Not giving promised gift unfair

Pushpa Girimaji
Pushpa Girimaji

THIS Diwali, manufacturers and retailers wooed people like never before. Going by the advertising blitzkrieg let loose by them during the period, it was obvious that they were hoping to make up for the last few years of poor sales, caused by the economic downturn. There were offers of gifts with almost every product, and there were expensive products to be won in lucky draws.

Post-Diwali may well see a large number of disappointed, unhappy consumers who have had a raw deal. Retailers, for example, often say that the free gift is out of stock and would be delivered within a day or two, but that promise is never kept. Last year, there were quite a few such complaints.

There could also be unhappiness over gifts being substandard . There could also be complaints of scratch cards turning out to be a big disappointment or a hoax. Almost every year, such complaints surface. This year, however, because of the magnitude of the promotional offers, such complaints may well be on a higher side.

Similarly, wherever there are lucky draw offers, the draw should be conducted in a transparent and fair manner. The date, time and place of the draw should be announced in advance so that customers who are interested may witness it. The Consumer Protection Act also mandates that whenever such a scheme offering prizes or gifts are announced in a newspaper, the results should also be announced in a similar way, and within a reasonable time. But in the absence of proper enforcement, not every retailer/manufacturer follows these. So there could be complaints of unfair practices.

There could also be complaints of the winner not getting the coveted prize. Or the value or the quality of the prize may not be what was promised at the time of announcing the lottery. So it is only apt to empower all such consumers with some case laws that would help them get what is due to them.

Well, if you look at the definition of unfair trade practice under the Consumer Protection Act, it clearly says that not giving the promised gift, or giving a gift that is different from what is promised, or for that matter, making any kind of false or misleading claim in such promotional offers is an unfair trade practice.

So in all such cases, people have the option to file a complaint before the court and get not only the promised prize or gift, but also compensation for the harassment caused, besides the cost of litigation.

Let me quote here two interesting cases decided by the apex court or the national consumer disputes redressal commission. In the case of Bonn Nutrients Pvt Ltd vs Jagpal Singh Dara (CPJ 2005 vol IV, P108 , NC) , for example, the complaint was that under a promotional scheme launched by the manufacturer, each packet of bread contained a coupon with the slogan, "scratch and win" —the implication being that every person purchasing a packet of bread will win one of the prizes mentioned in the advertisement. However, every time the customer bought it and scratched the coupon, it said: "Please try again." Alleging unfair trade practice, the person sought compensation.

Here, while the district forum awarded a compensation of Rs 5,000, the state commission increased it to Rs 50,000. The national commission, in response to the revision petition filed by the manufacturer, said the compensation was not excessive. In fact, the compensation in cases of unfair trade practice should be exemplary, the commission observed.

There are also instances where, despite winning a lottery, the consumer does not get the promised prize. One such case is that of P. Raman. Even though he won a bumper prize — a Maruti Omni — he was denied the prize on the ground that there was another claimant with the same name and the same ticket number, and so neither would be given the prize.

How could that happen? According to the Directorate of Small Savings, which had announced the lucky draw, they had, by mistake, issued duplicate coupons for CI series! The apex court in this case directed that P.Raman be given the prize and also Rs 5,000 towards the cost of litigation (The Directorate of Small Savings vs P. Raman, RP NO 1157 of 2002).