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How to voice a complaint

Instead of fretting over a faulty product or flawed service, redress your grievance by adopting the right approach at the appropriate forum. We tell you how.

Namrata Dadwal | Print Edition: April 16, 2009

TIPS TO REMEMBER
TelecomAirlines
Don't let a tele-caller sweet-talk you into buying a scheme. Subscribe only after you get it in writing. No chargeable service can be activated without your consent.If your baggage is missing, don't forget to take a property investigation report at the destination point to help you get compensation. Also, you should get a refund for any transaction within seven days.
InsuranceReal Estate
You have the right to have a policy cancelled within 30 days of its receipt. If you decide to buy the policy, pay your premium for at least three years to avoid forfeiture of the policy.When buying property from an existing owner, check clear title of deed, certificate of non-incumbence (free from any dispute) and ensure that all dues such as electricity bill have been paid.
BankingProducts
Change the PIN code of your ATM card periodically. Don't accept help from strangers for conducting transactions. When you give your credit card for payment, ensure it is swiped only once.The maximum retail price (MRP) is not fixed by the government, so consumers can bargain on it. No price sticker is allowed to increase the MRP. Get the guarantee or warranty card stamped.
Source: National Consumer Helpline

When Senthil applied for a new gas connection, little did he realise it would be the first step towards a troublesome journey. He walked into the Kumaran Gas Agency for a Bharatgas cylinder assuming he would have to pay about Rs 1,500. Instead, he walked out poorer by Rs 7,000 after being forced to buy products he did not really need, such as a pressure cooker, gas lighter, even a packet of detergent. The reason: the agency insisted it was mandatory for a new customer to acquire the whole 'kit'.

Senthil's isn't a one-off case. Practically, every consumer has dealt with shoddy service, a slicktalking agent or a product that has failed to live up to its promised performance. Where Senthil stands out is in his decision to make sure the agency did not get away with his hard-earned money. He complained to the Consumer Online Resource and Empowerment Centre (CORE), which sent a mail to the agency. Within a week, he was refunded about Rs 5,000. Contrary to general perception, Senthil is proof that resolving a grievance need not be long-winded and financially draining. Here's how you too can do it.

MAKE A CALL: The first step is to complain by phone. Most items have the details of their customer service centres on the packages. In case of a service, this information is present on the bill or brochure. Minor problems can be handled by customer care executives. Before you file a complaint, be clear about the fault and what you want as a remedy, be it a replacement or a refund. Also, have receipts and other documents handy. Always ask the name of the person you are speaking to and note the date, time and the points of discussion. Ensure you get an identification number for followups. Talk calmly; screaming will only give you a hoarse voice. In case the executive doesn't give you a satisfactory answer, ask politely to speak to his supervisor. If you think the issue will take time to resolve, maintain a complaint diary.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Here are some privileges that you enjoy as a consumer:
Right to safety:
You have the right to be protected against marketing of hazardous goods. Insist on purchasing quality products with guarantees such as the ISI or Agmark symbols.
Right to be informed:
You have the right to know about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of the goods that you buy.
Right to choose:
You have the right to have access to a variety of goods and services at competitive prices.
Right to seek redressal:
You have the right to seek redressal against unfair trade practices and unscrupulous exploitation. This also includes the right to be heard.

SEND A MAIL: You can also use the second weapon in your arsenal — writing skills. The e-mail ID and/or postal address are printed along with the contact numbers. Or, you could check out the company's Website. Sending an e-mail is faster, more convenient and can serve as proof. If you want to send a letter by post, register it. Keep the letter brief and give factual information like the item or service bought by you, the place you bought it from, what went wrong with it, any action you've taken and what you would like the company to do.

It will help if you manage to finagle the e-mail ID of a senior person in the organisation. Bhavik Amar (name changed) found this when he bought a BlackBerry from a seller listed on e-Bay. Amar paid Rs 17,000, but the phone conked off within two weeks. He sent it back to the seller, who charged him Rs 1,100 for repairs, only to have the phone die on him again. Tired, Amar asked for a refund. Repeated calls to the seller and e-Bay's grievance cell yielded no results. In the meantime, Amar managed to find out the e-mail ID of e-Bay's MD and sent a mail. Within a week, e-Bay refunded him the money. "I don't know if e-Bay got the money from the seller or funded it itself. I was just glad that the ordeal ended," says Amar. No wonder, as it took five months to get the issue resolved.

GET HELP: In case the company gives you a cold shoulder, you can approach consumer help organisations. 'Jago Grahak Jago' is one of the most visible consumer awareness campaigns run by the government through th National Consumer Helpline (toll-free number: 1800-11-4000). You can also visit the Website of CORE (www.core.nic.in) and fill an online grievance form. Once your complaint is registered, an alert is sent to the company and a copy is forwarded to you. "Our purpose is to solve the matter without any acrimony. In a month we receive about 1,500 complaints, out of which 40-45% are resolved at our level," says S.C. Sharma, director, CORE.

TROUBLESOME SECTORS
The break-up of the complaints that have been received by CORE
Services33.5%
Telecom24.3%
Products21.8%
Bank17.6%
Miscellaneous2.7%
Break-up of 52,932 complaints received from March 15, 2005 to November 30, 2008

You can lodge complaints with some of the NGOs as well. These include the Consumer Grievance (www.consumergrievance.com), Consumer Guidance Society of India (www.cgs-india.org), Common Cause (www.commoncauseindia. org) and Consumer's Forum (www.consumer.org.in). If you face trouble with certain services, you can contact the ombudsman concerned. You can write to the banking ombudsman (www.banking-ombudsman.rbi.org.in) if you don't get a satisfactory reply from your bank within a month. Similar is the case for insurance (irdaindia. org), tax (www.incometaxindia.gov.in) and telecom (www.trai.gov.in) grievances.

GO TO COURT: Approach the courts only after you have exhausted all other avenues. This will prove that you had taken reasonable steps to redress your problem and that the retailer had ample opportunities to settle the issue. There is a three-tier system—the District Forum, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (SCDRC) and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC). You will have to begin at the District Forum, and only if you fail to find a solution, can you knock at the doors of SCDRC, NCDRC and the Supreme Court, in that order. You can directly approach a higher level if your claim of compensation is higher.

VALUE OF GOODS AND COMPENSATION
District ForumCourt Fee (Rs.)
Less than Rs 1 lakh100
Rs 1 lakh - Rs 5 lakh200
Rs 5 lakh - Rs 10 lakh400
Rs 10 lakh - Rs 20 lakh500
  
State Commission 
Rs 20 lakh - Rs 50 lakh2,000
Rs 50 lakh - Rs 1 crore4,000
  
National Commission 
Above Rs 1 crore5,000

You can file a complaint within two years of the date on which the defect occurs. This is not dependent on the purchase date. You can either appear in person, send a representative or even a letter. In case a complainant has died, his legal heirs can go to court. "It is beneficial for consumers with the same problem to come together. This eases financial worries and makes a stronger case," says an official with NCDRC. You don't need a lawyer if you think you can present the case yourself. However, you can hire or ask the court for one. It takes 21 days for the initial complaint to get registered. You have to appeal to a higher court within 30 days of the lower court's order. Remember, however, that the court can fine you up to Rs 10,000 if it thinks you have filed a frivolous complaint.

As most officials point out, consumers need to be aware of their rights and exercise them. They must also be careful while buying a product as the onus in most cases lies with them. Just as it is their responsibility to ensure that nobody dupes them. So don't complain about your problems. Learn to state them loud and clear.

Anuj Singla

CASE STUDY

Anuj Singla, Chandigarh

Singla was promised a free vacuum cleaner if he renewed his car insurance policy from Bajaj Allianz. When he received the policy after 15 days, there was no mention of the free gift. For two months, Singla ran from pillar to post calling up the customer care centre of Bajaj Allianz and the agent, to no avail.

How Singla solved it

He wrote to CORE, which contacted him the next day and forwarded his grouse to the company. Within 10 days, the vacuum cleaner had been delivered at his doorstep.

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