Mrs. Hansaben Shah had bought a cotton sari from Alka Sari Centre for Rs. 70/-. Even before a wash, she wore the sari on a couple of occasions, but it started tearing on its own. She complained to the dealer who said goods once sold could not be taken back nor was refund possible. On receiving the complaint, CERS approached the shop and received the same reply. The dealer added that he would not be intimidated even by legal action. CERS got the sari tested in a textile laboratory with complete details such as count construction, tear and tensile strength, barium activity number, etc. and found that chemically the sari had completely degraded . CERS then demanded that the dealer should pay not Rs. 70/- -the price of the sari- but Rs. 170/-, including the laboratory testing charges. The dealer who was not willing to pay Rs. 70/- to Mrs. Shah four months earlier, volunteered to come to the Centre and hand over Rs. 170/-, of which Rs.70/- was refunded to the complainant and Rs.100/-went towards the testing charges.
Unfortunately, there are complaints where mediation fails to set things right and CERS has to hold out threats of direct action or actually resort to it. The following are two such instances :
Notabene Washing Company
A lady had given a sari to Notabene, a washing company, where it was damaged during washing. When she complained, she was shown the laundry bill laying down one-sided conditions of contract. She complained to CERS. Despite a long correspondence, the company was not willing to compensate her. The matter was taken up in the complaints column of a newspaper. In response, the company disowned its legal liability. CERS, in turn, pointed out the judgement of the Madras High Court in the Lily White v/s R Munnuswamy case reported in AIR 1986 Madras 13 (V 53 C4) where it was held that such one- sided unfair terms of contract could not be enforced and, therefore, the laundry had a liability. Still the company refused to relent.
CERS then chose a different approach. Its Public Relations Officer met the owner and told him that if he did not settle the claim, the Centre would organise womenâ€™s demonstrations at all their branches in the city. The owner paid Rs.300/- to the complainant.
LIC Manager Gheraoed
The Kokum Case
A consumer had bought a packet of Lonavala Kokum from Lalita Factory, a grocery in Ahmedabad, and found a dead rat in it. He complained to CERS, and the packet with the dead rat was photographed. The matter was brought to the notice of the shopkeeper and the manufacturer. In response, the manufacturer advertised in newspapers, warning consumers not to consume the kokum purchased during the period between two specific dates and advised them to collect the refund from the shop.
Sometimes CERS provides a common forum for both the parties to meet and, through its intervention, sort out their problems which otherwise would have reached a dead end. The amount involved in such cases need not always be big.
Consumer Group Acts As A Conduit
Mrs. Effie Mudaliar had a complaint against Kalapi Corporation, Ahmedabad, and wanted to return the dough maker she had purchased along with a grinder mixer. The relationship between the consumer and the dealer had become so bitter that neither of them wanted to meet each other.
ERS played the role of a mediator and requested both the parties to come to CERSâ€™s office. In spite of earnest efforts, the dialogue between the two parties was quite acrimonious to the extent that the complainant called the proprietor a crook. CERS then talked to each of them separately and finally a settlement was reached that Kalapi Corporation would give Rs. 250 to CERS, to which the lady too would return the dough maker. CERS forwarded the payment and the dough maker to the respective parties.
Consumer Group Acts As A Mediator
The following individual complaint pertaining to goods resolved by CERS involved the highest stake of Rs.1,02,000. The case was resolved through arbitration.
Mrs. Kusum Chopra of â€œNews and Viewsâ€, Ahmedabad, purchased a computer worth Rs. 1,02,000 during March 1989 from Hindustan Computers Limited (HCL). It was a PC/AT with tusker.
Mrs. Chopra had continuous complaints about the working of the machine. The HCL did not redress the complaint to her satisfaction. Three months after the purchase, she approached CERS which acted as a mediator between her and the HCL.
CERS processed the complaint and explored various alternatives and remedies. Finally, in February 1990 the HCL handed over a Demand Draft for Rs.1,02,000 to Mrs. Chopra against the return of the computer in the presence of the Complaints Officer of CERS.
Use of Indian Embassy Abroad
Mr. Ramchandra Karkare was employed as Deputy Advertising Manager by a firm called Dar Al-Fajr, Abu Dhabi, from December, 1979. On 21 December 1981, he left Abu Dhabi to meet a client in Dubai. On the highway his car met with an accident and he died on the spot. Mr. Ramchandra was married and had three children. His old parents were in Mangalore. He was the only bread-winner in the family.
Mr. Ramachandraâ€™s body was flown to India. The expense, as is usual in all cases when a foreign national dies on duty, was borne by the company. Mrs. Sushilaben Karkare and the children also returned home with the body.
An insurance amount of Dirhams 35,000 was due to Mr. Karkareâ€™s heirs. His insurance claim, though granted, was not paid to his widow even after the highest executive of the company had been approached. In Indian currency the amount was equivalent (roughly) to Rs. 1,21,100/-.
Dar Al-Fajr, however, stated that â€œWe havenâ€™t received the amount from the insurance company. As soon as we do, weâ€™ll send it over. Till then, as a token of good faith, here are three signed but undated cheques for a total of Dirhams 35,000″. Mrs. Karkare took this on face value and trusted the company. But till June, 1986, she did not receive one paise from Dar Al-Fajr. She had spent a lot on correspondence until Dar Al-Fajr stopped acknowledging her letters.
In June, 1986, Mrs. Karkare approached CERS for help. The first thing it did was to write to Dar Al-Fajr, but there was no reply.
CERS wrote to the Consulate General of the United Arab Emirates, Bombay. It suggested that CERS contact the Consulate General of India, Dubai. This was done on 7 October 1986.
That often abused and maligned institution, the Indian Embassy, surpassed itself. It wrote letters to Dar Al-Fajr and sent reminders.
On 14 February 1987, Mrs. Karkare received a copy of a letter written by Dar Al-Fajr to National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi. A sum in Indian rupees equivalent to Dh. 3,000 per month was transferred by mail with effect from March 1987 to January, 1988. Mrs. Karkare received Dh. 33,000 (about Rs. 1,14,000/-). The payment was made to her in respect of death compensation of her husband, the late Ramachandra Karkare.
‘Select’ Your Baby
Successful advocacy with the Government by CERS led to a ban on an unfair trade practice.
â€˜Selectâ€™ is an ayurvedic tablet which claimed to do the unbelievable: change the sex of the fetus in the womb ! Just pop a few pills in the early months of pregnancy and the mother has a baby of the sex that she desires. Cashing on the age-old longing of mankind for a male child, M/s. Vasu Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd., Bajuwa, Vadodara, the manufacturer, advertised â€˜Selectâ€™ as a tablet which would help a woman get a male child. The advertisement went on to proclaim that â€˜Selectâ€™ supported family planning, discouraged the dowry system and fulfilled the coupleâ€™s desire for a male child.
This advertisement is an example of the ridiculous lengths a manufacturer will go to sell his products. Reacting to an advertisement in a leading Gujarati newspaper, CERS filed a complaint before the National Commission, New Delhi, against M/s. Vasu Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd. with the pleas that the manufacture and sale of â€˜Selectâ€™ be stopped, corrective advertisements be issued in all leading Gujarati and national newspapers, stating that the manufacturers had indulged in unfair trade practices for promoting the sale of â€˜Selectâ€™, and that consumers who had used â€˜Selectâ€™ as advised but did not get a male child, should have their money refunded. CERS lobbied with the Gujarat State Government requesting it to ban â€˜Selectâ€™.
On 5 June 1991, the Gujarat government took a landmark decision – it issued an order banning the manufacture and sale of â€˜Selectâ€™.
The â€˜Selectâ€™ case brings to light an important fact. Compared to long drawn litigation, advocacy with administrators offers a better, quicker and inexpensive remedy.
Lobbying too has been one of the major tools for CERS in resolving either individal complaints or issues of larger public interest.