Mumbai: Man endures 8-year nightmare after falling for 'free-holiday' scheme

Court orders firm to cough up Rs 2 lakh after man is handed a raw deal for his holiday membership

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

We've all been tempted by the prospect of a 'free' holiday. For Andheri resident Nigel D'Souza (41), falling for the deal meant the beginning of an eight-year-long nightmare after he signed up for a share-holiday scheme. D'Souza's agony finally ended last week, when a consumer court ruled in his favour.

The District Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum's ruling comes nearly two years after D'Souza, manager with an event management firm, took the holiday company to court after they offered R12,000 as refund for cancellation of membership. D'Souza says he withdrew membership after he was repeatedly denied 'free holidays' that he was promised at the time of signing up for the scheme in 2008.

Andheri resident Nigel D'Souza
Andheri resident Nigel D'Souza

The forum has directed the firm to refund the entire membership amount of Rs 1,73,559 at the interest rate of nine per cent per annum from the date of filing the complaint (March 4, 2015). Further, it has been directed to pay a compensation of Rs 25,000 for 'mental agony', and an additional Rs 5,000 as cost of litigation.

What happened?
D'Souza alleges that in 2008, a staffer of Mahindra Holidays and Resorts approached him with a free holiday plan of 25 years. As part of the scheme, he was expected to pay a yearly installment of R9,000 and promised seven nights free stay at any of the company's resorts across India, once every year. “This 'free holiday period' was expected to kick off a year after signing the membership,” D'Souza said.

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He decided to avail his first holiday only two years later, in 2011. When he tried making a booking at the company's Coorg resort, he was told all rooms were booked. Later, in consequent years, he tried to get bookings in Shimla and Goa. “I tried booking a room at the Goa resort four times, but got a room only once,” he said, adding, “This happened even when I tried to book months in advance.” Nevertheless, D'Souza continued to pay the installment in the hope that matters would improve.

Measly refund
In 2014, D'Souza ran out of patience after he was denied two room at the company's resort in Mahableshwar. The company said it could offer only one room, knowing well that he was traveling with eight members. Upset, he decided to withdraw his membership.

“In order to convince me not to opt out, they said that a series of deductions would made to my membership amount,” D'Souza said. “From the total amount of R1,73,559 that I had paid as membership fees, I was offered a refund of just R12,367, which I refused. I was then offered R18,367. I refused again. It was obvious that they were negotiating with me, and no standard calculation existed,” he said, adding that his application form too had no terms and conditions.

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When D'Souza questioned the firm the company claimed that apart from the application form, another 'membership rule' form had been dispatched to his address on August 5, 2008. “I never received this. Secondly, they had no proof of confirmation or acknowledgement from me of having received it.”

D'souza filed a case in the consumer district forum for “deficiency of service”. Last week, the forum ruled in favour of D'Souza after the company failed to submit the 'membership rule' form, which it had allegedly sent to D'Souza, in court.

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