The Delhi-based complainant had claimed that he purchased a mobile phone from the company’s website on February 23, 2016, but the device started heating up after a couple of days, which compelled him to apply for its return and seek a refund.
The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) has dismissed a complaint filed by a man seeking punitive damages of Rs 743 crore from an e-commerce company for allegedly publishing misleading advertisements and adopting unfair trade practices. The Delhi-based complainant had claimed that he purchased a mobile phone from the company’s website on February 23, 2016, but the device started heating up after a couple of days, which compelled him to apply for its return and seek a refund.
He was, however, informed by the company that it had changed the return policy 16 days before he placed the order and that he would only be eligible for a “free replacement” and not a refund, following which he moved the consumer court alleging unfair trade practices by the firm.
The complainant averred that the option of returning the phone was given to him in the invoice bill and was also visible in the order list. He alleged that the company deceived innumerable consumers by its “misleading advertisement of an easy return policy and adopting unfair trade practices”.
He sought a compensation of Rs 9,119 for the phone he purchased, along with litigation and transportation cost of Rs 1 lakh and punitive damages of Rs 743 crore for causing legal injury and financial loss to him. He also sought the court’s permission to represent numerous consumers at large.
The complainant further submitted that the company incurred an expenditure of Rs 743.9 crore on a misleading advertisement of easy return to cheat a large number of consumers and thus, punitive damages should be imposed upon it.
Dismissing the complaint, NCDRC President Justice RK Agrawal and Member SM Kantikar said, “We are of the considered view that the complaint by the complainant as a joint complaint on behalf of the similarly situated consumers is not maintainable and deserves to be dismissed.”
The commission further noted that the e-commerce company had published about the change in its return policy in newspapers and online portals in English as well as in vernacular languages.
“In so far as the option appearing in the invoice bill of the phone regarding the refund is concerned, we are of the considered view that since there was a gap of only 16 days from the date of change of policy, it was not possible to rectify the said mistake or reprint the invoice bill,” the bench stated in an order dated September 22.
“In these circumstances, in our considered view, it is not a fit case for awarding exemplary punitive damages. Consequently, the complaint is dismissed as not maintainable for want of pecuniary jurisdiction,” it added and advised the complainant to seek a remedy before the appropriate forum in accordance with law.
The main argument of the company was that the complainant was not entitled to a refund of the amount of the phone due to a change in the return policy and had also failed to establish the “pecuniary jurisdiction of the commission as punitive damages cannot be treated as part and parcel of the compensation”.
The counsel representing the company asserted that the commission does not have the pecuniary jurisdiction to entertain the complaint since the value of goods purchased and services availed by the complainant was just Rs 9,119.
Further, the e-commerce firm claimed that it changed the return policy due to its blatant misuse as certain consumers were using the phones for a while before returning those and seeking a refund on some ground or the other.