Redressal of consumer complaints can entail approaching the insurance ombudsman, the consumer courts and even taking help of social media, RTI and police complaints. There are options available today to build pressure on errant service or goods providers so that they do the needful
A letter from Mohan Siroya, chairperson of the Consumer Complaints Cell, gives three examples of consumer power success using the help of the insurance ombudsman, Right to Information (RTI), social media activism and police complaints. Today, justice will be served if you are persistent in your efforts to pursue the errant service or goods provider. A consumer court may not be able to help in the absence of the postal address, but alternate means exists.
Case 1: A senior citizen was hospitalized in Seven Hills Hospital, Mumbai. New India Assurance Company refused to pay the claim of Rs12,148 submitted in August 2010. It argued about the lack of the original hospital bill/receipt, even though the insured provided documentary proof of having submitted the same. The insurer wrote a letter to the hospital asking for certain documents, including the hospital bill. It was but natural for the hospital to write the word ‘Duplicate’ on the bill as the original was already issued at the time of discharge. The insurer refused to accept this and declined to reimburse the claimed amount.
In the complaint to the insurance ombudsman, there was a claim of not only the claim amount but also‘compensation’ for undue delay in not settling/refusing to settle the claim on a flimsy or false ground and deliberate “mental torture” caused to a senior citizen. The ombudsman passed an award granting not only of the claimed amount, but also a penalty of Rs2,000, directly favouring the complainant in settlement within three working days, failing which a fine of Rs500 would be payable by the company for each day of delay. Usually, the ombudsman does not levy penalty, but it did in this case on the insurance company for wrongful delay and refusal.
Case 2: A consumer had purchased two heaters, which were offered cheap on the Deal92.com website as an online transaction. The online payment was made through a credit card. When the consumer received the ordered goods they were found in broken and in non-usable condition. The consumer protested on the only ‘email’ address available demanding either the replacement of goods or refund of entire paid amount. There was no response even after reminders. The National Consumer Helpline was unable to take the complaint for redressal in absence of any postal address of Deal92.com. Mr Siroya took recourse of putting this complaint on social networking websites. That defiled their name and potential customers were cautioned. The aggrieved consumer was also advised to raise a formal dispute to deny the payment made to the online merchant and treat it as a fraudulent transaction. This was done and a temporary credit was given in his account. This was further refurbished, when a complaint was filed with the cyber cell regarding this online fraud and praying to ban the seller’s website. That made Deal92.com to act. They refunded the entire amount to the same credit card account.
Case 3: As a consumer activist, Mohan Siroya had filed a case at the MIDC police station for having received a threat on his mobile in May 2010, “threatening me to stop lodging complaints against the companies for Consumer Cause and Protection”. This particular case he was referring for the company “Fedders Lloyd” against which a complaint was sent by him to the then Union minister for civil supplies and consumer protection, Sharad Pawar. Another non-cognisable (NC) complaint was filed by him in the MIDC police station against a firm called “Modern Tech Services” for having failed to give the contracted service for second year of the contract. Mr Siroya tried to contact the firm’s office and proprietor but all the listed phones were not working/not in existence. A written notice was sent by Mr Siroya to the postal address printed in the contract/letter head. It transpired that now in that premises some other business, by some other party, was carried out. Mr Siroya filed a complaint of cheating and fraud for having failed to give the contracted service or refund of 50% of paid amount against the firm, whose address was now ‘Unknown’.
The police was requested to find out the person in whose account the cheque/ money was paid and his whereabouts. Mr Siroya made an application under RTI to know the progress. It came in mere two words “Under Investigation”. He then appealed to the First Appellate Authority (FAA) for specific “status/progress” of investigations made, besides complaint of delay in providing information. The FAA also simply ordered “As earlier informed Under Investigation”. The order reached Mr Siroya beyond 45 days of appeal date, thus another violation of the Act without giving any reasons for delay.
Mr Siroya went in for a second appeal to the SCIC (State Chief Information Commissioner), who within five months, heard his appeal. On the eve of hearing date, a police constable personally came to his home to deliver a letter that said, “In first NC, the police filed a case against one Mr Gupta under Section 504, 506 of IPC.” The second NC complaint against Modern Tech Services was of civil nature and I should go to the civil/consumer court,” Mr Siroya said.
In the hearing, the SCIC upheld delays under the Act and also for suppressing the available investigation progress/report on record. The Authority also agreed with the interpretation that in absence of a party whose whereabouts are unknown, is covered under ‘Fraud’ and thus the police is supposed to take cognisance of the same.
The SCIC further gave two specific directions—to summon the SPIO (State Public Information Officer) in person to explain “Why penalty under Section19 (8) (g) and Section 20 (1) should not be levied on him”, failing which orders will be passed under Section 20 (2)”. “Another landmark relief for me was that the concerned offices should furnish me an opportunity to inspect the information so far available on record on all such files free of charge. After two days, police started investigating about the address of the payee through the banking channels,” Mr Siroya stated.
The police machinery worked overtime, gave Mr Siroya updated information in both the cases, one through the CBI, as Fedders Lloyd Co was from Delhi. The other one they traced through the banking channel in Mumbai and made him to refund Rs1,000 in cash.
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