Of rights and fights

Consumer is king? Not quite, it turns out, with this workshop showing that people are struggling to get their due

The Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI) located at Azad Maidan had a legal aid session recently which had a few consumers come to ask for advice. Dr M S Kamath, Secretary of the CGSI was providing assistance to aggrieved consumers who had come to seek justice.

Dr M S Kamath (r) looking at the X-Ray of Lalan Prasad Patwa’s son. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Dr M S Kamath (r) looking at the X-Ray of Lalan Prasad Patwa’s son. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

Case 1
Govandi resident Amarnath Jaiswal has been coming to the CGSI for the past two years since he was robbed of his money at an ATM in Mariahu, Uttar Pradesh. The door-to-door salesman says, “I have an Indian Bank account. I was in my village and so went to a State Bank of India (SBI) ATM to withdraw money with my debit card. I got a message from the bank saying that money was withdrawn, but I did not get any money.”

Dr Kamath addressing the issues of some complainants
Dr Kamath addressing the issues of some complainants

When Jaiswal went to the SBI bank, they said that since he had a Mumbai bank account, the matter had to be sorted there. He says, “When I came back to Mumbai, my bank branch at Kharghar said that the money has been withdrawn and so they could not do anything. I got in touch with CGSI and have been pursuing the matter ever since.”

Lalan Prasad Patwa
Lalan Prasad Patwa

Dr Kamath says, “We sent written letters to the concerned bank where he has an account and even the one from where the money was withdrawn. They have both refused to take responsibility. Even the Reserve Bank of India was contacted and a copy of the CCTV footage of the ATM was sought.

Amarnath Jaiswal Dr M S Kamath
Amarnath Jaiswal and Dr M S Kamath

But the bank concerned said that the footage has been deleted. We are approaching higher authorities to look into the matter.” “I am ready to go to any lengths to get back my Rs 7000 that was stolen. I earned the money with my hard work; I have confidence that the CGSI will help me get my money,” says Jaiswal.

Case 2
Two women from Mumbra, Ira Khan and Shabnam Asif approached the CGSI to take on a builder who had taken Rs 1, 35,000 and Rs 1, 50,000 from each of them respectively. He promised to give them flats of 350 sq feet carpet area each.

However, in the deed of the contract neither the height of the building nor the floor on which the flats would be given was mentioned. Khan says, “We paid the money two years ago. However, recently when we went to see the building, we were shocked to see only the ground floor. The work had stopped. So we called the builder, but he did not pick up.”

Asif adds, “We visited his office and learnt that he had abandoned the project and gone to Gulbarga which is located near the Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh border. We chased him there and he agreed to give us back our money. But now it has been more than six months and we haven’t heard from the builder.”

Seeking justice as well as their money back, the duo approached CGSI with all the house papers that were given to them. CGSI volunteer Anindita Lahiri-Kovoor says, “We will escalate the matter i.e. write an official letter to the builder asking him to return the money to these women. If he doesn’t do so, the matter will be taken up in the consumer court as all the documents needed are all there.”

Case 3
Lalan Prasad Patwa who lost his 16-year-old son last year came claiming medical negligence by a government hospital in the city. The Sion resident says, “My son fell down while playing and complained of pain in the hand. I took him to the hospital over three days to treat him for it. The doctors made us do a number of X-Rays but did not find anything. The pain was so severe that my son couldn’t stand, I urged the doctors to admit my son but they refused.”

Patwa says that he went to the orthopedic specialist at the hospital and he gave his son two injections. He adds, “I lost that prescription and after we got home on March 21, 2014 early morning my son’s speech started slurring, so I rushed him to the hospital again. The doctors declared him dead in some time. I was surprised how a boy whom they were refusing to admit died all of a sudden.”

Patwa filed an RTI (Right to Information) appeal in order to acquire the postmortem reports as well as the various medical documents in connection with his son’s death. “I want the hospital and doctors responsible for my son’s death to be taken to task. I don’t want this happening to anyone else. I have lost my only child and the hospital in the post mortem has stated pneumonia as the cause of death. They had refused to admit him earlier and now all of a sudden state a different cause of death which I find fishy.”

After hearing what Patwa had to say, Dr Kamath says, “The cause of death and treatment is in doubt for sure, but there is not enough proof for a case. We need more details. Patwa needs to find stronger evidence as a court of law needs proofs and in this case there are very few. When he gets more evidence he can come back as we are here to serve.”

Common cases
Lahiri-Kovoor says, “The most number of complaints that the CGSI get are against tour and travel operators, mobile phones, mobile network service providers, builders, e-commerce sites, etc. We write emails officially to the company concerned, asking them to settle the issue.

Generally, they solve it at this stage. If that doesn’t happen then we go on to send printed letters that are couriered. If still no action is taken then we go ahead and file a case in the consumer court as per the wishes of the consumer.”

“The customer is king till that time that he or she does not buy a service. After that his or her state is worse than a beggar. The onus for a product not working is always put on the customer. Companies always tend to say that the customer may have done something and that is the reason why a product is not working,” says Dr Kamath.

At CGSI, a customer has to fill a form with the basic details about himself or herself. Besides that supporting documents of the product or service have to be provided. The experts at CGSI look into the case and suggest to customers what they should do.

“The court fees when it comes to pursuing a case in the consumer court range from Rs 100 to Rs 500 as per the product. If it isn’t worth it we do not advice a court case as it is a waste of time and resources. The time frame within which a complaint should be made is two years. Companies do not want their reputations black marked and so generally agree to an out-of-court settlement,” ends Lahiri-Kovoor.

History of CGSI
>> Was founded by women activists in the year 1966.
>> Their aim is to protect the rights of consumers, who find themselves helpless whenever they are supplied with defective goods or services.
>> The NGO worked to bring about the Consumer Protection Act in 1986 and to set up Consumer Courts in India.

CGSI contact details
Maharashtra State Consumer Helpline 
Toll-free Number: 1800 22 22 62 
Alternate number: 02222621612
Email: mah.helpline@gmail.com or cgsibom@gmail.com
Office: ‘J’ Block, Azad Maidan, Mahanagarpallika Marg, Opposite Cama Hospital

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