Pending consumer dispute cases are at an all-time high. Sahil Makkar reports.
Photograph: Adeel Halim /Reuters
Anuj Vyas, a resident of Thane in Maharashtra, had to run from pillar to post to get an insurance claim against his damaged phone.
He had purchased a Samsung Galaxy S6 for ₹56,700 in 2015. Vyas also purchased insurance which covered physical and internal damage to his handset.
A few months later, the phone got damaged after it accidently came under a heavy truck at a construction site. He tried to claim the insurance money, but his claim was rejected on the argument of deliberate damage.
Before his claim was rejected, Vyas made umpteen attempts to contact the insurance provider. His calls never went beyond the company's automatic interactive voice response and his e-mails remained unanswered.
He finally approached a consumer court, where the insurance provider finally agreed for an out-of-court settlement.
Vyas claims that the entire process caused him considerable mental stress.
Everyone is not as fortunate as Vyas.
According to data from the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC), the number of cases went up from 6,372 in 2012 to 7,847 in 2016.
Pendency of the cases grew from 46.8 per cent to 61.3 per cent in the period. In 2017, the total number of pending cases has crossed 9,000 and the pendency touching nearly 90 per cent.
The problem appears more serious at the state level.
Pendency was around 90 per cent in many states, including Maharashtra and Bihar, in 2016. The number of cases in the two states has grown by 76 per cent and 315 per cent, respectively, in 2017 vis-à-vis 2012. In Delhi, pendency was around 75 per cent in 2016, whereas the number of cases grew 50 per cent in the period.
Bejon Misra, consumer right activist, says pendency was mainly on account of judges deferring the matter on technical grounds.
"There is no accountability on judges. It is also true that the number of staff has not grown in proportion to the number of cases at district, state and national forums."
Misra said the government was only working towards consumer awareness and not about providing means to resolve these cases.
For instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently had this to say at an international conference on protecting consumer interests last month in the national capital: "The capacity of the National Consumer Helpline has been increased four times. Portals and social media associated with consumer protection have also been integrated. A large number of private companies have been connected to the portal.
"About 40 per cent of complaints get transferred directly to the companies automatically through the portal, enabling quick action.
"Consumers are also being made aware through the Jago Grahak Jago campaign.
"I can confidently state this government has used social media positively for consumer protection in India, as has never been done before."
He said his government was bringing a new Consumer Protection Act keeping in view the business practices and requirements of the country.
"The proposed Act lays great emphasis on consumer empowerment. Rules are being simplified to ensure that consumer grievances are redressed in a time-bound manner and at least possible cost. Stringent provisions are proposed against misleading advertisements. A Central Consumer Protection Authority with executive powers will be constituted for quick remedial action."
Manav Bajaj, chief executive of Consumer Sathi, a firm which provides legal assistance to complainants, says the number of cases are also growing because of spurt in e-commerce-related commercial activities.
"Small cases in Delhi now take anywhere between 1.5 years to two years. Another contributing reason increased cases increased awareness in the past few years. Consumers are easily finding information online about filing cases and seeking legal recourse," Bajaj says.
Though NCDRC is yet to separately capture the number of cases related to e-commerce companies, its data show the largest number of cases filed by consumer are related to housing (33 per cent) and insurance (16 per cent). They are followed by banking (5.8 per cent) and medical (3 per cent).
This, however, varies from state to state.
For instance, Bihar gets the largest number of consumer cases related to insurance (36 per cent) followed by banking (19 per cent), medical (7 per cent) and automobile (6.7 per cent). Whereas Maharashtra reported highest cases related to housing (42.6 per cent), insurance (26.9 per cent), Banking (7.8 per cent) and Medical (2.4 per cent).