When 67-year-old Rohit Patel, from Ahmedabad, was charged Rs 164 for a bottle of water priced Rs 20, he refused to let it go unlike the rest of us who might turn a blind eye to overpriced products. After a heated argument with the management of the hotel, who didn’t seem to budge, he filed a case in Ahmedabad (Rural) Consumer Disputes Redressal under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
After fighting the case by himself for five years, the forum ruled in his favour and asked the hotel to refund the overpriced amount. Additionally, the bench also directed the hotel to pay Rs 2,500 for harassment charges and Rs 3,000 for other expenses.
“This was not my first case. As a responsible citizen of India, I have filed several cases in the past and all of them are related to overcharged bottled water. Why should I allow giant hotels to unlawfully pocket my money? It is important to assert our rights to ensure they don’t indulge in unethical practices,” Rohit tells The Better India.
Here’s a narration of the incidents that transpired and how we can take a leaf out of this sexagenarian’s book on asserting our rights as consumers.
In October 2015, Rohit visited a hotel on SG Highway along with his friend. There they ordered food and bottled water. When the bill came, Rohit first thought it was a printing mistake as the hotel had charged Rs 164 for a bottle of water.
“We were charged 150+ taxes. When I asked the manager, he said the additional charge was service charge and service tax. I found their arguments ridiculous so I warned them about going to the Consumer Forum. They stuck to their stance and I paid the money,” he recalls.
Shortly after, on 3 November 2015, Rohit went to the Forum, as promised, and made an affidavit, filled the complaint form and kept his evidence, the bottle and the hotel bill, ready. As the valuation of the suit was less than Rs 1 lakh, he did not pay a prescribed fee.
Once the complaint was approved, a legal notice was sent to the company. The lawyer representing the hotel, replied justifying the high price as part of their “service to serve the water” in the hotel. They denied the claim that it amounted to an unfair trade practice but did not deny charging Rs 164 for a bottle of water.
Thereafter, the proceedings began. It took Rohit a period of five years and 28 court appearances for the matter to be resolved.
“Either their lawyer didn’t turn up, judges got transferred or some vacation came up. I was doing all this on my own and there were times when I was tired, but not for once did I think of giving up. If there was any silver lining it was that the court was very supportive and generous. The atmosphere inside the court was friendly and there were no legal terms thrown around, contrary to what people fear,” says Rohit.
Finally, in its judgement, the bench comprising JJ Pandya and Nayna Patadia said that the hotel had charged a lot over the MRP. The Forum then asked the hotel to pay him the compensation fee and refund the overpriced amount within 30 days of the judgment which came on 5 January 2021.
“Return Rs 138 with 8% interest and Rs 5,500 for mental harassment and other expenses that the complainant has gone through,” the order read.
Rohit, who is satisfied with the judgement, now awaits the refund and compensation. He says he will donate the amount to charity just as he did with the rest of the money from his previous cases.
It’s not difficult to assume that there were many who stopped over at the hotel on SG Highway, saw the overpriced bottled water charges and paid the price without making much ado about it. But, from Rohit’s case it can be ascertained that to change the system you have to go all in. While this may well be just another case the consumer court has tackled, it is the determination of people like Rohit—who would go to all lengths to ensure that even a bottle of water is fairly priced—which inspires hope.
You can read the full statement of the judgement on Rohit versus the hotel’s case here.
Edited by Yoshita Rao