World Consumer Rights Day with Justice M. L. Tahaliyani, Lokayukta and Justice A. P. Bhangale, President, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
On 15th March 2017, on the occasion of World Consumer Rights Day, V Citizens Actions Network organised a Social Sanchar at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club with two very distinguished guests, Justice M.L. Tahaliyani (Retd.) Lokayukta, Maharashtra, and Justice A.P. Bhangale (Retd.) President, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Maharashtra.
Often called a ‘green judge’ due to his passion for nature, Justice Tahaliyani studied law in Nagpur before the first of several appointments in the Judiciary. Among the positions he held were that of the Metropolitan Magistrate, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, and Principal Judge – Bombay City Civil Court, before he was elevated as a Judge of the Bombay High Court in 2011. On 24th August 2015 he was appointed as the Lokayukta by the Government of Maharashtra.
Justice Ashok Pitambar Bhangale did his graduation in Arts and Law from Jalgaon (University Of Pune). He took Master’s degree in Laws from Bombay University and was also a Hindu Law Scholar at the University of Pune. After practicing Law, he joined the Judiciary in 1989 as a Judge of the Bombay City Civil Sessions Court at Mumbai before eventually being elevated to the Bombay High Court in 2008. On 12th February 2016 Justice Bhangale was appointed President of the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Maharashtra.
VCAN Managing Trustee Mrs. Indrani Malkani began the programme with a Welcome Address in which she briefly spoke about the significance of Consumer Affairs, introduced V Citizens Actions Network, and briefed the audience on the concept of the Social Sanchar.
VCAN Trustee Mr. V. Ranganathan then introduced the speakers, before speaking on the topic at hand.
Justice Bhangale began the session by building on the statement of Consumer International, “Building a digital world that consumers can trust.” He spoke of the challenges faced by consumers in a digital world, particularly concerns related to the right to privacy. He stressed that widespread discussions were needed all over the nation before adoption of different types of digital technology. He also argued that digital technology had several benefits, including making administration much faster and easier. He also spoke of the initiatives by his own organisation to embrace e-Governance.
The discussion was then taken forward by Justice Tahaliyani. He candidly stated that the office of the Lokayukta was not very well known to the public, despite Maharashtra being the first state to create the position. He said that the basic function of the Lokayukta was to act as an ombudsman against corruption in the Government. They also performed certain grievance redressal functions, but in a limited scope, as they only deal with Public Servants, including Ministers and senior bureaucrats.
He said that under him, the office of the Lokayukta and the Upa-Lokayukta, not only conducted activities and hearings all over the state, but also stressed on transparency in both Government functioning, as well as in their own functioning.
The audience, both those at the venue and those online, were then invited to ask questions.
The first question was asked by Mrs. Malkani, on the formats for consumer complaints, and the activities of the Lok Adalats. Justice Bhangale said that while the Consumer Forums were not particularly bound by strict formats, all relevant information should be included, particularly the contact details of both the complainant as well the opposing party.
To a specific case of a Telecom related complaint, where a Telecom company was fraudulently charging a consumer for bills already paid by them, Justice Bhangale said that they should definitely approach the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, as the Commission could not take suo moto cognisance of such matters.
In reply to a question from the audience to Justice Tahaliyani on the differences between the Lokayukta and Anti Corruption Bureau, as well as whether any minister had been convicted of corruption, Justice Tahaliyani replied that as the Lokayukta had no investigating staff of their own, they could direct the Anti Corruption Bureau to investigate the matters.
When asked a specific question on Electricity Tariffs, Justice Bhangale clarified that he could not act in cases of commercial transactions, only those involving consumers.
To a question on whether the Lokayukta could take Suo Moto action on the basis of newspaper articles, Justice Tahaliyani said that not only was it possible, but that he had taken up several such issues, but had been successful in most cases. He gave several examples of the same from Mumbai, as well as other parts of the state.
He also said under the Right to Services act, the public could move for action against government servants if their work was not completed in a reasonable time.
In reply to a question on MRP, Justice Bhangale said that nobody could charge prices over the MRP, and in such cases, the consumer should take a video of the transaction, and file a consumer complaint, as well as a complaint with the Legal Metrology Department.
To a question on delay of handing over possession of a Flat, Justice Bhangale said that not only could the person file for damages, but also for mental harassment.
On a question about how to approach organisations like TRAI and DoT who merely sent letters instead of acting, Justice Tahaliyani said that though the two organisations were under the Central Government, a similar issue in his jurisdiction would definitely be acted on by him.
Justice Tahaliyani then explained some differences between the working of Lokayuktas in different states such as in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Rajasthan, and the positive and negatives of each.
To a question on the use of red beacons on cars of retired judges, Justice Tahaliyani said that in certain cases they could, and that there was a list of those who were allowed to use different types of beacons.
To a question on transfer of land, both Judges declined to comment as the matter was under judgement by the courts.
Justice Tahaliyani ended the session by requesting those present to read the Lokayukta Act and not be afraid to approach him for relief.
Those whose questions could not be answered were assured that their questions would be forwarded to the speakers, and would be replied to through email, while some of those present at the venue continued the discussion over tea and refreshments after the presentation of mementos to the speakers by the Trustees of VCAN.
To view the photos of the event click here.
To view the video of the event click here.
To view the media coverage of the event click here.