The club culture can be very addictive to most of us who after a hard day’s work imagine that instant health and happiness awaits us at the club. They promise to give us untold delights – free access to all clubs, free air tickets to holiday resorts, sites with coconut groves, swimming pools, movie clubs and much more.
The reality is shocking. Three disgruntled consumers who were badgered, coaxed and almost forced into becoming members of The Country Club here have had to complain to the consumer forums which have ruled in their favour. Three more approached CREAT, a consumer group that also helped them to get their money back from Country Club.
Manoj Kumar from BTM I stage, had a life time membership with The Country Club (India) Ltd. since October 2001 and his membership number is BLMLM-1833-A. In January 2006 his troubles began when the Club’s sales person offered to upgrade his membership to something known as ‘’cool membership" to get free access to their clubs everywhere, free air tickets to Goa’s country club celebrations with free tickets for him and his family, an immovable property i.e. a vacant site measuring 1081 sq. ft. in a coconut-grove situated at Tumkur-Pune national highway about 80 kms from Bangalore and two plots. Coconut Grove’s executive, one Mr. Narasimha Rao, (Mobile number: 984501365) approached Manoj in April 2006 and convinced him to pay up Rs. 87,000 for which he got a card bearing "COOLCG2858".
Soon after this, Manoj’s nightmare began with Country Club. He did not get the air tickets promised for a package trip to Goa. He got only one ticket, though two had been promised. There was no return ticket from Goa to Bangalore! The promised sites were also not shown despite several requests and reminders from Manoj. Regarding the free site promised, he was contacted by a sister concern ‘’Amrutha Estate" which sent him a site allocation letter dated 20/6/2006 in the VII phase of Coconut Grove. He was asked to pay Rs. 10,000 as registration fee which he did. But they never showed him the site nor did they register it in his name Till today he has got nothing from both Country Club or Amrutha Estate. He finally complained to the IV Additional District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Bangalore Urban District, which has ordered (complaint number 1093/07, dated August 9) The Chairman and Managing Director, The Country Club (India) Ltd., at 8-2-703, Amrutha Valley, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad and The Manager, The Country Club, Indiranagar, Bangalore to refund Rs. 97,000 to Manoj Kumar with interest at 18 per cent from the date of its respective deposits along with Rs. 25,000 as compensation with costs of Rs. 500.
Mr. Sunil Kochhar of Basavanagar, was another consumer who got conned by this club that gave him their Mr. Cool Privilege Card Membership promising him that free plot, access to all country clubs, hotels on discounts, free access to gym, swimming pool, free insurance coverage worth 6 lakhs, air tickets to Goa, etc. Kochar was even shown a plot just behind their Tumkur Country Club and assured it would be allotted to him. He paid up Rs. 60,000 with a cheque dated 1/2/2007 as advance. He was shocked to get back a receipt and a letter from Country Club allotting him a temporary membership No. Cool CG 7425. There was no mention about the plot he had paid up for with advance.
After constant harassment and complaints, Kochar was promised another plot in a reportedly phase XV which is a jungle! After having had enough of all the usual false promises made about giving golf clubs etc. etc. along with threats to manhandle, he got back Rs. 60,000 but still went to the IV Additional consumer forum which ordered The Country Club in Hyderabad and Bangalore to pay interest at 18 per cent on the Rs. 60,000 from 1/2/2007 with Rs. 25,000 as compensation and costs of Rs. 5000.
In the third case Balaji Rao V. of Sahakarnagar, Bangalore was also badgered and coaxed into becoming a member of the Country Club whose untiring and hard to be rid of, sales personnel promised him free flight tickets to Goa for a couple, free boarding and lodging in a five star hotel in Goa, free stay at Bush Betta for one week, free membership at Moksh Spa club for six months, free stay at their resort in Kovalam, and much much more, including free sites etc. When he told them he wanted time to decide they coaxed him with a carnival going on for Christmas near the site place and gave them 8 free entry passes telling him that food and entertainment would be free. Tempted by the freebies he made the mistake of giving them his credit card details. They immediately went ahead and debited Rs. 70,000 from his credit card. Immediately afterwords, all the freebees promised to him vanished into thin air! When he complained to The IV Additional Consumer Forum, Bangalore, Country Club returned Rs. 50,000 to him but this forum has ordered the club to also return Rs. 20,000 along with interest and costs.
Three more consumers approached CREAT with exactly the same sort of problems and CREAT got back their money from Country Club! Y.G. Muralidharan, of CREAT said that one consumer had problems with the Mysore Road Country Club called D Club. He after having a rough time trying to give up his memberhip was atlast able to do so with the help of CREAT.
Mr. Seshadri B. of Rajeshwarinagar who also had a raw deal with this club, was helped a year ago to solve his problem. He too finally got his hard earned money back from the club. Yet another consumer working in Canara Bank took the help of CREAT to deal with his Country Club mess.
A similar complaint concerns the case of Ajit K. Bhattacharjya who purchased a time share unit at Peermedu from Sterling Holiday Resorts by paying up Rs. 49,955 by cheque dated 31-5-1996 after which he got a certificate of membership. His first holiday was to begin during the week no. 38 of 1998. But then he was left high and dry by the sellers who would not inform him whether the holiday resort was ready for him at Peermedu! He was unable to utilize the holiday for week no. 36 of 1998 which was from the 9th of September to the 15th which he was legally entitled to.
CREAT ph: 080-2340 3170, 080-2532 0213; email: email@example.com
Ist Additional Consumer Forum, 8th floor, BWSSB Building, Cauvery Bhavan, K.g. Road, Bangalore one. Phone: 22211137
He wrote several letters to the opposite party but they never replied to him. Six years later, the holiday resort had not come up for use! He complained to the IV Additional District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum and its President Sri G. Siddanagoud ruled that non-refund of the amount to the consumer definitely constituted deficiency of service and ordered Sterling Holiday Resorts in Chennai (Chairman and Managing Director R. Subramanian) and its representative in Bangalore, No. 42, R.R. Plaza, 3rd cross, 8th main road, Vasanthnagar to pay up Rs. 49,955 to Bhattacharjya with interest at 12 per cent from 31-5-1996 with costs of Rs. 5000. (complaint no. 565/07 of 17th August 2007).
Red flags to watch out for:
- A knock at the door: when the salesman has sought you out, rather than vice versa. He will offer you all that a family has always longed for, a swimming pool, a site, a cheap holiday, landscaping, a car, any work that you might need to be done immediately like home repairs – painting work, gardening, whatever.
- He will ask for your credit card number, especially if you have contacted him after seeing an advertisement. Don’t sign any papers until you have contacted your lawyer, gone to the ‘site’ he has promised you and even there you need to take a trustworthy expert with you.
- Beware of anything offered that is too good to be true: beware of special advertising programmes, contests in five star hotels, free lunches and getting other people to buy the same membership, which will give you a cheaper deal! ‘’Too good to be true" deals have a potential for huge misrepresentation, as these consumers found out very soon.
- The ‘’perfect guarantee" is only on paper. After that you are on your own, trying to catch up with the con men.
- Sign up now or never is the biggest hoax. The salesman will be very keen to make you sign up before he leaves your home. Beware of such people on days when you are tired, overworked and vulnerable.
- The consumer court you should seek out when conned is the Ist Additional Consumer Forum.
Finally just remember the famous quote that there is no free lunch anywhere.