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'Black sheep' of services sector kept consumer fora busy in 2013

PTI     December 27, 2013
Cases related to deficiency in services by railways, airlines and automobile firms kept the various consumer fora in the country busy while they also dealt sternly with rising instances of medical negligence and "black sheep" in the health sector in 2013.

Doctors and hospitals got a stern message from consumer fora, which asked the Centre and the Medical Council of India (MCI) to identify and take action against the "black sheep" in the profession who did not hesitate to put patients' lives at risk for greed.

"We can only suggest to MCI to take note of the prevailing atmosphere in the medical profession and identify such black sheep as are responsible for creating an impression in the public mind that they are being milked by greedy doctors.

"Government should take steps to protect patients from unscrupulous medical practitioners," the East Delhi District Consumer Forum had said while directing a city-based clinic to pay Rs 1.5 lakh to a patient for trying to extend her stay by incorrectly diagnosing her illness and advising surgery.

"It has been observed these days that the medical profession is affected by greed. Hospitals and doctors don't hesitate to put patients at risk," another consumer forum had said.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), too, pulled up several hospitals, clinics, and doctors across the country for treating patients in a "casual" manner. In one case, it awarded compensation of Rs 38.4 lakh, the highest this year by a consumer fora, to the kin of a woman who suffered brain damage and is in a vegetative state since 1999 due to "serious deficiency in treatment" provided to her by a Hyderabad-based fertility clinic.

These, however, could not measure up to the highest-ever compensation awarded in a medical negligence case in India when Supreme Court this year ordered the Kolkata-based Advance Medicare Research Institute and its three doctors to pay over Rs 11.41 crore, including interest, to a US-based Indian- origin doctor who lost his 29-year-old wife during their visit to India 15 years ago.

Railways, too, received a rap from consumer fora for discharging duties in a 'happy-go-lucky' manner and was directed by NCDRC to pay Rs 10 lakh to the kin of an elderly passenger who died due to alleged negligence and passivity of its staff on a Delhi-bound train after he was allegedly drugged and looted by three co-passengers.

Besides, it was also pulled up by consumer fora for failing to stop unauthorised persons from entering a reserved coach and causing inconvenience to passengers, lack of cleanliness on trains and for misbehaviour by Railway Protection Force officials.

Airlines, including national carrier Air India, too faced a hard time at consumer fora, usually for losing or failing to deliver passengers' luggage on time.

Jet Airways was directed by NCDRC to pay Rs 2.45 lakh to a man for forgetting to take on board his father's coffin which he had booked to be flown from Bangalore to Port Blair for the last rites.

Air India was also pulled up by the New Delhi District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum which ordered it to shell out Rs 12.24 lakh for its "shocking and improper" contention that the claim of baggage loss made by a garments exporter was fake as he had filed two such complaints in the past against another airline.

Insurance firms' practice of lingering on the settlement of claims was frowned upon by consumer fora which observed that these entities were using the money legally owed to the insured for as long as they could.

Consumer fora also held that a departmental circular could not modify contract conditions for an insurance policy while directing LIC to pay over Rs 6.96 lakh for deducting surrender value from a pension plan holder's investment prior to refund of her money when her policy conditions clearly stated that no such amount would be deducted.

Vehicle manufacturers like Maruti and Tata, as well as premium brands like Nissan and Porsche, were also asked to pay compensation to customers for either providing defective cars or for failing to deliver the vehicle after being paid for it.

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