District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission [DCDRC], Ernakulam: While deliberating over the instant consumer complaint filed regarding deficiency of service at Cochin International Airport, Ltd., (hereinafter CIAL) like the insufficiency of CISF personnel at CIAL and inadequate rain cover while boarding flights due to which the complainant got drenched in the rain and suffered from fever; the Bench of D.B. Binu (President), V. Ramachandran and Sreevidhia T.N. (Members) drew a negative inference against CIAL for not providing a rain cover/canopy due to which the complainant got drenched causing him physical pain and mental agony. The Commission observed,
“It is generally seen huge profit-making entities are indifferent in their attitude towards consumers in the protection of their rights. We cannot be mute spectators when consumers approach Commissions like these for the redressal of their grievances which cannot be raised elsewhere”.
CIAL was thus held liable for deficiency in service and was directed to pay compensation of Rs. 8000 for the complainant’s physical discomfort and Rs. 8000 as cost of proceedings.
Background: The complainant raised a plethora of issues which included-
- CISF personnel being overburdened due to CIAL being partially closed for repairs, which resulted in security lapses and misbehaviour on part of the CISF personnel. The complainant claimed that since salaries of the CISF personnel working in Airports are paid from Passenger Service Fees collected from passengers (through various Airlines), the passengers are entitled to a decent service from CISF personnel.
- Insufficiency of toilets to meet the need of passenger traffic.
- Absence of rain covers for passengers while boarding their flights. The complainant stated that the CIAL did not even allow him to use an umbrella citing security reasons. It was due to these difficulties that the complainant while catching his flight for Delhi, got drenched and as a result, suffered from fever for three days.
Furthermore, the complainant stated he is a frequent flyer and alleged that even in the past he was not able to catch his connecting flights due to deficient services provided by CIAL. Alleging that he has suffered monetary losses running into several lakhs of rupees, the complainant therefore sought compensation of INR 1 Lakh.
Per contra, the opposite parties argued on the grounds of vagueness of the complaint. It was stated that the complainant neither revealed the name of the airline, date of travel, details of sir ticket, nor he made the airline a party to the proceedings.
The opposite parties further argued in airports there are various statutory agencies like immigration, customs and CISF. These agencies are governed by the Rules and Regulations of the Central Government. The personnel of these departments/ organizations are not under the control of the airport operator and the airport operator does not have any say in the administrative/operational matter of these agencies.
It was also argued that the complainant is not a direct consumer of the airport as he does not pay any consideration directly to the airport for any particular service.
Commission’s Assessment: The preliminary question before the Commission was that whether the complainant comes under the purview of ‘consumer’ defined under Section 2(1)(d) of Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The Commission held that the complainant can be considered as a ‘consumer’ if he is beneficiary of the services rendered by CIAL.
On the issue of inadequate rain cover, the Commission noted that the CIAL did not even allow the usage of umbrella besides there being no rain canopy over the ladder. The Commission noted that this particular allegation has not been disproved by the CIAL. The Commission pointed out that the CIAL also did not adduce evidence to show that it was the duty of the airlines to provide rain cover over the ladder. Therefore, the Commission drew an adverse inference pining the liability of deficient services on CIAL.
The Commission pointed out that passenger facilitation as a service is not rendered free of charge and is a non-sovereign function, and hence would come under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, thereby establishing a customer-service provider relationship between the complainant and CIAL.
The Commission however also held that services rendered by the CISF personnel, even though are chargeable, the same will not come under the definition of a consumer- service provider relationship as the salary of the CISF personnel comes from the Consolidated Fund of India and in turn recovered from the client organization as the security component of the PSF as the CISF is a compensatory cost force which is governed under the Central Industrial Security Force Act, 1968 discharging a sovereign function in performance of the statutory duty.
The Commission further pointed out that the complainant had failed to establish that he is frequent flyer of CIAL and also, failed to provide evidence to support his claim for compensation of Rupees 1 Lakh.
The Commission therefore held the CIAL liable towards the complainant on only one aspect i.e., absence of rain cover while boarding the flight.
[T.G.N Kumar v. Cochin International Airport Ltd., CC No. 393/2015, decided on 8-04-2023]