|Itish Arora, 29, New Delhi|
|Grievance: Bought a Blackberry 8310 for Rs 11,500 in August 2009, and ended up with a locked AT&T phone. So he could not use any data feature. On complaining, he was asked to send back the phone at his own expense without a promise of a solution.|
|Redressal route: Public forums|
He has put up his problem on an online consumer complaints forum.
|Current status: Since the problem has not yet been sorted, he plans to take the retailer to court.|
|Other options: Arora has the option of not waiting for the online forum to decide. He can pressurise the retailer through the consumer court, or approach the prominent trade associations in Chandigarh, where the dealer is based.|
|"As I have all the purchase-related documents in place, I am told that I have a strong case if I go to the consumer court."|
Sale. Discount. Special offer. Buzzwords that all of us recognise, and words that almost always have us reaching for our wallets. From now till around May, your wallet will have more demands made on it than at any other time of the year. The festive season is spending season, which gives way to investing season as the tax deadline draws near. But it’s not all spend, spend, spend. This is also the time when unscrupulous manufacturers and dealers try to pass off shoddy goods to unwary customers. It’s also the period when brokers and agents scramble to meet sales targets and sell grossly unsuitable financial products. What can you, the consumer, do to ensure that you get what you pay for? And, if you have been conned, what can you do to get redressal?
The good news is that with consumers becoming more vocal, providers of goods and services have become more responsible and responsive. Many of them offer round-the-clock call centres, service technicians on call, complaint cells and more. But do these mechanisms really work? If they don’t, what can a buyer do to ensure that he hasn’t wasted his money? The good news is that with the setting up of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and the state and district consumer forums, it has become easy and cheap for a consumer to take legal action against a company. No longer does one have to be rich enough to afford a lawyer. The consumer courts are user-friendly and almost always on the side of the buyer. We spoke to people across the country who have taken on companies, retailers, manufacturers, retailers, even hospitals and universities, to fight for their rights.
While there are several legal, formal and non-formal ways of being heard and defending your rights, there’s also the other side of the coin. The buyer must be aware of what he is buying. He should take informed decisions instead of pointing an accusing finger at companies. This is particularly true of services; an insurance cover or a tax-saving plan is not good or bad in itself. But if you don’t need it and buy it, the fault is yours more than the agent’s. After all, you are the one spending the money. Which is why, over the next several pages, we look at consumer rights in conjunction with the responsibilities of a spender.
We hope that some day soon, manufacturers and retailers will stop the practice of printing E&OE (errors and omissions excepted, a phrase used to reduce legal liability for incorrect or incomplete information supplied in a price list or quotation) on bills, or even “Goods once sold will never be taken back”. With more buyers becoming aware of and being vocal about their rights, we too might soon move to the day when, like in developed nations, sellers declare: “In case you are not fully satisfied with our product, you can bring the same to us within a month for either replacement or return of your money.”
|Ajay Kaila, 50, New Delhi|
|Grievance: On 2 January 2007, his Air-India flight from Dubai to New Delhi was delayed by over seven hours and was diverted to Mumbai due to fog. Passengers were not informed about the delay and had to wait for nearly 12 hours without hotel accommodation before boarding a flight to Delhi.|
|Redressal route: Consumer court|
Kaila and some other passengers moved the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission against the airline.
|Current status: The commission asked the airline to publicise its internal service rules, which state that in case of a delay of more than 10 hours, passengers must be accommodated. The airline moved the Supreme Court, which has stayed the NCDRC order.|
|"We should all fight for our rights, but some people don’t do so. I contacted 50 passengers on board, but got affidavits from only six people."|
Goods and Services
In the early part of the 17th century, a goldsmith named Chandelor sold what he claimed was a magical healing stone to a buyer named Lopus. Lopus, who paid 100 pounds for the stone, found later that it was bogus. He took Chandelor to court, which ruled that “everyone in selling his wares will affirm that his wares are good, or the horse which he sells is sound; yet if he does not warrant them to be so, it is no cause of action”. Chandelor was let off, and Lopus was given some good advice: caveat emptor, or, let the buyer beware.
A lot has changed in 400 years, especially with the introduction of laws favouring buyers in the early 20th century. Today, although we can take sellers of spurious goods to court, how many of us take this route? The law is very clear on the subject. It deems that goods must be safe, fit the description that’s given, be of ‘satisfactory’ quality and suit the purpose for which they are intended. If they have to be installed or assembled, there should be adequate instructions. Also, if you are shown a sample of the product first, what you are sold must match it.
A smart spender is one who doesn’t just look at getting the best price, but the best value for his money. So, how can you be a smart spender? By not sitting back and saying, “This is how things are.” Did you know that under the law, you are allowed a ‘reasonable’ amount of time to check that the goods are satisfactory? It’s another matter that ‘reasonable’ is not defined, and means different things in different situations. Your best bet is to check the product immediately. If you take it home and find that it’s faulty, you can return it and either get your money back or opt for another product. Or, at least, that’s what the law says. Retailers and manufacturers often prefer to ignore this aspect of the law. Where does this leave you?
First, try the threat of the law. Make sure to complain in writing, including all the details and any transaction reference numbers. Give the reason for your complaint and how you want it to be resolved. Keep copies of letters and record any phone calls. If this doesn’t work, try contacting the local trade association, which might be able to pressurise the retailer. If it doesn’t work, there’s always the consumer court, where the cost of litigation is minimal.