Consumer Connect: 'Stuck In Consumer Courts? Give Mediation A Try,' Says Expert

Consumer Connect: 'Stuck In Consumer Courts? Give Mediation A Try,' Says Expert

The questions are answered by Adv. Shirish V. Deshpande, Chairman – Mumbai Grahak Panchayat.

FPJ News ServiceUpdated: Monday, October 09, 2023, 11:13 AM IST
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Consumer Connect | FPJ

My society has filed a complaint against our builder before Mumbai Suburban District Forum for getting occupancy certificate, conveyance, etc way back in 2018. For more than a year, not a single hearing has been held and every time the next date is given. Why the consumer forum is not functioning? What should we do in such circumstances?

S Sunderajan, Goregaon

I can understand your difficulties. The fact is that not only Mumbai suburban district forum (now called District Commission) but most of the district commissions and even the state commission were paralysed for want of appointments of presidents and members. The exercise of filling up the vacancies was challenged in the High Court, which found merit in the objections and therefore struck down that exercise. Even the Supreme Court upheld the High Court's decision and directed the state government to conduct fresh exams/interviews for the candidates. Now this entire exercise is over and the government has made appointments of 36 presidents and 66 members for various district commissions in the state vide government resolution dated October 5, 2023. Similarly, 10 new members have been appointed for the state commission. Hopefully, the consumer commissions are expected to be functional very soon. The flip side is that the selection process has been now challenged in the HC and all the appointments are subject to the outcome of the court's decision.

With this scenario, it will still take some more time for your case to be finally heard. Therefore, I suggest that your society representative or your advocate should request the district commission to refer the matter for Mediation under section 37 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism, now popular all over the world. The mediator (who is not a judge) is an independent, neutral third party, who facilitates amicable resolution of the dispute between the parties. If your dispute can be resolved through mediation then the settlement agreement is taken on record by the consumer commission and an order is passed accordingly. Since such settlements are mutually arrived at, there is no question of appeal or revision petition. It thus saves considerable time and money of all parties with little chances of non-compliance. The enactment of the Mediation Act, 2023, has further strengthened the mediation process in India.

Are restaurants allowed to recover service charges from the consumers against their will?

Rajendra Rane, Borivali

Mumbai Grahak Panchayat (MGP), an NGO that works for consumer rights, had taken up this issue with the department of consumer affairs of the central government. The department had accordingly issued guidelines to the effect that the restaurant owners cannot recover such service charges against the wishes of the consumers and recovering such charges against their wishes amounts to an unfair trade practice. However, this circular has been challenged by the Hotel & Restaurants Association in the Delhi High Court. I understand that the HC has fined the petitioners Rs1 lakh each for not providing the data the court had asked for. So, we can expect the HC's decision very soon, which would clear ambiguity on the issue.

I have noticed that peakhour rates of Ola and Uber in Mumbai are more than double or even triple the fares at normal hours. Where do I complain about it?

Archana Pangaonkar, Borivali

You will appreciate that this is not only your complaint, but of many consumers. The state government has appointed a six-member committee in April 2023 to frame rules to regulate operations of the app-based taxi aggregators. MGP has made representation before this committee and urged strict control and ceiling over the surge pricing of Ola and Uber, which exploit consumers by charging exorbitant fares. It has also demanded full transparency in their operations, particularly their opaque algorithms for fare calculations. The committee was given three months time to submit its report to the government; the same is now overdue.

Adv. Shirish V. Deshpande, Chairman – Mumbai Grahak Panchayat

Email: shirish50@yahoo.com

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