The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 16, 2000
Consumer Alert

Explore non-legal options
By M. R. Pai

BEFORE taking legal recourse which involves delays and expenses, a number of informal and non-legal means should be explored by the aggrieved consumers.

A number of big companies have set up consumer cells which examine complaints and seek to redress these. Some chambers of commerce like over 150-year-old Bombay Chamber of Commerce in Mumbai, have encouraged their members to set up such active consumer cells.

Public Sector enterprises have not lagged behind in setting up consumer grievance cells. Recently even venerable organisations like Reserve Bank of India have appointed some officers to deal with public grievances.

The Council for Fair Business Practices (130-132, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Opp. Lions Gate, Mumbai 400023) has set up a special committee to look into complaints against private business enterprises. The committee examines the complaint, the viewpoint of the business enterprise, and finds out a mutually satisfactory solution. Many complaints of consumers are settled informally in this manner.

  Some state enterprises have set up adalats. For instance, the telephone department conducts hearing on inflated bills etc at such adalats. Since all members of the adalat are officials, such bodies suffer in credibility in subscribers’ eyes. Nevertheless, it is an avenue of dispute resolution.

Banks have their own customer service cells. In addition, the Reserve Bank of India has set up 15 Ombudsmen in major banking centres. They entertain, under RBI Scheme, certain type of complaints such as on non-payment/inordinate delay in payment or collection of cheques, drafts/bills, etc; non-acceptance, without sufficient cause, of small denomination notes tendered for any purpose, and for charging of commission in respect thereof; non-issue of drafts to customers and others; non-adherence to prescribed working hours by branches. Failure to honour guarantee/letter of credit commitments by banks; claims in respect of unauthorised or fraudulent withdrawals from deposit accounts, etc; complaints pertaining to the operations in any savings, current or any other account maintained with a bank, such as delays, non-credit of proceeds to parties’ accounts, non-payment of deposit or non-observance of the RBI directives, if any, applicable to rate of interest on deposit are also entertained. Apart from this they also look into complaints from exporters in India such as delays in receipt of export proceeds, handling of export bills, collection of bills etc; provided the said complaints pertain to the bank’s operations in India and complaints from NRIs having accounts in India in relation to their remittances from abroad, deposits and other bank-related matters.

At the government level, there is a Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Department of Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare (address: Lok Nayak Bhavan, 3rd Floor, Khan Market, New Delhi 110003). It looks into public complaints and directs concerned authorities to attend to them.

Though the general public is unaware of it, surprisingly Parliament also provides a mechanism for redressal of consumer grievances. For instance, there is a Committee of Sub-ordinate Legislation in Lok Sabha. Here is a heart-warming incident in which an old, retired nurse found her problem solved by this committee.

She was moving over to a new flat, and in the interim period kept the phone in safe custody when only 40 per cent of rental is payable. About 400 was due to her when the phone was finally shifted to the new flat. She was subjected to indifference, rudeness and ridicule when she made over ten trips to the telephone exchange to get her refund. Letters to officers at various levels were of no avail. Ultimately, a letter was sent to the Parliament Committee on Subordinate Legislation. It said:

"This appeal is from a 73-year-old retired nurse, one of the millions of humble citizens of the country for whose benefit laws are made by Parliament, but who have to suffer at the hands of the bureaucracy which refuses to administer the laws properly, thus defying Parliamentary mandate. I wish to place before you a clear violation of delegated legislation, which your Committee is entitled to look into.....".

Lo and behold, after a few months, a telephone department van drew up in front of the building where she stayed, and a few officers personally handed over to her the cheque. Apparently, for the first time in the history of telephone department in Mumbai. This was a home delivery of refund cheque to the subscriber! Obviously, the phone authorities had got a rap on their knucles from Parliamentary Committee for ill-treating a subscriber!

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