Apart from poor drivers, the perpetrators in this entire episode included an online taxi service, an electricity distribution company, and a well-known builder. They all do billion-dollar deals, but what do they do for their customers’ comfort? It is not just a young doctor’s ordeal. A large number of people in this country face these difficulties on a daily basis.
In India, there is an urgent need to rein in industries that thrive by taking advantage of government schemes. The attitude of some multinational corporations is even worse.
Consider automobile manufacturers. Their security standards differ significantly between western countries and developing countries such as India. They are happy to take our hard-earned money, but not bothered so much about our lives, safety, or the environment.
Not only that, but it is not uncommon to receive an SMS informing you that a large sum of money has been withdrawn or deposited in your account with a particular bank, or that your alternative phone number has been activated.
Similarly, an electricity company may suddenly begin sending you messages requesting that you pay an outstanding bill. I know a customer who constantly complains to the bank that he does not have an account with the bank, but he is regularly receiving email updates from it. He suspected that such activities were being carried out by an anti-social or fraudulent individual or organisation. The individual continued to send e-mails, but received no satisfactory response from the bank. Exhausted, he filed a complaint with the banking ombudsman, but he has yet to receive a response after months. Now, he has no clue what to do. Is there any way for him to exercise his rights?
If we examine the infrastructure and statistics for complaint redressal and consumer rights, we are rendered speechless. There are currently 629 district consumer courts and 35 consumer disputes redressal commissions in the country where one can file a claim for compensation of up to ₹20 lakh against consumer goods producers, sellers, and service providers of different kinds. The unpleasant reality is that 4,029 of the 5.50 lakh cases currently pending before these courts and commissions are 22 years old.
The time has come to increase the number and effectiveness of consumer courts. The powers of regulatory agencies and commissions require an urgent boost as well. Protecting the rights of the vast consumer class is critical for the economy’s survival and long-term growth as well.
Shashi Shekhar is the editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal