Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela
In a landmark judgment, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi, has directed the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Ministry of Consumer Affairs to ensure that all LPG marketing companies issue necessary instructions to distributors to provide to deliveryman proper weighing scale for the purpose of weighing LPG cylinder in the presence of customers, before delivery.
The two member bench of the National Commission, comprising of Justice K.S.Gupta and Justice S.N.Kapoor, in their 28-page order passed on a petition filed by Consumer Protection Council, Rourkela, a voluntary organisation, further directed that the Ministries should also instruct the LPG marketing companies to give due publicity by publishing the same in the vernacular language of each and every State as well as in English and Hindi in newspapers apart from giving similar type of advertisement in TV for information of the consumers.
The case was filed by the complainant Council in 2001 submitting that many consumers in the steel township Rourkela in Orissa's Sundargarh district were cheated by way of supply of LPG cylinders having less quantity of gas by Indian Oil Corporation. The organisation was represented through its Secretary, Sri B.Vaidyanathan.
A survey conducted subsequent to the complaint received from a consumer by the complainant Council covering 48 households in June 2000 had revealed that as against the net weight of 14.2 kg of LPG, the consumers on an average were getting only 12.74 kg. Only 12.5% of the refill cylinders weighed was within the tolerance range of 150 gm or less, as prescribed in 2nd Schedule of the Standards of Weights & Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules.
The Commission, in its order passed on August 16, also asked the Indian Oil Corporation to pay a sum of Rs 50,000 to the complainant Council to meet the expenses incurred by it in protecting the interest of consumers and to continue to protect the interest of the consumers. Though the complainant Council had prayed for awarding 1% of the estimated Rs. 750 crores loss inflicted on the consumers across the country, due to the under-weighment, in a year, the Commission has not dealt this issue, in its directions. It may be pertinent to note that the Consumer Protection Act was amended in 2002, enabling the Consumer Courts to award a minimum of 5% of the value of the deficient services provided, when large number of consumers are affected.
During the pendency of the case, the Commission availed the assistance of Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur for studying the carousel machine used for filling the LPG, at the IOCís Balasore Plant and to assess whether the machine is capable of filling the desired weight of 14.2 kg. The professors of IIT, Kharagpur, who studied the Plant, after statistically analysing the data concluded that the carousel with its existing accessories and systems was incapable of delivering the LPG refills within the permissible error levels. Subsequently the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Govt. of India constituted a Committee to ascertain the problems associated with bottling and distribution of LPG refills. This Committee also concluded that the semi-automatic bottling plants were incapable of filling the right quantity and they needed to be automated.
As of now 58 bottling plants of different oil companies were with electronic carousel systems and balance 120 plants and 145 number of filling systems, would have to be provided with electronic filling systems, costing Rs. 250 crores, in a period of four years, according to the order.
With regard to the Central government's submission that the modernisation of all bottling plants will be completed in next four years, the Commission expressed hope that Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas would ensure modernisation at the earliest possible time without making it a prestige issue of not completing modernization before four years. "It may be mentioned that if it is done earlier, it would be assuring consumers that not only the Ministry of Consumer Affairs but also the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas cares about the consumers," the Commission said.