Many of us often fight with the road-side shops for charging an extra Rs.2 for cold drinks or water. Some of us succumb to the demand after a futile argument. Still others pay without any question. But have you paid almost double for buying the same brand of bottled water from the same shop at the same time? S N Subramanya (79) was asked to pay. He happens to be an RTI and consumer activist and so pursued the matter further.
On 8th January 2008, S N Subramanya went to Commercial Street to shop. There, he purchased two bottles of Kinley water (a product of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (p) Ltd), each of 500 ml, for which the shopkeeper charged Rs 8 for one bottle and Rs 15 for the other. When asked for a cash bill he refused, saying that the Kinley officers have instructed him not to produce any cash bill. The shop keeper was kind enough to give the officers’ names, mobile numbers and addresses to verify with them.
Thus, Subramanya telephoned Ravikanth, Marketing Manager, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. and Athual Rajabhushan, Sales Manager, at the same firm. Both of them replied that they cannot reply on phone and a letter should be sent to them. Subramanya sent a letter on 11th January to Rajabhushan. When there was no reply, Subramanya sent an email to Ravikanth on 26th February and another email on 15th March, but there were no replies.
"At the end of all my mails, I mentioned that if there is no response from your side it will be considered that you agree (to my allegations). But even then I never got any reply for the mails and was forced to complain to the State Government officers," explains Subramanya.
He went ahead with his complaints to the Joint Director, Food and Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, the Principal Secretary of the same department on 24th March and also to the advisor to the Governor of Karnataka on 25th March. To all these letters, the Controller of Legal Methodology asked the concerned officers of Coca-Cola to respond at the earliest. Again there was no response.
"Not getting a reply amounts to deficiency of service and dual marking of MRP on the bottles of 500 ml Kinley water amounts to unfair trade practice," reads the order of the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Bengaluru. Furthermore, a notice was sent to Sales/Marketing Manager on 15th March demanding a compensation of Rs 50000 towards deficiency and unfair trade practice. And again, there was no reply.
Finally, after repeated attempts, the officers representing Kinley appeared before court. In their explanation on 26th November, they said that one of the bottles sold in the shop was marked ‘transit’. The bottle with that mark was specifically booked for a food court (in a city mall) named Transit. All the bottles marked transit are supposed to be available only in Transit and no where else.
According to the representatives of Kinley, the MRP of the bottled water marked for sale at star hotels would be different from the ordinary shops.
It is not obvious that the water is meant for a food court by simply reading ‘transit’ on a bottle.
Subramanya points out, "If the bottle was not supposed to be sold in ordinary shops then the major question was that how come it came there. There was no answer for this question from Kinley." He further says that more than this affecting just him, it affects everybody. "We all need to know these things so that we are not exploited. I did not know about the dual pricing till I went into the matter in detail. Now everyone should know about this and fight," he urges.
On 26th November, the representatives were directed by the forum to pay an amount of Rs.50000 as compensation and Rs.2500 as cost of litigation to Subramanya within 60 days. Subramanya has decided to donate Rs.25000 to the consumer forum.
So next time you are thirsty and are buying bottled water, read the price label well before you pay.⊕