Systemic negligence of consumers' rights

Government departments and organisations registered under the Company Law are expected to be quite alert and responsive to consumers’ grievances. It is their statutory responsibility to offer best services as committed implicitly or explicitly so that no consumer is compelled to approach the court of law against such organisations.

But the system with which the departments and companies work is itself defective, careless and callous as is periodically disclosed when the matters are heard by consumer courts and their decisions stressing the propriety of consumers’ grievances as also relief offered to them.

Insurance companies are service organisations. People pay them premiums with expectation that they will be useful in unforeseen calamities, like severe illness or accidents and that too without any hassles and technical excuses. In a case heard by the Kolhapur consumer forum, The New India Assurance Company denied claim of compensation for two persons relying on some technical grounds.

Shruti Kulkarni is the only heir of her father Gajanan Kulkarni who died in an accident along with three others — Chintaman and Abhiji Kulkarni and Shreya Abhijit Kulkarni — while Rekha Rajopadhye was seriously wounded. They were travelling in the Maruti car owned by Gajanan Kulkarni, who had taken comprehensive insurance policy from the NIAC.

Technical grounds

But the company accepted claims of Chintaman Kulkarni and Shreya Kulkarni but rejected claims of car owner Gajajan Kulkarni and Abhijit Kulkarni who was driving the car. The technical grounds for rejection cited by the NIAC are car owner Gajajan Kulkarni had no driving license and Abhihit Kulkarni was a driver and hence not eligible for compensation.

While arguing on behalf of Shruti Kulkarni before the forum, advocate Vivek Shukla pointed out that Gajanana Kulkarni was taking the all comprehensive policy from the NIAC since 1996 and if driving licence was needed for car owner that should have been verified by the company while issuing the policy. Abhijit Kulkarni, who was driving the car, was a member of the family — having driving licence — and not paid driver and hence his claim need not be denied.

While deciding the case, the forum president M D Deshmukh and members Pratibha Karmarkar and Varsha Shinde accepted the plea submitted on behalf of the complainant Shruti Kulkarni. It was pointed out by the forum that the NIAC has not produced any rule whether driving licence is mandatory for a car owner. Abhijit Kulkarni who was driving the car had a licence and he was a family member and not an employed driver. Hence denying claim for the two is a serious deficiency in service.

In this case a reference to a supreme court judgement is cited as a basic principle of accountability. It stresses the point that the need of accountability is the soul of good governance and absence of it is the sign of bad governance.

Accountability means holding individuals and organisations responsible for performance measured as objectively as possible. It is obligation of persons in power to be citizen friendly, just, fair and responsive.

In view of this principle and facts of the case, the forum has ordered that the NIAC should pay claim of Rs 2 lakh for Gajanan Kullkarni and Rs 50,000 for Abhijit Kulkarni and Rs 5,000 for mental torture and cost of Rs 1,000 to the complainant Shruti Kulkarni.

In another case, the deficiency of service in the regional transport office (RTO) is disclosed. The complainant Appasaheb Tambe had demanded a specific number for his Indigo car. He paid Rs 10,000 as per the rate for a specific number.  This was duly recorded in the concerned record which is known as RC book. When the car owner sold his car to another person it was disclosed that the same number is given to another two wheeler owner and it was not therefore transferred along with the transfer of records to the purchaser of the car.

Accepting amount and giving a specific number to a car owner and then giving the same number to another person is gross negligence and deficiency of service as pointed out by advocate P J Atigre who argued before the Kolhapur consumer forum which accepted the plea and ordered that the RTO should pay Rs 25,000 for mental torture to complainant Tambe.

The fund available with the RTO is public money and hence for the deficiency in service by the concerned official Rs 25,000 should be paid from his salary and not from public fund asserts the forum. While deciding the case, the forum has pointed out that the government’s officials and employees are public servants. They are expected to work as per rules and regulations and power entrusted to them should be used properly. They are also duty bound to provide the best possible service to citizens who have every right to complain if such services are not provided. 

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