Movers and Packers Are Service Providers
Movers and Packers Are Service Providers
From an ordinary spoon in the kitchen to some decidedly expensive possessions, some things bought with hard-earned money and some that have strong emotions attached to them, almost everything moves with you when you move house. To ensure that this transition to the new house is hassle-free, you look for a professional packing and moving company and go online to find one that promises the best service within your budget. Sounds straightforward enough? Yet, what if things don't go as planned? What next if you feel cheated? What if your belongings get damaged due to the packing company's negligence while shifting? Is there a remedy available under Consumer Protection Act to get compensated for damages done by the negligent company?
Most people choose to look for their moving company on highly advertised websites that do yellow-page listings or classified advertisements. However, most of these websites hardly check the credentials of companies posting ads with them – more listings means more revenue for the websites. Many also state that consumers must do their own reference check or read reviews as the claims made in their ads are of the service provider and not their own. Not surprisingly, most people looking for service providers end up choosing the ones that offer lesser price and have some good reviews (unfortunately, we live in times where even good reviews can be bought – this however is another story).
As recipients of a service that is availed of for a fee, consumers are better off knowing their options if faced with any untoward incident. Firstly, it is important to note that any company that engages in shifting, moving, transporting and packing type of service is considered to be a service provider and can be challenged and fined for any deficiency of services under Consumer Protection Act. In India, the movers and packers sector has expanded and hundreds of new companies have entered the space. However, not many of them seem to be delivering what they promise; the number of complaints against them in the consumer forums has also been increasing steadily. The majority of these complaints state that the company did not deliver what it committed, more so in regard to safe delivery of goods. The cases range from breakage of fragile material, not packing them right, or loss (stolen/lost) of items in transit. Nevertheless, instead of compensating for the damages, many companies have tried challenging the consumer’s complaint and their intent. Some large companies have gone to the extent of dragging a simple case of compensation for a few years, until their appeal got nullified by the National Commission.
The Whole Case
In 2011, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) was approached by Agarwal Packers and Movers Ltd with an appeal to withhold judgements pronounced against them by district and state forums.
The complainant in the case was Alok Chaturvedi, who had got his entire house shifted in 2009. Chaturvedi had safely got the entire stuff loaded in one truck and had put his own lock on the door of its container. However, he received his stuff in two different trucks, which meant that the lock had been broken and the goods unloaded and loaded while they were in transit. This aberration would not have bothered him much had the goods been in a proper condition, but most of his crockery, furniture and a few electronics products (costing about Rs 20,000) were damaged, while a few other items including clothes (costing about Rs 23,000) went missing.
Chaturvedi informed the company about the damages and the lost items. He was asked by the company to retain all damaged products until their representative assessed them. The entire broken stuff remained scattered in the house for about three month, but the packers never turned up despite several reminders.
Aggrieved, Chaturvedi reached the insurance company to which the goods were insured for the transit period. The insurance company also asked him to retain the broken goods for them to assess. They also informed him that since the insurance was taken by Movers and Packers, and there was no contract with him, the claim—if any—would go to Movers and Packers. Hence, he would have to ask for reimbursement of the same from the transport company.
The fact that the damages claim against his products would actually go to the company that did the damages in the first place infuriated Chaturvedi. He decided to file a formal complaint with the consumer forum.
In-between, Movers and Packers offered Rs 13,000 as compensation for the missing items and damages caused to other goods. That was not acceptable to Chaturvedi and he went ahead with his complaint with the district forum.
The forum accepted the complaint and pronounced this order: “This complaint is allowed with a direction to pay to the complainant a sum of Rs 43,000 on account of broken and missing items. Ops are also directed to pay to the complainant a sum of Rs 40, 000 as compensation for causing discomfort and Rs 5, 000 as costs of litigation.”
Movers and Packers filed an appeal against the district forum’s order and made these points: a) Agarwal Packers & Movers Pvt. Ltd is an artificial name and has to act through its managing director/ principal officer, and hence the service of summons was to be effected at the registered office of the company, and b) there is no deficiency on the part
of Packers and Movers. In support, they cited earlier Supreme Court judgements.
In Ravneet Singh Bagga versus KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Another (2000), the Supreme Court observed: “The deficiency in service cannot be alleged without attributing fault, imperfection, shortcoming or inadequacy in the quality, nature and manner of performance which is required to be performed by a person in pursuance of a contract or otherwise in relation to any service. The burden of proving the deficiency in service is upon the person who alleges it.”
The State Commission did not agree with Movers and Packers’ appeal and dismissed it. Movers and Packers did not agree with the ruling and took up the matter with the National Commission.
The National Commission observed the relevant findings of State Commission and stated: “...records show that Movers and Packers was duly served notice through registered post as there is acknowledgement receipt signed by their representative. Despite receiving summons, no one appeared before the forum. Records prove that summons sent out for appearance had been received by its representative Krishan Kumar. Also, the plea of ops that there was no employee with the name of Krishan Kumar is not supported by duly sworn affidavit of any responsible functionary of the company.
“Further, as the Company is situated in Chandigarh and the material booked was delivered at Chandigarh, so the district forum at Chandigarh had the territorial jurisdiction to try and adjudicate upon the dispute under the provisions of Consumer Protection Act.”
More so, referring to the Supreme Court judgement cited by the company, the apex court stated: “The rendering of deficient service has to be considered and decided in each case according to the facts of that case, for which no hard and fast rule can be laid down. Inefficiency, lack of due care, absence of bona fides, rashness, haste or omission and the like may be the factors to ascertain the deficiency in rendering the service.
“Courts of law should be careful enough to see through such diabolical plans of the judgement debtor to deny the decree holders the fruits of the decree obtained by them. These types of errors on the part of the judicial forum only encourage frivolous and cantankerous litigations causing law’s delay and bringing bad name to the judicial system.”
Thus, the National Commission confirmed and upheld the decisions of the district and state forums and directed Packers and Movers to compensate the complainant as per the judgements given.
Another Case to Note
Sharmilee Nielsen said she engaged the services of Leo Packers and Movers, Tiruvanmiyur, to transport goods to her new residence at Kottivakkam. While some of the goods were packed by Sharmilee herself, some others were packed by the company staff. The company delivered the goods on August 13, 2011, after charging Rs 78,313. For insurance coverage, the company charged Rs 30,000.
When the goods were delivered at her house in the presence of company personnel, most articles were found damaged beyond restoration. The list of the destroyed goods was provided to the packers company, following which an independent assessor inspected the goods and concluded that the goods were destroyed because of improper handling and jerks during road transit. The worth of damaged goods was assessed at Rs 1.44 lakh. Despite Sharmilee's request, Leo Packers did not attend the inspection, nor did it settle the claim amount. She then moved the district consumer forum at south Chennai, seeking compensation for damages and deficiency in service.
Denying the arguments, Leo Packers said it had requested Sharmilee to allow special packing of all the goods in an airtight container. As she did not follow the company's instruction for packing the goods, Leo Packers was not liable to pay damages.
A bench of president B Ramalingam and members K Amala and T Paul Rajasekaran said that despite being informed, the company did not inspect the goods to settle the claim. Without assessment, it had offered to pay Rs 20,000 as compensation to Sharmilee; that was a meagre amount. The company did not prove that the goods were loosely packed, nor did it refute that it had transported all the goods. There was no evidence to disprove Sharmilee's claims, the bench said. It directed the company to pay Rs 1.44 lakh along with nine per cent interest and Rs 5,000 as litigation cost.