Monday, 10 February 2014

Online buyer can lodge complaint at the place where transaction was done

Jehangir B Gai TNN 

    For online purchases, a consumer can file complaint at the place where he made the transaction. 
    Background: A complaint has to be filed either where the cause of action arises or where the trader or service provider conducts business. Where the consumer resides is irrelevant. For online transactions, the Meghalaya state commission has given a path-breaking ruling. 
    Case Study: Ram Gopal Agarwal and his wife had to travel from Delhi to Jaipur. Sitting in his office at Shillong in Meghalaya, on March 24, 2006, Agarwal made internet bookings for two tickets on Air Deccan’s flight departing on April 4, 2006. The payment was made through credit card. 

    Prior to boarding the flight in Delhi, the Agarwals checked in two bags for which they were given baggage tags. When they alighted at Jaipur, their baggage was missing. They contacted the ground crew, who displayed an unconcerned attitude, despite the Agarwals being elderly. The Agarwals then lodged an FIR at Jaipur’s Sanganer Airport police station. It was only then that the airline staff issued a missing baggage letter. The Agarwals had to 
spend Rs 25,000 on new clothes and other necessities. Their schedule too was upset as they were busy registering grievance. 
    On April 24, 2006, part of the baggage was traced at Guwahati, while the rest was found after two moths, on June 3, 2006, at Guwahati. Agarwal requested the airline to deliver the baggage to him in Shillong, but it refused to do so, forcing him to travel to Guwahati at his own expense and waste two days to claim the baggage, which was damaged and weighed 13 kg less than when it was checked in. 
    Aggrieved, he lodged a complaint before the Shillong district forum. The airline challenged the jurisdiction of the forum to adjudicate a dispute for travel on the Delhi-Jaipur sector. On merits, it contended there was no deficiency in ser
vice as an all-India tracer had been promptly sent to all airports to find the baggage, and it had been handed over at Guwahati as soon as it was traced. 
    The forum overruled the airline’s objection and concluded there was deficiency. It awarded the Agarwals Rs 71,558 towards purchase of new clothes and necessities, cost of travelling to Guwahati for baggage, loss due to shortfall in baggage weight, mental agony compensation, legal fees and costs. Interest on this amount at 12% from the date of the complaint was also awarded. 
    The airline appealed to the Meghalaya state commission. The main plank of argument was challenge to the territorial jurisdiction of the forum since the airline didn’t have an office in Shillong. It contended that the complaint could be filed at Delhi or Jaipur or Guwahati, where the baggage was traced. 

    In the December 7, 2013 order, delivered by member Ramesh Bawri for the bench along with Justice P K Musahary, the commission observed that there was no controversy about the baggage having been found in damage condition after two months, which clearly established deficiency in service. The compensation awarded by the district forum under various heads 
was reasonable and justified. 
    The commission noted that the main controversy was in respect of territorial jurisdiction, which requires in-depth consideration as the booking was done via internet. 
    Considering the provisions of the Contract Act and the Information Technology Act, when an air ticket is booked through internet, the ticket is sent by e-mail. The booking request would be an offer, the emailing would be acceptance. So, the contract for purchase of the air ticket would be taken to be have been made at the consumer’s place of residence, where the acceptance of the contract is communicated. 

    The Agarwals reside in Shillong from where they had done their booking via internet. The tickets were despatched by e-mail and the acceptance was communicated in Shillong. The commission, accordingly, concluded that part of the cause of action had arisen in Shillong and the complaint could be filed there. 
    Impact: This judgment empowers the consumer is the digital age of e-commerce.
    (The author is a consumer activist andhas won theGovt.of India's National Youth Award for Consumer Protection. His e mail is

Source::: The Times of India, 10-02-2014, p.10,

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