Senior citizen wins fight against private bus company

Consumer Court

Shekhar Hattangadi is a senior journalist with experience in the U.S. and India, is also a film maker and he is proficient in law.. He has won a significant judgement in a consumer court against a private bus company.

It was not only his legal acumen that won for him the case, it was his persistence. In his late sixties, he made 23 trips to the consumer court in Bandra east, far away from his Kandivali home , because of constant procedural delays in the court. That again should be a big story for journalists which never gets reported.

The irresponsible manner in which he was treated by the private bus operator underlines the big failure of privatisation of bus transport in India, many of these private services are totally illegal. State transport bus services with all their shortcomings are any day far superior in many ways to private buses. ST buses are far more punctual, reliable, you get a proper ticket unlike in many private buses, they have proper depots and workshops. Private buses make you wait for long on the roadside , they don’t have their own bus stations , of course. Yet, out of a totally false sense of status, people choose to travel by private buses. And they don’t even protest when the service is bad. Hattangadi says he wants to make one thing very clear, knowledge of law is important but one does not need a lawyer in a consumer court . You can argue yourself, the basic idea is the legal delivery system is simplified in the case of the consumer courts.

Privatisation has failed in many sectors all over the world and in railways in particular as in England.David Hare has written a critically acclaimed play against rail privatisation in that country.

In a major judgment that should caution travel companies against trifling callously with bus passengers—particularly senior citizens—on intercity trips, the Mumbai Suburban District Consumer Commission has awarded Hattangadi Rs 2 lakhs as compensation plus costs . He was the victim of inhuman treatment by a travel website and a bus-operating company.

In December 2018 he had pre-booked a luxury bus ticket for a Surat-Mumbai trip on the online website, and was assigned to travel in a bus operated on that route by Paulo Travels headquartered in Panaji, Goa. However his travails began even before he could begin his travel. He was not informed about the precise pickup spot in Surat, and so he barely managed to board the bus at the last minute after an anxious run-around in a strange city. He settled into his seat after the driver checked his ticket while boarding. Then midway through the journey the passenger was compelled to deboard at a remote spot near Chinchoti village (more than 50 kms from Mumbai) on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway in the dead of the night. Reason: the bus had to make a diversion owing to some construction work on the highway, and would thus completely bypass Mumbai city. The diversion, according to the bus driver, was planned several days in advance — which meant that the bus never intended to reach Mumbai that day, but was proceeding instead to Panaji via Thane and Pune despite carrying an external signboard which said SRT-MUM, implying Surat-to-Mumbai. When the passenger asked the driver why he wasn’t informed about the diversion if it was known to the bus company, the driver brusquely replied that the question would be more appropriately asked to the “office people,” since his job was only to drive the bus and it did not entail informing passengers about diversions.

Left stranded on the highway around midnight without any relief provided by the travel companies by way of alternative transportation or accommodation, the hapless passenger went through hell, taking desperate recourse to multiple modes of transport like autorickshaw, local train and private taxi, and finally reached home in the early hours of the next morning — physically exhausted and mentally traumatized by the travel experience. Noting that the travel companies did not deny the wrongdoing on their part, the Commission members Samindara Surve and Sanjay Jagdale accepted the passenger’s argument that the companies’ deficiencies in service caused him mental agony and physical hardship exacerbated by his advancing age. The District Commission therefore concluded that the companies are liable to make good their deficiencies.

Hattangadi made an important point to the court. Award a good compensation in such cases because only that will be a deterrent to the culprits. Normally, the compensation is small, so the guilty organisations do not care at all, they don’t even hire a lawyer, that would cost them much more. so it is a very dirty game going on there.

The ST bus service is the lifeline for the rest of Maharashtra just as the BEST is the lifeline for Mumbai. Sadly, these once proud undertakings are being severely neglected by the government, starved of funds, while the government is spending thousands of crores for Metro rail services which are delivering so little and which are emerging as white elephants.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking priority for public transport, cycling and pedestrians

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