New Delhi: Insurance firms and PSUs had to face some tough time in 2012 from the consumer fora which pulled up these entities for causing a rise in frivolous litigation.
The apex consumer commission pulled up PSUs for behaving 'penny-wise, pound-foolish' and spending more money in fighting cases than they might have to pay to the claimants. The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) made the observation while pulling up Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) for "gross negligence, deliberate inaction and lack of bonafides" in delaying by 204 days filing of a plea against a state consumer commission's order.
The NCDRC also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on HUDA while blaming the legal staff of the PSUs for not examining cases properly and forcing litigants to approach courts, resulting in a rise in frivolous litigation.
Apart from PSUs, the consumer fora made clear its displeasure with insurance firms—private or state-run— for denying rightful claims of consumers by asking the Centre to examine the issue and take action against the erring firms.
The fora had also asked the Union finance ministry to deal strictly with private insurance firms and consider cancelling their licences for harassing customers and illegally rejecting their claims.
State-run insurance company LIC was also not spared, with the Delhi State Consumer Commission saying that it has become the "richest" organisation in the country by rejecting rightful claims of insured under mediclaim policies on "flimsy" grounds.
Airlines, banks, auto majors, insurance firms, hospitals, food joints, manufacturers of electronic gadgets, government wings like Railways and postal department, none escaped the stringent scrutiny of consumer fora on complaints of their indulgence in unfair and deceptive trade practices. While the telecom sector managed to avoid scrutiny of the consumer fora in cases of billing disputes due to a 2009 Supreme Court ruling, matters related to value added services—like caller tunes, number portability, SIM activation—offered by the telecom majors were taken up by the fora.
The apex court had ruled that as per section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, a dispute between a consumer and a telephone service provider can be resolved only through arbitration and the consumer is barred from moving a consumer forum for redressal of grievances against a telephone company.
Despite the ruling, Bharti Airtel was ordered by a consumer forum here to pay Rs 25,000 to a post-paid subscriber as compensation for harassing him by demanding fresh documents to verify his six-year-old connection and then stopping outgoing calls on his number.
The aviation sector also faced ire with several major airlines —international as well as Indian —being rapped for providing deficient service to fliers. While Kuwait Airways was ordered by NCDRC to pay Rs 25 lakh as compensation to Rajasthan Art Emporium for delaying the delivery of its consignments of handicrafts to the US, Air India was asked to cough up over Rs one lakh by a Delhi district consumer forum to make its "rude" staff "learn a lesson" for their "callous" service towards a flier.
Continuing to safeguard the interests of travellers, be it by air or by rail, a district consumer forum ordered Indian Railways to pay Rs 60,000 to a woman whose purse was stolen in 2009 during her journey from Secunderabad to Delhi on Andhra Pradesh Rajdhani Express.
It also advised Railway Board to provide lockers in trains for passengers to keep their expensive articles safe.In another case involving the state monolith, a consumer forum held that a passenger's failure to check the requisite date of his train ticket during the booking does not absolve Railways from the liability of giving him the wrong ticket and of rendering deficient service.
Issues related to consumers' health and medical negligence by doctors and hospitals were also addressed by the various consumer fora. In one such case, a leading children's hospital in the national capital—Kalawati Saran Children Hospital—was ordered by Delhi Consumer Commission to pay Rs 10 lakh as damages to the parents of a child for transfusing HIV-infected blood to him 14 years ago in his infancy.
The children's hospital, affiliated to Lady Hardinge Medical College, and its doctor were held guilty by the commission of committing "sheer medical negligence" in giving the HIV-infected blood to the then three-day-old child.
In another case, Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre was ordered by the NCDRC to pay Rs 50,000 to a woman who had contracted Hep-B due to transfusion of tainted blood to her during her cardiac surgery.
On what constitutes accidental death for availing benefits due to the same, a district consumer forum here held that death due to mosquito bite is accidental and the NCDRC ruled that a patient's death due to rash or negligent act of a doctor is also an accident.
The banking and financial services sector also came under the scanner of the consumer fora, which pulled them and their officials up on issues ranging from forceful seizure of vehicles bought on loan to leaking of customers' account details to a third party.
While HDFC Bank was directed by a district consumer forum to pay Rs 3 lakh as compensation to a borrower for seizing his car bought on loan without giving him notice, a Citi Bank branch manager was ordered by Delhi State Consumer Commission to pay Rs 15 lakh as compensation to a credit card holder for leaking his account details to a third party.
Electronics companies like Samsung, Nokia and Sony were pulled up for sale of defective goods to consumers as well as deficiency in after sales services provided to buyers. In one case, Nokia was directed to pay Rs 67,000 for selling a defective mobile handset and failing to repair it.
Eating joints, be it a local sweet shop or a food lounge run by a luxury hotel chain in the IGI airport here, were made to compensate their customers for serving sub-standard food. While a local eatery was made by a consumer forum to cough up Rs 20,000 as fine and compensation to a customer for serving her 'sambar' having a dead lizard in it, ITC-Welcome Group was ordered to pay Rs 15,000 to a passenger as compensation for serving him "stale food" at its IGI Airport lounge and making him fall ill after its consumption.
Even auto giants were not spared with Maruti Udyog Ltd being asked by a district consumer forum to pay Rs 1 lakh to one of its customers as compensation for "inducing" him to buy a car through misleading advertisements on its mileage. Luxury car manufacturer Skoda was directed by the Delhi State Consumer Commission to pay one of its car buyers Rs 20.17 lakh, including compensation of Rs 2.5 lakh, for selling him a defective car.