Wednesday, November 14, 2012

RIGHT | CORNER: Consumer Rights Upheld


Consumer Rights Upheld

By Debkumar Bhadra

Based on need, liking and other personal factors, a buyer visits a shop, makes a particular choice, pays for it and owns the item for use. In the whole exercise, where goods (including services) and money change hands, the customer by virtue of payment made is entitled to get full value of goods (including services) worth paid for and the seller by virtue of accepting payment is bound to deliver full value of goods (including services) to the customer. But this principle of fair trade is not always followed. This article discusses one such incident where inferior quality cloth was sold to a customer. At the first instance, the customer approached the shopkeeper for a refund, failing which the matter was taken to consumer forum where the consumer got full refund of the amount paid by him along with incidental cost.
During February 2010, I purchased cloth for making sofa cushion cover from a shop at Junglighat. After making a particular selection from the shop display, I thought it prudent to inquire about the quality of the cloth. The salesman informed the selected cloth is of good quality and that the shop had sold two complete rolls of the particular cloth material without any complaint from any of the previous customers. Having heard a positive remark, I decided to purchase the cloth material, paid for it in cash and obtained a receipt for the purchase.
Since I was expecting a very important guest in the days to come, I gave the cloth for stitching the same day. After a few days, the tailor came with sofa covers stitched out of the cloth. While the cover was put on the cushions, to my utter surprise, I noticed signs of tearing from along the stitch line. The tailor, who was sweating profoundly by this time, informed the cloth is of inferior quality, unfit for such application. I was shocked to see the stitch was unable to hold the cloth; the fabric was easily slipping out leaving the stitch in place.
Next day, the first thing I did was to take the entire cloth material to the shop. The salesman agreed the cloth material was indeed inferior in quality and offered replacement. Since the options available at the shop did not match my home d├ęcor, I could not accept replacement and requested for a refund. Since the proprietor was not available at the shop at that point of time, he could not refund the amount paid.
While waiting for the proprietor, I glanced through the display rack, but did not find the particular cloth material. The salesman informed the entire stock has been sold. I understood, the cloth material has been removed from display, but did not disclose my disagreement.
After waiting for some time, I urged the salesman to inform the proprietor over phone. The shopkeeper was preoccupied hence desired that I should leave the cloth in the shop for her to see.  Accordingly I left one piece of the sofa cover and my mobile number at the shop with the hope that my grievance will be addressed by the shopkeeper.
The entire day passed without any communication from the shop.  The following day, I initiated a telephone call to the shop which the owner attended herself. The moment I introduced myself, she took no time telling that the cloth material sold to me is good. The defect if any is in its stitching and hence she is not in a position to accede to my request for a refund/replacement. Even though I tried to explain the cloth tore along the stitch line leaving the stitch in place, she disconnected the phone call while the conversation was still in progress.
Thinking the call might have got disconnected due to some network error, I rang back but there was no answer. I dialed for the second time, third time, but the phone kept on ringing. After three consecutive failed attempts, I concluded the shopkeeper is in no mood to listen to my complaint hence willingly disconnected the phone call midway.
Aggrieved, I sent a written complaint to the shop owner which was received at the shop as is evident from the acknowledgement card returned to me by the post office duly signed and sealed by the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper did not respond even to my written complaint, therefore I had no option but to approach the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum (District Forum at Port Blair) for redress of my grievances. 
In the very first hearing, (I appeared in person and the respondent shopkeeper through a counsel) I demonstrated how the cloth failed from the stitch line and also narrated how all my sincere efforts to settle the dispute with the shopkeeper failed. The respondent counsel sought time to which the forum agreed and listed the matter for further hearing. Again during second hearing, the respondent counsel sought time.
During the third hearing, the proprietor attended along with her counsel, wherein I once again put forth my grievance arising out of inferior cloth material sold by respondent shopkeeper. After hearing to the submissions made by me, the respondent and her counsel, the forum agreed, prima facie the cloth material was defective and there was deficiency in service on the part of the seller.
Earlier during the course of hearing, I made it clear that I was open for an amicable settlement, and have no intention to stretch the matter beyond that. The shopkeeper was unwilling initially, but after detailed discussions, subsequently accepted the fact that cloth material sold to me is of inferior quality, thus offered to refund the cost of cloth. Since I had to approach the forum, I declined the offer and pressed for refund of the amount spent towards stitching, in addition to the cost of the cloth. Ultimately the shopkeeper refunded not only the cost of cloth but also the stitching charges and I agreed for a compromise term for settlement of the dispute.
Here it is worth mentioning, the matter could be taken up to its logical conclusion (in my favour) solely because, I had with me the proof of purchase ie the cash memo/bill of the shop. Another important document that assisted me in the matter was the call detail; this enabled me in establishing that the phone call was initiated by me, which the shopkeeper disconnected while the conversation was in progress. This helped me in proving deficiency in service on the part of the shopkeeper. Thus the case was settled on compromise terms at the district forum.
To conclude, I would also like to put on record that being a consumer, we have every right to be satisfied by the purchase and in case we have a grievance, there is remedy available under Consumer Protection Act, provided we approach the forum and assert our right.

Taken from CD Case No 4 of 2010, Dekumar Bhadra 
Versus Proprietor, Kapur Singh Chani & Sons.

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