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Compensation for passengers in case of cancellation or delays – Increase

In India, it has typically been seen that the airline regulator, DGCA, does not really act in a proactive manner. When there are numerous instances of passenger complaints, and even for many months or even years after that, the regulator really has not been seen to act in a manner that is beneficial to passengers. Even when you consider the case where people complain all the time about flights being delayed or even cancelled, one of the biggest problems that people have issues with is about no information from airlines about delays (there have been cases of people sitting in the plane, and not knowing when the plane will finally take off). Air India is still notorious for this, but even other airlines also do stuff like this, with no apologies offered for not informing passengers about when flights will be cancelled or delayed (and the worst case is when the airline send a message much in advance about the flight getting re-scheduled or cancelled, or merged with another flight, with the passenger apparently having to change their own schedule in accordance with this change in flight timings). In such cases, there was no concept of cancellation.
However, it seems like the regulator is finally acknowledging the public pressure (or maybe, as happened in other cases, a minister would have faced such a problem, which is when a change is finally being proposed). The regulator aims to ensure that airlines do not cancel or delay flights suddenly, or atleast reduce the occurrence of these through increasing the penalties (link to article):

Cancelling a flight or denying boarding to a flier is going to cost heavily to domestic airlines as the new guidelines by the aviation regulator DGCA provides for massive compensation in such cases.
As per the revised compensation norms, which are effective from August 1, an airline will have to pay up to Rs 10,000 to a flier in the case of cancelling/delaying a flight beyond two hours, while the compensation for not allowing a passenger to board the flight stands at up to Rs 20,000.
As of now airlines offer a meagre amount of up to Rs 4,000 for both denied boarding and cancelling a flight.
The revised compensation has been arrived at after extensive consultations with all stakeholders including the airlines.

Let’s see whether these (if they do come into operation) actually make a difference to the behaviour of airlines.

False report: Medical lab to pay damages

People get medical reports done all the time. They may have been advised to get some tests done before some kind of operation or surgery, or they may have some medical condition for which regular testing needs to be done to ensure that everything is fine, or some other kind of reason. And there is another reason that concerned people do testing – before marriage, some more aware people get a blood test to ensure that there is no major medical impediment before getting married. In the concerned case below, this was to check that the people were not afflicted with a combination of a disease that could cause their children to suffer this disease (and this is a fairly simple test, the test results determine whether the future children had a higher or lower chance of suffering the disease – genetic blood disorder thalassaemia).
When one is about to go for some serious surgery or other medical problem, it is common to get a medical second opinion, but it is incredibly rare that somebody goes to get a second blood test done. The assumption is that the blood test done is accurate and will provide the correct result. For cases where a medical test could be inconclusive and needs more checking, the people would have been advised of this and ensured that they don’t depend on the results of the first test. It is almost 100% that one takes the results of the blood test as they have been reported and make a decision accordingly.
In this case, the blood result was false, so the couple went ahead and got married, and were shocked when their child was detected with the disease. It meant that the result reported by the lab was false, and a check confirmed that the result was indeed incorrect. So they went to the consumer forum which ruled in their favor, a result which was challenged up and confirmed by a higher court (link to article):

e state consumer court has ordered a local diagnostic laboratory to compensate Kutch-based couple, Jitendra and Usha Bhanushali, with Rs 18.5 lakh for a false negative blood report that led to a medical horror in the couple’s life. The Bhanushali couple struggles with a serious problem -their son Rohit (5) suffers from genetic blood disorder thalassaemia major and battles for life on a daily basis.
The couple contends that Supratech Micropath Laboratory’s false report was the root cause of the tragedy.”Ours was an arranged marriage. Since Usha was thalassaemic minor, our families got my blood test done at Supratech to rule out the genetic trait. Since the report was negative, our marriage was solemnized in 2004,” says Jitendra.

Realty: Proposed rules to add more teeth to consumer rights

Right now, the realty market in India is fairly unregulated, or where there are rules, they are not exactly enforced. The major rules that are quoted are based on the judgments by consumer forums or courts, which are coming to the protection of consumers who have been struck by the high-handed behavior of builders or sheer arrogant behavior. Some of the complaints that consumers have is about projects not being on time, no proper scheduling if the project has got late, no work happening on stuck projects, number of flats or towers being increased after the project has started (and this has the complicity of local administration officials who approve such plans for a due consideration including cases where stilt parking has been replaced by ground floor shops since they got permission for such changes), projects being started even when they do not have the required permissions and the threat of cancellation later, and numerous others). If a consumer is late in making payment, the builder does not hesitant to levy late payment charges but is loath to payup if the delivery of the project is delayed.
In a situation where the government is coming into action long after the judicial process has begun, the Government is proposing rules to handle some of these misbehavior cases. Late payment charges can be linked to the home interest rates (making the penalty variable and proposing some relief to consumers), proposing strict action if the builder makes changes after the commencement of the project without getting the approval of the majority of the residents, and so on. This would be a central law, but can be used by state governments as a model law, and they can make their own laws in their own states to handle such complaints. Of course, all of this is with the assumption that such changes will happen – the real estate lobby is powerful (and very well politically connected) and they have their own sob story about government changing rules, bad economy, and so on. The Government has to ensure such rules don’t cause a shut down of existing projects that are in trouble, and yet ensure that builders do feel that misbehavior can cause them severe problems (link to article):

The draft Real Estate rules have been formulated by the housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry within two months of some sections of the Real Estate (Development and Regulation) Act, 2016, coming into force on May 1. The interest rate compensation has been proposed to be 2 percentage points over and above the prime lending rate (PLR) of State Bank of India. Normally, a home loan from SBI is pegged at 0.20 percentage points to 0.80 percentage points over and above the MCLR (marginal cost of fundbased lending rate) at 9.15 per cent, which is the PLR for a retail loan. That means, rates for compensation would be 11.2 per cent as against the home loan rate of 9.35 per cent to 9.95 per cent.

Doctors operate on wrong leg – procedures not followed

This is more in the nature of weird news rather than being news about a consumer being affected because of some misbehavior by a service provider. Imagine a patient coming to a hospital with a problem in one leg, having an operation, and then realizing that the entire procedure has been carried out in the other leg. And not just small work, but this was major work, including inserting 2 rods in the leg. The shock felt by the patient and his relatives must be incredible – they went to a better know private hospital, that also charges a large amount for such procedures, and had the correct expectation that things would get better. Instead, with the surgery having been carried out in the wrong leg, not only is the original condition not rectified, but there is further work to be carried out in the leg which was wrongly operated upon. This adds more cost, and is very traumatic to the patient, both in terms of emotional agony and physical pain, but will also take additional time to get better.
And it is very surprising that such a thing could happen – there are procedures and processes that are to be followed before the actual operation is to be carried out which leaves one to think that they were not referred to; further, even during the actual operation it would be clear that the problem for which they were operation on was not visible, and yet the operation continued. Seems very weird, and as the article below says, it seems like a clear case of medical negligence, which are being handled by courts and consumer forums nowadays (link to article):

“After the doctors analysed the condition of our son, they suggested surgery on the injured right leg. We agreed to it as it was important according to them. However, we were shocked to know that instead of performing surgery on the injured leg they operated on the other leg,” the patient’s father, who did not wished to be named, told IANS.
Ravi Rai told the doctors after the surgery that they had operated on the wrong leg, to which the doctors didn’t respond. He then informed his parents, who took up the issue with the hospital authorities.
According to the family, the doctors during the surgery also inserted two rods in his left leg, instead of the injured right leg.
The hospital when contacted, admitted to the mistake, and said: “Patient’s safety is of paramount importance to us. We are deeply concerned and are looking into the matter and will take appropriate action as deemed necessary.”

Airline industry – Regulator starts to impose controls on airlines

Over the last few years, the cancellation charges for domestic airline tickets has gone up. These charges have gone up from Rs. 750 just a few years ago to something much more (I actually saw a Vistara ticket where the cancellation charge was Rs. 4600+, this really blew my mind). The typical cancellation charge is now something like Rs. 2000 plus on almost all airline, and the regulator has been really being supportive of airlines in this regard, letting them increase their charges for the ticket plus also allow airlines to allow charging for many other services (so if you are traveling as a family, you may have to pay for seat charges to ensure that you can select the same seat – and Spicejet has provided a special hand-baggage only fare but the concept being that with fares changing, this might become paying extra for baggage). I had once booked a ticket from Chennai to Bangalore, the fare was less than Rs. 2000, but the cancellation for the ticket was actually showing more than the paid amount, it was approx. Rs. 2250.
As has happened in the past, normal customer reaction slowly makes the regulator, the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) act, but slowly and years after these complaints have started to happen; to the extent that the regulator is accused of fronting for the airlines and only acting when there are multiple and vociferous complaints. The regulator also starts to act when influential and important people such as MP’s complain about these practices. So, finally the DGCA has got into action, and told airlines about a certain level that they cannot breach for cancellation charges, effectively capping the cancellation penalty at the base fare and asking the airlines to return the additional amounts that include taxes and other charges (link to article):

“There have been instances, where the cancellation fee exceeds the total fare charged and the passenger does not get anything when the ticket is cancelled,” said a senior aviation ministry official, who did not want to be identified. “Airfares that passengers pay have components like service tax and other airport charges in them and not returning these charges to the passenger upon cancellation could also raise legal issues.”
The cancellation charges that prevail can be quite steep. For instance a Delhi-Mumbai ticket booked through a travel site on June 7 costs Rs 2,419 with a base fare of Rs 1,559. If it’s cancelled, the passenger gets just Rs 404 back, with the rest deducted as penalty.
Analysts said airlines keep such charges at a high level in order to boost revenue via this route as they can’t raise fares for fear of losing customers. A tour operator said such penalties should be much lower.

A regulator does need to play a much more active role. Else, what will happen is that airlines will take whatever they can from consumers; and when one airline starts a practice, the others play catch-up and can sometimes exceed these charges.