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Giving age its due

When public utilities formulated their “citizens’ charters” or “customers’ charters” one of the first promises that they made was that consumers would be treated with due respect. Now the apex consumer court is forcing them to keep that promise. By holding service providers accountable for rude and disrespectful behaviour towards consumers, the apex consumer court has, in fact, redefined the word “deficiency” in the consumer law lexicon, thereby forcing an attitudinal change in the service provider.

In an order of far-reaching significance, the apex consumer court has held that any rude, rough and uncivilised behaviour towards consumers in general and senior citizens in particular, constitutes deficient service and the service provider will be held accountable for such service.

The order has its origin in the fight put up by a senior citizen against the way he was treated by the Delhi Transport Corporation almost nine years ago. B.L. Sood’s complaint was that soon after he boarded a DTC bus, a ticket checking party found him “guilty” of travelling without a ticket. His explanation that he was yet to push through the crowd to reach the conductor sitting in his chair, failed to register on the checking party, which manhandled and misbehaved with him, before forcing him to get off the bus. Humiliated and upset, Sood decided that he would not allow the service provider to get away with it. And he didn’t. He not only got Rs 2,000 as compensation, but also Rs 3,500 towards costs (B.L. Sood vs Delhi Transport Corporation, RP No. 115 of 2006, decided on Nov. 28, 2007).

In several earlier cases too, the apex consumer court has censured service providers for their insensitivity to the rights of senior citizens. In the case of Smt. Kusum Pandey vs Union of India (FA No. 135 of 2001), it came down heavily on BSNL for not rectifying the telephone of a senior citizen. In the case of 64-year old Shipra Sengupta, who was harassed and detained overnight by the railways on the ground that the proof of age shown by her (she had availed of the concession meant for senior citizens) was not valid, the apex consumer court said that it was a case of “abuse of power by a government servant” and deserved award of exemplary damages (Transfer Petition No. 4 of 2004).

Now in the case of B.L. Sood, it has redefined the boundaries of deficiency, thereby empowering the consumer courts to take stringent action against those service providers who are insensitive to the rights of senior citizens. Orders such as this should go a long way in ensuring that senior citizens are treated with due respect by service providers.

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