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FORUMS IRE ON SERVICES SECTOR

Services sector in 2014 continued to be under the watchful eyes of various consumer fora which stood by the motto "consumer is the king" and dealt firmly with both government and private entities to protect citizens from unfair trade practices. Benefit of several campaigns like "Jago Grahak Jago" seems to be catching up with the consumers who during the year dared to drag health care giants, banking and insurance major, airlines, Railways, telecom heavy weights and top realtors to various consumer courts for redressal of their grievances. Leading the way, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), the apex consumer body, in August dealt sternly with pharmaceutical giant Novartis India Ltd for over charging and making exorbitant profit on sale of its non-cancerous drug. Holding that the company was indulging in principles which were against ethics and morality, it said the MRP fixed by Ministry of Health or Ministry of Commence was on a higher side and directed the Centre to take steps to re-fix the MRP of the drug so that the consumers should not suffer. Lal Path Labs, which has a major chain of diagnostic centres, also had to cough up Rs four lakh as damages for wrongly diagnosing a doctor as HIV positive. The lab conducted a DNA test instead of one for HIV virus. A forum noted that there were rise in number of complaints against the lab and said facts reveal a "shocking state of affairs" as it was "fleecing consumers by false advertisements and using inefficient medical personnel and staff". Several doctors of private and government hospitals including Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, GTB Hospital and Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre were heavily fined for negligence in treatment. In one such case, a nursing home and its two doctors were asked to pay Rs 10 lakh as compensation to a woman for leaving a piece of sponge in her abdomen during an operation in 2012 resulting in formation of 1.5 litre pus in her body. Real-estate firms were rapped by consumer fora which in several cases held that these firms were taking money on false temptation and misrepresentation and also failing to provide property and making profits at the expense of others.
Realtors who faced the fora's ire included DLF, Parsvnath Developers Ltd, Ansal Properties and Infrastructure Ltd, TDI Infrastructure Pvt Ltd and Omaxe Buildhome Pvt Ltd. DLF in one case was rapped by a district consumer forum for imaginary castle building and "unfair trade practice" as it noted that in number of cases, the firm was asked to refund provisional deposit as the project failed. Parsvnath Developers Ltd in one case was asked to pay back money to its consumers by the fora which said it victimised thousands of consumers financially, physically and mentally by "deficient service" and that it adopted harassing attitude. In the aviation sector, Indian as well as foreign airlines, including Air India, had to pay for deficiency in providing services to fliers and causing discomfort and inconvenience. Bahrain's national carrier Gulf Air was asked to pay compensation of Rs 20 lakh to an Indian passenger as he was denied the boarding pass at the airport to travel to Qatar in 2008 despite having valid documents. It had cost him his job. While Railways faced the ire of the fora for providing imperfect services in cases related to theft or damage of consumers' goods, seat confirmation and hanging reservation status, insurance firms also faced a tough time for adopting unfair trade practices. The fora observed that the ticket fare paid to railways make it accountable for safe and complete journey of passengers from point of boarding to point of embankments. Regarding banks, the fora held that they are supposed to mould themselves in consumer friendly mode, rather than acting as office without any sensitivity. There were several cases of default services in relation to credit card, money transaction, cheques and loans by banks including State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, ICICI Bank Ltd, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, UCO Bank, Corporation Bank, ABN Amro Bank, Vijaya Bank and others. The fora's displeasure was visible in teleservices cases where in one such judgement a district consumer forum pulled up a private service provider for activating additional services without the consent of the user. It had held that practice of charging money for caller tunes without user's request has become rampant and is a general grievance with teleservices. Automobile majors like Tata and Maruti too faced consumer fora's ire and were asked to pay money to consumers whom they had sold defective cars.

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