Sale of packaged drinking water above MRP, medical negligence cases and delay in handing over of flats by builders were some issues that led the consumer fora to take sellers and service providers to task in 2016.
Union minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had to knock the doors of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) to secure possession of a furnished home from Parsvanath Builders.
Though he got the relief, Rathore had to rush to the Supreme Court which directed the real estate major to complete his flat within eight months, besides compensating the ace shooter-turned-politician for the delay.
As the apex consumer body continued delivering pro- consumer verdicts through the year, issues like poor infrastructure, lack of skilled and impartial members of the bench in these panels across the country affected its functioning and were highlighted in an interim report of a Supreme Court-appointed committee.
The apex court, while considering the report, passed a slew of directions for a “systemic overhaul” of the Consumer Protection Act and its courts noting their infrastructural inadequacy and asked the Centre to frame model rules for adoption by the State Governments.
“A systemic overhaul of the entire infrastructure is necessary if the Consumer Protection Act, is not to become a dead letter. With the proliferation of goods and services in a rapidly growing economy, Parliament envisaged the enactment to be the corner-stone of a vibrant consumer movement. Reality has been distant from the aspirations of the law,” it said.
Besides taking judicial note of unkept promises by real estate firms, the apex consumer forum acted proactively to deliver justice to the common man, which was evident when it came down heavily on a Jaipur-based multiplex by imposing a fine of Rs 5 lakh on it for selling packaged drinking water above the maximum retail price (MRP).
A number of hospitals and doctors across the country also came under the scanner in several cases of medical negligence.
AIIMS too bore the brunt for alleged deficiency in services as a south Delhi district consumer forum asked it to compensate a girl for alleged negligence during transplantation of cornea in her eye.
Similarly, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital was also pulled up and asked to pay compensation for the wrong treatment.
Another private hospital and three of its doctors were ordered to pay Rs 64 lakh to a woman by the NCDRC for their negligence in giving requisite treatment to her premature baby resulting in the infant becoming blind.
The apex consumer commission asked two Himachal Pradesh doctors to pay Rs 10 lakh to the family of a woman who died after they had performed an “unwanted” operation removing her uterus in “haste” 13 years ago.
Complaints of unfair trade practices and deficiency in services against real estate majors like Supertech, Unitech, DLF, Parsvnath and others not only kept the consumer fora busy, but the cases also reached the apex court which too stood by the home buyers and granted them relief by ordering refunds or compensation.
The NCDRC, in one such case, ruled that non-resident Indians who returned, can purchase a house in India, while asking Supertech Ltd to pay around Rs 6 lakh to an NRI for denying him possession of a flat.
Tightening the reins on private builders, the apex commission issued bailable warrant against a Unitech Ltd Director for non-compliance of a Delhi consumer commission order asking it to pay back money to joint buyers who were not given possession of their flats in a proposed project at Greater Noida.
In another case, the NCDRC directed a firm to pay over Rs 3.04 crore to a retired army man and his wife with an interest rate of 18 per cent per annum for not delivering possession of a plot by the committed date, saying it was a case of “gross deficiency”.
While Unitech was fined many times this year for “delay” in handing over the apartments to home buyers in several cases, Emaar MGF Land Ltd was also directed to pay Rs 2 crore while Parsvnath developers had to pay a compensation of over Rs 42 lakh for delay in handing over possession.
The insurance companies and their policies too came under scrutiny in various consumer forums which criticised them for “keeping people in the dark” on terms and conditions at the time of issuance of policy and use the same to “thwart the legitimate claim” of the insured.
Various national and foreign airlines including Air India, Swiss Airlines, Kuwait Airlines and Air Arabia had to shell out compensation for negligence in service pointed out by different consumer fora.
While Air India had to pay Rs one lakh for serving stale food on board, Swiss Airlines was asked to compensate a passenger for serving the wrong meal and British Airways directed to pay Rs 1 lakh for loss of baggage.
Railways, one of the largest employers in the country, too faced the wrath of the consumer courts as in one case, the Delhi state consumer forum held that the national transporter was obligated to ensure that a traveller reaches his destination safely with his baggage. (PTI)