Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

Kerala State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (KSCDRC): The Coram of Justice Sri K. Surendra Mohan (President) and T.S.P Moosath (Judicial Member), Ranjit. R and K.R. Radhakrishna (Members) decided on whether charging for the 3D glasses for a 3D movie would amount to violation of consumer rights or not.

In the present matter, it has been stated that the complainant had gone to the cinema theatre of the OP for viewing an English 3D Movie ‘Gravity’ in the year 2013, wherein he had carried with himself the 3D spectacles that he had purchased for the amount of Rs 30 n an earlier occasion for another movie.

Since the complainant was carrying his own spectacles he requested a movie ticket worth Rs 50, but the person in charge refused to give him the ticket and insisted that the complainant pays for the 3D glasses as well.

As per the complainant, the spectacles were found to be kept in a plastic cover after use and were being issued to viewers of the next show without any cleaning or sterilization.

Restrictive Trade Practice?

Complainant contended that, the spectacles necessary for viewing 3D movies were given free of cost, on earlier occasions when films like “My Dear Kuttichathan” were screened. The complainant, therefore, alleged that the charging of Rs 30, more than half of the ticket charge, as rent for the spectacles amounted to restrictive trade practice, actionable in law. He, therefore, approached the District Forum claiming compensation.

OPs contention:

The opposite party had not compelled any one to take the 3D glasses on rent. The 3D glasses collected after each show are subjected to a sterilization process and reused only after sterilization. It is not necessary to issue a bill for supplying 3D glasses on rent. No negligence or deficiency in service was committed by the opposite parties. Therefore, they disputed the liability of paying compensation.

Decision

 Coram held that the finding of the District Forum that charging Rs 30 as rent for the 3D spectacles was unjustified, cannot be found fault with. It was noted that Rs 30 charged as rent for the 3D spectacles was admittedly being recovered over and above the ticket charges, for which no entertainment tax had been admittedly been paid.

Violation of the Consumer Rights?

Commission held that the OP’s action of charging Rs 30 rent per 3D glasses for viewing the 3D Movie amounted to a serious violation of the consumer rights. OP in the said process would have extracted a tidy sum of money without providing any consequential benefit to the consumer who has availed the use thereof.

If 3D glasses are necessary for the better viewing of the 3D movie, it is imperative that the said glasses are supplied free of cost for the use of the viewers. Extraction of such amounts by individual theatre owners at their whims and fancies would only give room for exploitation of the consumers.

 Therefore, Coram agreed with the amount of compensation and punitive damages granted by the District Forum.

However, the Commission lastly added that the direction of the District Forum that charges for use of the 3D glasses could be extracted from customers who require the glasses and that too after publishing a notice is without any justification, as contended by the complainant. Any such permission to extract additional charges would not be in the interests of the rights of the consumers whose stakes in such matters are very low. Most consumers may not consider it worthwhile to litigate for small amounts like Rs 30. Therefore, the said direction was vacated.[Ravikrishnan N R v. Proprietor Remya Theatre, Appeal Nos. 431 of 2016 and 553of 2016, decided on 09-04-2021]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): The Bench of Dinesh Singh (Presiding Member) observed that:

“Consumer has the right to know, before he exercises his choice to patronize a particular retail outlet, and before he makes his selection of goods for purchase, that additional cost will be charged for carry bags, and also the right to know the salient specifications and price of the carry bags.”

In the present matter, petitioner, Big Bazaar (Future Retail Ltd.) was the Opposite Party before the District Forum.

Condonation of Delay

The petition was filed with self-admitted delay of 60 days and the reasons laid down for condonation of delay were with regard to the managerial inefficiency and perfunctory and casual attitude to the law of limitation.

Though the above-stated reasons were illogical and unpersuasive, yet in the interest of justice, delay was condoned in light of providing fair opportunity.

Issue

Charging additional cost (Rs 18 in this case) for ‘carry bags’ to carry the goods purchased by the complainant was concluded as an unfair trade practice on the part of OP by the two Fora below.

hence, OP Co. was directed to refund the cost of ‘carry bags’ and pay compensation of Rs 100 along with the cost of litigation which was Rs 1100 and Rs 5000 to be deposited in the Consumer Legal Aid Account.

Revision Petition

The instant revision petition was filed by the OP Co. under Section 58(1)(b) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 before this Commission.

[The jurisdiction of this Commission under both sections i.e. Section 21(b) of the Act 1986 and Section 58(1)(b) of the Act 2019 is the same (the articulation in both is identical)]

Bench noted the fact that earlier OP was providing ‘carry bags’ made of polythene without charging additional costs and later when it started providing cloth carry bags it started charging additional cost.

In light of the above, the Commission expressed that:

Prominent prior notice / signs / announcement / advertisement / warning to the consumers, before the consumers exercised their choice to make their purchases from the outlets of the Opposite Party Co., that additional cost will be charged for carry bags, was not there.

In the present case, the consumers were not allowed/were not in a position to/did not have prior notice or information to take their own ‘carry bags’. In fact, after the purchase was completed and at the time of making the payment, they were being charged additionally for the cost of ‘carry bags’.

Fora Below

The Forums below appraised the case and returned with concurrent findings of deficiency and unfair trade practice.

Notice issued by Co-Ordinate Benches

The argument made by Senior Counsel, in the hearing on admission on 01-12-2020, that in “similar” cases of other traders notice has been issued by co-ordinate benches of this Commission, is not tenable.

Mere issuance of notice by a co-ordinate bench in “similar” cases of other traders is not a binding precedent.

Cloth Carry Bags

Carry bags of undisclosed specifications were forced on the consumers at the price as fixed by the Opposite Party Co., the consumers were forced to accept the carry bags, of undisclosed specifications, at the price fixed.

Adding to the above, Bench stated that a mere notice at the payment counter or consumer being informed at the payment counter that additional cost will be charged for ‘carry bags’ after the purchase from the store concerned has been made, should not be the case.

“It also cannot be that carry bags of (undisclosed) specifications and of price as fixed by the Opposite Party Co. are so forced on the consumer.

Such notice or information at the time of making payment not only causes embarrassment and harassment to the consumer and burdens him with additional cost but also affects his unfettered right to make an informed choice of patronizing or not patronizing a particular outlet at the initial stage itself and before making his selection of goods for purchase.”

Therefore, the Commission found such practice of disclosing the price of carry bags at the payment counter to be unquestionably ‘unfair trade practice’ under Section 2(1)(r) of the Act 1986 [corresponding Section 2(47) of the Act 2019].

Right to Know

As a matter of Consumer rights, the consumer has the right to know that there will be an additional cost for ‘carry bags’ and also to know the salient specifications and price of the carry bags, before he exercises his choice of patronizing a particular retail outlet and before he makes his selection of goods for purchase from the said retail outlet.

Commission in very clear words expressed that:

“…arbitrarily and highhandedly deviating from its past practice, deviating from the normal, not giving adequate prominent prior notice or information to the consumer before he makes his choice of patronizing the retail outlet, and before he makes his selection for purchase, imposing the additional cost of ‘carry bags’ at the time of making payment, after the selection has been made, forcing carry bags without disclosing their salient specifications at price as fixed by the Opposite Party Co., putting the consumer to embarrassment and harassment, burdening the consumer with additional cost, in such way and manner, is decidedly unfair and deceptive.”

Hence, the Commission directed OP to discontinue its unfair trade practice of arbitrarily and highhandedly imposing an additional cost of carry bags on the consumer at the time of making payment, without prominent prior notice and information before the consumer makes his choice of patronizing its retail outlets and before the consumer makes his selection of goods for purchase, as also without disclosing the salient specifications and price of ‘carry bags’.

The above order is made under Section 39(1)(g) of the 2019 Act.  However, the Commission made it explicitly clear that:
“It is made explicit that the critique apropos the Opposite Party Co. and the order under Section 39(1)(g) of the Act 2019 to the Opposite Party Co. have been made inter alia considering that it is a company with the wherewithal and inter alia considering the way and manner in which it conducts its business of retail. As such, nothing in the critique and in the order made under Section 39(1)(g) of the Act 2019 can be (mis) construed to be made applicable to differently / lesser placed traders, the applicability can only be made on similarly / better-placed traders, similarly / better situate, having similar way and manner of conducting their business.” [Big Bazaar (Future Retail Ltd.) v. Ashok Kumar, 2020 SCC OnLine NCDRC 495, decided on 22-12-2020]


Advocates who appeared before the Commission:

For the Petitioner: Sudhir K. Makkar, Senior Advocate along with Saumya Gupta, Advocate and Yogita Rathore, Advocate.

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC): A Division Bench of Dr S.M. Kantikar (Presiding Member) and Dinesh Singh (Member), while addressing the issue of medical negligence by the doctors of Christian Medical College, Vellore awarded compensation to the deceased’ wife.

Deceased got admitted to as a private patient at Christian Medical College, Vellore — OP and on being examined it was found to be a case of Coronary Artery Disease.

The treating doctor advised the deceased to undergo Coronary Angiogram test when the same was conducted, the doctor expressed that it would be better if the patient undergoes Coronary Arterial By-pass Graft (CABG) surgery instead of angioplasty to avoid multiple stenting.

After a couple of days, Dr Sujit discontinued medicines Ecospirin and Clopidogrel and started Heparin 5000 units 6 hourly.

Heparin was started without any laboratory investigations and monitoring protocol.

Complainant had notice bleeding at the site of insertion of the needle but the said complaint was ignored by the doctors.

On the 3rd does of Heparin being given to the patient, it was noted that he suffered from a mini-stroke after that.

An immediate CT Scan was to be done but no stroke evaluation was suggested by the doctor. Later the deceased was transferred to the Thoracic surgery unit in Semi-ICU. Neurologist suggested a CT-Brain Plain study but the same was delayed.

The neurologist after conducting the above-stated scan informed the complainant that as the patient already progressed into coma, nothing more could be done. Finally, doctors suggested the family that they should accept the inevitable event and instead of wasting money allow them to withdraw ventilator support.

Later, the complainant took the opinion of several other doctors who said that the delay caused for stroke management was fatal and it was due to lapses in the hospital.

Patients once again suffered a stroke and died on nothing being done by the doctors.

In view of the above-stated, present consumer complaint was filed for medical negligence and callousness of the doctors at CMC causing the death of the patient.

Commission on perusal of the facts and submissions of the case stated that, the high-risk patients living in the hospital/nursing homes or undergoing cardiac procedures should have monitoring systems to help alert the doctor/staff immediately.

Adding to its analysis, the bench also stated that pre-hospital triage and communication between radiologists, neurologists and emergency physicians are more vital.

Delay in diagnosis and management of stroke was a deficiency and not a reasonable or standard of practice.

Another significant setback that was noted was that there was an urgent need for a brain CT scan of the patient but it was delayed for more than 3 hours for the want of a fresh receipt of Rs 1850 towards CT scan charges even though complainants had already deposited 150000 in advance. 

For the above instance, the bench stated,

Hospital has every right to insist the payment but it was also a prime duty to care the emergency patient.

In view of the above, deficiency/negligence was conclusively established and hence ac compensation of Rs 25 lakhs with an interest of 8% p.a was awarded. [Yashumati Devi v. Christian Medical College, 2020 SCC OnLine NCDRC 211, decided on 11-08-2020]


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Op EdsOP. ED.

Inspired by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, at the time when he formally addressed the issue of consumer rights back in 1962, the World Consumer Rights Day was first observed on 15th March 1983 and since then it has become a very important day in terms of gathering citizens and persisting them to imparting their voice towards their rights.

The theme for this year’s World Consumer Rights Day, 2019 is “Trusted Smart Products”. The theme has been chosen by “consumers international” with the reasoning that,

“From smart phones to wearable fitness trackers, to voice-activated assistants and smart TVs, many of the products we use are increasingly becoming connected by default.

This World Consumer Rights Day, we want to highlight what consumers want and need from a connected world and how important it is to put them at the heart of the development of these digital products and services.”

This day is celebrated in order to spread awareness amongst the consumers and outspread the rights laid down for them. It is an initiative for the masses and the protection of their rights.

Kennedy said,

“If consumers are offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and the national interest suffers.”

Four basic rights that were declared in the speech delivered by US President John F. Kennedy in 1962 were [Foundation Stones]:

  • Right to safety
  • Right to be informed
  • Right to choose
  • Right to be heard

Two decades later, in the 1980s, four more rights were added by the international coalition of consumer groups:

  • Right to redress
  • Right to satisfaction of basic needs
  • Right to consumer education
  • Right to a healthy environment

Since that time these eight rights have formed the basis for ongoing work by consumer groups throughout the world.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

-Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy

The constant reminder for Indian citizens for knowing their rights has been “Jago Grahak Jago”. Several campaigns have also been launched for the same yet the need to spread the word should not stop.

Out of the various laws that have been enforced to protect consumer rights in India, the most important is the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. According to this law, everybody, including individuals, a firm, a Hindu undivided family and a company, have the right to exercise their consumer rights for the purchase of goods and services made by them. It is significant that, as a consumer, one knows the basic rights as well as about the courts and procedures that follow with the infringement of one’s rights.

In general, consumer rights in India are listed below:

  • The right to be protected from all kind of hazardous goods and services
  • The right to be fully informed about the performance and quality of all goods and services
  • The right to free choice of goods and services
  • The right to be heard in all decision-making processes related to consumer interests
  • The right to seek redressal, whenever consumer rights have been infringed
  • The right to complete consumer education

Quotes to remember:

Mahatma Gandhi

“Customers are the most important visitor on our premises, they are not dependent on us, we are dependent on them. They are not an interruption in our work. They are the purpose of it. They are not outsiders in our business. They are part of it; we are not doing them a favour by serving them. They are doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

Jeff Bezos
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts, it’s our Job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

Herbert Hoover
Competition is not only the basis of protection to the consumer but is the incentive to progress.

List of some famous “Consumer Protection Cases”:

“Awareness” is the only key for the protection of rights.


† Legal Editor, EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd.