From Chanting Customer Is King at One Time, Companies Are Now Hitting Us with Unfair Costs and Charges
A few months ago, an 80-year-old diabetic person suffered the trauma of being inadvertently locked up in a bank when he had gone to access his locker. When the issue was escalated to the top brass at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), it was felt that he ought to be given a token compensation. The family refused compensation and was happy and relieved that their loved one was safe. The victim is clearly from a loving and well-placed family that did not want to profit from the negligence of the bank. I am also certain that the bank staff was very contrite and tendered profuse apologies to the family, especially when the matter made media headlines. 
 
At about the same time that the octogenarian declined ‘token’ compensation, Moneylife wrote about DS Ranga Rao who suffered an accident inside the premises of a bank. He managed to get his costs covered due to intervention from the highest level of RBI. This was after the regular grievance redress mechanisms at the bank and the banking ombudsman had failed. Mr Ranga Rao, a retired government official, who is now a social activist, was not offered any compensation, although he still needs a walker to move around after surgery and months of physiotherapy. Both cases came up at the same time; but, since we do not have proper redress systems, one consumer was offered compensation (perhaps because he was physically unhurt) and another was expected to be satisfied with medical reimbursement (not 100%)—doesn’t matter the trauma and hardship he suffered. 
 
Now, let us look at this a little differently. Had the octogenarian victim’s family accepted the compensation instead of turning it down (they could have donated it to a good cause), it would have set an important precedent for Indian consumers and may have helped others, including Mr Ranga Rao. Their graciousness is a lost opportunity in a country where grievance redress is tardy and even those who fight dogged battles are barely awarded fair costs, let alone proper damages or compensation. 
 
We Indians are a very tolerant lot; that is bad for us as consumers and even worse for those who fight for consumer rights. Dealing with a slow and expensive judicial process is self-defeating; our experience at Moneylife Foundation is that a majority of people is unwilling to file clear and complete complaints, even when we offer free help.
 
Worse, most consumers do not even understand their rights or their duty to question wrong charges or bad service. A very small number of people push the envelope by fighting dogged battles to create positive case law for consumers. Consider these issues and think about where you stand on them and whether  you have ever voiced a protest.
 
1. Paying for Shopping Bags: Between 2014 and 2018, 127 countries enacted rules to discourage the use of plastic bags which were  supported by all right-thinking people. Bags were charged for and it  did encourage many more people to begin to carry shopping bags. But shops, stores and malls decided that it was a licence to charge for basic packaging. Many top retailers refused to provide even paper bags, while a few others illegally charged for paper bags as well. Even today, large stores will think nothing of handing you a badly folded outfit that cost you a few thousand rupees without even a basic wrapping, unless you pay for a bag with their logo. Were the rules aimed at fleecing customers, or embarrassing those who may have forgotten to carry a bag? Why don’t the same   rules apply to online shopping, where you continue to wrestle your way through loads of bubble wrap and tightly-taped cartons, even for a product that does not warrant such smothering? 
 
How many of us know that multiple consumer court judgements have ruled against charging for bags and have fined large retailers for it? In 2019, the Chandigarh Consumer Commission set the ball rolling by fining Bata India Ltd Rs9,000 for charging Rs3 for a paper bag to carry a shoe box [Dinesh Prasad Raturi vs Bata (India) Ltd. (CC/64/2019)]. On 19 February 2021, the Hyderabad District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission ordered (https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/ 2021/02/22/charging-money-for-carry-bags/) More Megastore Retail to refund Rs3 with 12% interest charged to a customer and pay Rs15,000 as compensation. Pertinently, it ruled that selling a bag with the company logo on it was to use the consumer as a tool for advertisement and amounted to a deceptive and unfair trade practice. Bags with logos, it said, should be provided free of cost to customers. [Baglekar Akash Kumar vs More Megastore Retail Ltd., Consumer Case No. 310 of 2019]. 
 
Similar cases have been filed against Westside, Lifestyle International, Big Bazaar and others. Providing free carry bags for goods purchased from the same store forms an intrinsic part of the customer-satisfaction criterion under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and, yet, many top retailers are determined to fight the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. What is more worrying is that a majority of us accept the charges uncomplainingly because we blame ourselves for not carrying a shopping bag. In such situations, we are too timid to hold our ground and demand at least a basic paper wrapping because we don't want to be seen throwing a tantrum in a posh store over Rs3 to Rs7 or looking politically incorrect. It allows us to be fleeced.
 
2. Paying Premium Rates To Call Your Bank or Retailer: Ever since the 1980s, companies were proud of their toll-free 1800 numbers for customer services, complaints or information. Not anymore. In the past decade, banks, retailers (like Big Basket) and many large organisations with a national or international presence have switched to the 1860 series of paid, premium numbers for customer helplines. These charges range from Rs2 to Rs3 per minute and are charged above and beyond even the unlimited payment plans you may have (only Jio claims that it does not charge for 1860 numbers). We wrote about it in August 2019; but, as a class of customers, our voices have not mattered. More companies continue to keep you on hold, force you to listen to advertising messages and, finally, leave your issue unresolved; but you could end up paying as much as Rs10 to Rs50 for the ‘experience’. A chatbot that is equally ineffective or an email that doesn't get an adequate response is our alternative, but less effective.
 
3. Packing Charges at Restaurants: Another charge that we accept without complaint is the usurious packing charges levied by restaurants. Other than cloud kitchens, most restaurants save on service, cleaning and table space on home deliveries. Isn’t the savings much more than what is spent on the packaging? But restaurants have decided that customers, who want the convenience of ordering online from their favourite food outlet and seek quick delivery, are perhaps not price-sensitive. They have got it wrong.  
 
After the National Consumer Helpline (1915) logged over 3,631 complaints about Swiggy and 2,828 for Zomato, the department of consumer affairs (DCA) called a meeting with top food business operators (FBOs) on 13th June. It has asked them to submit a plan for improving grievance redress in 15 days and to show a transparent break-up of packaging charges, delivery charges, surcharges and taxes to customers. In a separate action, the central consumer protection authority (CCPA) has served notices to cab aggregators about customer service and transparency in charges and grievance redress. Usurious ‘convenience fees’ charged for all online bookings without a cap on multiple bookings ought to be next on the list of our complaints.
 
When did companies switch from ‘Customer is King’ and focusing on enhancing ‘Customer Delight’ to finding ways to hit customers with multiple costs and charges? It has crept on us over the past decade, while we were busy celebrating the convenience of everything online and being lured by endless freebies and coupons from the burn-money available with start-up companies from their venture capitalists. 
 
It is time to reclaim our space as customers by understanding our rights and demanding a fair treatment from banks, retailers and even our government—which has the worst record of pushing us online, loading us with costs and taxes, without adequate grievance redress. The actions of the ministry of consumer affairs show that we need to make it a habit to register a clear and detailed complaint with designated authorities, if we want positive change. We cannot depend on the efforts of a few public-spirited individuals and organisations to do all the hard work for us.
 
 
Comments
rangarao.ds
7 days ago
"...grievance redress is tardy...", and "We Indians are a very tolerant lot;" these are the main reasons for the absence of pro-active consumer/customer complaint resolution in our country.

Unless people, described as "sovereign" by the Constitution of India, assert and exert themselves in every democratic way, the governments and their instrumentalities continue to cold shoulder genuine grievances of the people.
Kamal Garg
Replied to rangarao.ds comment 6 days ago
Surprised and elated to find that we, the people of India, are described as "sovereign" in the Constitution of India.
yerramr
1 week ago
Banks sellin their products through relationship managers and marketing agents exhibit total unresponsiveness to the customer grievance on a product they sold to the customer. They invariably say that they are ordained by the system. The system will respond at the mandated day on a template designed by the Bank. Banks should sell their products directly. They should confine to banking and banking only - whether digital or across their counters and branches.
S.SuchindranathAiyer
1 week ago
The name of the game is "Government" fleece the non governmental citizen to fund profligacy, self indulgence and profligacy and co opt all Government , Polcie and Judicial employees by sanctioning unaccountable extortion. All of which is passed on in different ways to the hapless non Governmental citizens.
sukant.0106
Replied to S.SuchindranathAiyer comment 1 week ago
This article was not about govt vs non govt citize, even the govt and psu employees get extorted by companies, its about awareness of consumers
angelo.extross
1 week ago
I opened a Savings Bank Account with the nationalized Central Bank Of India in Joint Names. The Passbook had the correct entries of both names, but when I recd. the cheque book after some time, the cheque leaves were printed with only one name. The Branch Manager says there has "recently" been a rule that only the first name should appear on the cheque leaf, but he does not show me the rule. Then he passes it off by saying that the cheques in this account shall be honored even when signed by the joint holder. When Mutual Funds and other financial institutions demand a cheque leaf to prove the authenticity of the bank account, how will this cheque with one name serve the purpose?
brat555
1 week ago
the issue is WHAT WILL OTHERS think? if i fight for pACKING charges in a restaurant and SHOPPING bags THERE will be a universe who say WHY NOT pay taht measly rs 3 or rs 20? similarly there isa RULE that MULTIPLEX cinema halls CANNOT prevent FOOD if brought by VIEWERS.....but ALL the BIG chains gleefully check it and mmake one pay EXHORBITANT rates for the popcorns and colas ...
suketu
1 week ago
valid points.the problem with parking space in mumbai is there are "no parking" boards everywhere since last 5 months.you cant blame restaurants for that.everywhere in south mumbai there are "no parking" boards by bmc.infact I have heard if you need to go to Siddhivinaak mandir at prabhadevi the only place you can park safely is a pay and park 1 km away!
Kamal Garg
1 week ago

It is good that at least a reputed magazine like ML is taking it upfront. The harassment of consumers remain unabated and companies do not leave any stone unturned to harass their customers. So much in the name of "Customer is King "and "Customer service is our moto". It is perfectly correct that we do not fight for a carry bag costing Rs. 3 or 5 at a posh retail shop in a swanky mall but there has to be a limit to this kind of fleecing. Bata store charging for a bag having company logo is preposterous.
Thariyan Tharayil
1 week ago
Airtel is levying a fine of Rs.15/- on prepaid DTH plans if the plan is not renewed before the expiry of the current plan. Does TRAI rules allow anyone to charge a fine on a pre paid plan? Our 1 month subscription of Airtel DTH ends by the midnight of every 28th of the month. I have noticed multiple times that Airtel is deducting Rs 15/- from the recharge amount, even if I recharge my plan on 29th morning. This charge is never notified to customer by sms or any other means unless you scrutinise their statement available on their app. Eventually the next recharge date is pushed back by 2 to 3 days.
palaparthi59
1 week ago
Public sector banks claim offering specialised services and counters for senior citizens who park their life savings in Banks.
Service conditions are pathetic in these banks, SBI in particular. It was noticed at any given point of time one third of their staff would be on leave on various reasons.
My personal experience in one of their branches was deplorable. When I tried to open a SB account in my wife's name by filling all forms and submitting in person, Bank opened a dummy savings account without debit card or net banking facility.
I had already visited bank several times for linking mobile number, debit card request and request for net banking.
The issue is unresolved even after opening account 2 months back.
I never new there is concept of dummy savings bank account in SBI without any facility of operating bank account.
engopal
2 weeks ago
Even after booking a flight ticket, the new system makes you pay for selecting - not any premium seat - but for every seat. If this additional revenue is needed why not include in the ticket pricing?.....
pradeepbm
Replied to engopal comment 1 week ago
yes this came up after covid. why hasnt this been removed ?
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