The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed a reconfirmed order passed by the national consumer disputes redressal commission (NCDRC) awarding Rs2 crore as compensation to an aspiring model for a bad haircut she suffered at the ITC Maurya Hotel. This is the second time the matter has been referred to the apex court.
After hearing an appeal filed by ITC, justice Aniruddha Bose and justice Sudhanshu Dhulia issued a notice to Aashna Roy, the complainant.
Last month, while accepting the evidence submitted by a complainant to substantiate Ms Roy’s compensation claim, NCDRC decided to keep its Rs2 crore compensation intact. NCDRC heard afresh the case remitted by the Supreme Court.
In February this year, while upholding a deficiency in service as hair was important in a woman's life, the SC remanded the case to NCDRC to compute the damages afresh. NCDRC, in this case, had awarded Rs2 crore as damages to Ms Roy.
In the February order, a bench of justice Bose and justice Vikram Nath had said, "...we are left with no option but to set aside the order of NCDRC awarding Rs2 crore as compensation for loss of income, mental breakdown and trauma and pain and suffering. We remit the matter to the NCDRC to give an opportunity to the respondent to lead evidence with respect to her claim of Rs3 crore."
"In the absence of any material with regard to her existing job, the emoluments received by her, any past, present or future assignments in modelling which the respondent was likely to get or even the interview letter for which the respondent alleges she had gone to the saloon to make herself presentable, it would be difficult to quantify or assess the compensation under these heads. What could be quantified was compensation under the head of pain, suffering and trauma. However, an amount of Rs2 crore would be extremely excessive and disproportionate. This Court, therefore, is of the view that the NCDRC fell in error by awarding compensation to the tune of Rs2 crore without there being any material to substantiate and support the same or which could have helped the NCDRC to quantify the compensation," it says.
Ms Roy had filed a complaint with NCDRC alleging wrong hair treatment on two occasions at the saloon of Hotel ITC Maurya in New Delhi. After not receiving a proper response from the manager and senior executives of ITC Maurya, she approached NCDRC, alleging deficiency in service, seeking a written apology from the management as also compensation of Rs3 crore for harassment, humiliation, mental trauma, loss of career, loss of income and loss of future prospects.
Hearing the matter afresh as per direction from the apex court, the NCDRC noted that Ms Roy had submitted various emails offering a higher post and job to her, certificates and letters certifying that she was modelling for various hair-care products during the period from 2015 to 2018.
"Having gone through the evidence led by Ms Roy in support of her claim, there cannot be any doubt that she was doing modelling for the hair-care products and as such to maintain the hairstyle and taking care of her hair was crucial for her high profile and bright career of modelling," the bench of justice RK Agrawal (president) and Dr SM Kantikar (member) of NCDRC noted.
In its order last week, the Commission says, "....we are of the view that Ms Roy has sufficiently substantiated her claim for compensation by leading the cogent evidence. However, having carefully considered all the submissions of Ms Roy and evidence led by her, in our view, no case has been made out by her for enhancement of the claim. Taking into consideration the various materials/documents filed by Ms Roy, we are of the considered opinion that the interest of justice will be met if she is awarded Rs2 crore as compensation. We accordingly award Rs2 crore as compensation. However, since a long time has passed from the date of passing of our earlier order dated 21 September 2021, in our view, Ms Roy is entitled to compensation by way of interest."
NCDRC asked Hotel ITC Maurya to pay, within six weeks, Rs2 crore to Ms Roy along with interest at 9%pa (per annum) from the date of filing of the complaint, i.e., 19 July 2018 till payment.
During the previous hearing, NCDRC recorded a finding that the length of Ms Roy's hair had been shortened contrary to her instructions. It also recorded a finding that because of faulty hair styling, the looks of Ms Roy may have changed. NCDRC also recorded a finding that there was negligence on the part of the saloon in providing the hair treatment to the respondent and also damage caused in the scalp. NCDRC, after that, proceeded to deal with the quantification of the compensation.
NCDRC further recorded that Ms Roy was a model for hair products and because of her long hair she had been a model for VLCC and Pantene. "On account of the deficiency in service and the damage caused to her hair styling, she lost her expected assignments and suffered a huge loss which completely changed her lifestyle and shattered her dream to be a top model," NCDRC observed.
While awarding a compensation of Rs2 crore, NCDRC noted that "Ms Roy underwent severe mental breakdown and trauma due to the negligence in the services provided to her and as a result of which she also lost her job. She also suffered burning sensation and irritation in her scalp."
Hotel ITC Maurya challenged the NCDRC decision before the apex court. The SC noted, "The NCDRC, based upon the evidence led which included the affidavits, photographs, CCTV footage, WhatsApp chats and other material on record, came to the conclusion that there was a deficiency in service. We are not inclined to interfere with the said finding regarding deficiency in service as the same is based upon an appreciation of evidence and thus would be a pure question of fact."
However, the apex court says it did not find any reference or discussion on any material evidence to quantify the compensation of Rs2 crore. The bench repeatedly asked Ms Roy to share evidence or records to show her expected loss. However, she could not provide any evidence.
The bench of justice Bose and justice Nath offered Ms Roy to engage a counsel, which she denied. She was also offered free legal aid provided by the Supreme Court legal services committee (SCLSC), but she refused to accept.
The bench noted, "In the absence of any legal assistance, Ms Roy, not being a person from the field of law, may not be able to comprehend as to how and in what manner she needs to substantiate her claim. The NCDRC discussed regarding the importance of hair in a woman's life and also that it could be an asset for building a career in the modelling and advertising industry but then quantification of compensation has to be based upon material evidence and not on the mere asking."