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M/s. Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation Ltd. & Others v/s K.S. Sandeep Shetty & Others

    Revision Petition Nos. 403 of 2016, 404 of 2016, 405 of 2016, 406 of 2016, 407 of 2016 & 408 of 2016

    Decided On, 24 February 2016

    At, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission NCDRC


    For the Petitioner: Divya Prakash Pande, Advocate. For the Respondents: Meenesh Dubey, Advocate.

Judgment Text

1. Delay of 1 day in filing these Revision Petitions is condoned.

2. Challenge in these Revision Petitions, under Section 21(b) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (in short 'the Act'), is to the order dated 16.10.2015 passed by the Karnataka State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at Bangalore (in short 'the State Commission') in First Appeals No. 256 to 261 of 2013. By the impugned order, the State Commission allowed the Appeals preferred by the Complainants, the Respondents herein, and directed the Opposite Parties, the Revision Petitioners herein, to jointly and severally pay compensation of Rs.2500/- to each of the Complainants within eight weeks from the date of the order, failing which the said amount would carry interest at the rate of 12% p.a. from the date of the order till realization.

3. The brief facts, as stated in the Complaints, are that the Complainants paid an amount of Rs.11,750/- per person for a Special Package Dussehra Tour being organized by the Opposite Parties, covering the places, namely, Darjeeling, Kolkata, Gangtok, Puri, Konark and other places, for 10 days and 11 nights. The Complainants stated that the promised tour program was as follows:

'Day-1: 29 September 2011, boarded the Train from Mysore (Passengers can also board the train from Bangalore/Chennai) and departure to New Jalpaiguri, overnight train journey.

Day-2:30 September 2011, Train journey.

Day-3:1st October 2011 train journey.

Day-4:2nd October 2011 (New Jalpaiguri – Gangtok). Arrival to New Jalpaiguri to Gangtok and check in at hotel. After lunch proceed for a cable car ride, visit to monastery. Evening free for shopping at MG road overnight stay at hotel.

Day-5:3rd October 2011 (Gangtok – Darjeeling) after breakfast visit to BABA Mandir, on the way visit Tsangu lake. After lunch visit to Museum and Botanical garden. Proceed to Darjeeling around at 6pm, reached Darjeeling at around 9pm. Overnight stay at Hotel.

Day-6:4th October 2011 (Darjeeling – New Jalpaiguri – Kolkata) early morning proceed to Tiger hill to see the sun rise. Ghumma monastery, GHOOM railway station, Batasia loop. After breakfast visit Himalayan Museum, Kali temple and Botanical garden. After lunch checkout from hotel and proceed to new Jalpaiguri. Enroute visit minik lake. Board train New-Jailpaiguri to Kolkata overnight journey.

Day-7:5th October 2011 Kolkata. Arrival at Kolkata, checking to the hotel after breakfast visit to fort William, Victoria Memorial, Race course, Planetarium. After lunch visit Time’s City, Birla Mandir, Howrah bridge and New market, overnight stay at hotel.

Day-8:6th October 2011 (Kolkata – Bhubaneswar – Puri) Checkout from hotel and experience Durga puja celebrations in the city. Be a part of the celebrations with local people. After lunch proceed for shopping. Overnight train journey to Bhubaneswar/Puri.

Day-9:7th October 2011 (Puri/Konark). Morning arrival at Puri. (Freshen up facility will be provided). After breakfast visit Puri Jagannath Temple. After lunch proceed Konark SUN temple. Return to station and board the train to Mysore Overnight Journey.

Day-10: 8th October 2011 train journey.

Day-11: 9th October 2011 arrival to Chennai early in the morning and to Bangalore around 10 Hrs.'

4. The Complainants averred that they had begun the journey on 29.09.2011 and had reached New Jalpaiguri Railway Station after 12 hours delay on 02.10.2011. They averred that this long delay was due to poor tour planning and they had to wait for 4 hours at the railway station. Transportation was arranged belatedly and they were taken to a lodge on 02.10.2011 at 1 O’clock without food. Because of the late arrival at Gangtok, the original program was cancelled. The breakfast on 03.10.2011 was arranged 3 kms. away from the hotel where the Complainants were accommodated. The Opposite Parties cancelled the visit to Baba Mandir and Tsangh lake and promised Cable car ride was also not arranged. The Complainants organized these visits themselves.

5. The Complainants pleaded that even on 03.10.2011 the vehicles were arranged 3 hours late, no food was provided and that they had reached Darjeeling at 12 O’clock in the midnight.6. On 04.10.2011, early morning, the Opposite Parties failed to provide vehicles to see Tiger Hill and the Complainants themselves had to hire two vehicles at their own expense. When the Complainants had checked in at Darjeeling, there was no breakfast or lunch arranged for the Complainants.

7. On 05.10.2011 after leaving Darjeeling, the Complainants were taken to Kolkata and they reached Kolkata around lunch time but once again food was not provided.

8. Even on 06.10.2011, as per the schedule, the Complainants had to be taken for Durga Puja celebrations, which the Opposite Parties failed to do so and did not take them even to the Victoria Memorial at the right time.

9. The Complainants pleaded that from 07.10.2011 onwards till the end of the journey during the course of the package tour there were several problems and deficiencies with respect to arrangements, transportation, food and sight seeing. The Complainants pleaded they had to spend nearly Rs.10,000/- to Rs.15,000/- on their own for site seeing and when they had complained about the same to the Opposite Parties they were promised a partial refund of Rs.6889/-. Thereafter the Complainants had got the articles published in Deccan Herald News and other newspapers with respect to the insufficient/deficient tour program organized by the Opposite Parties and all the problems they had faced during the package tour.

10. The Complainants got issued a legal notice to the Opposite Parties on 03.11.2011, claiming refund of Rs.11,750/- to each of the Complainants, 28 in all, to which the Opposite Parties gave evasive replies and hence the Complaints before the District Forum, seeking a direction to the Opposite Parties to refund the amount paid together with compensation of Rs.50,000/- and costs.

11. The Opposite Parties filed their written version, admitting that they had arranged Dussehra Special Tour starting from Mysore to North Eastern parts of India on 29.09.2011, returning on 09.10.2011, for a period of 10 days and 11 nights. They also admitted that the Complainants had booked for themselves on this package tour in a group of 28 persons travelling together. The Opposite Parties averred that the oil tankers in the train had caught fire on New Jalpaiguri – Katihar section of North East Frontier Railway. Due to this, train services were disrupted. The Opposite Parties pleaded that it is for the administration of Indian Railways to clear the track for the movement of all the trains in that region and to ensure safety of all passengers. In addition to this, there was a natural calamity i.e. an earthquake, which hit North East India on 18.09.2011, 10 days earlier to this package tour, which totally disrupted normal life.

12. Despite this, the Opposite Parties had taken lot of pains to ensure that the tour was completed by the Complainants. The delay was beyond the control of the Opposite Parties and they denied that the passengers were made to wait for 4 hours at the railway station and that food was not provided by the Opposite Parties. They pleaded that their experienced catering staff served all the passengers off board during the tour.

13. The Opposite Parties averred in their written version that the quantity of food served was unlimited and the quality was of highest standards and that arrangements were made for sale of water bottles and biscuits. The transport and hotel arrangements were made as per the itinerary. The Opposite Parties admitted that as far as site seeing places were concerned, there was a change in the itinerary and all the passengers were taken for site seeing to as many places as it was possible. They also admitted that there were some problems with regard to the transportation at some places, as the train was delayed. They submitted that they had helped the passengers to make arrangements for site seeing and had assured them that these expenses would be reimbursed and likewise on production of the bills an amount of Rs.6889/- was reimbursed to them.

14. As the earthquake took place few days prior to the tour, the Opposite Parties pleaded that permission was not granted to certain places and hence the itinerary had to be revised. The Opposite Parties offered to pay Rs.40/- for breakfast and Rs.60/- for lunch and dinner and assured the passengers that these expenses would be reimbursed on the production of the bills.

15. The Opposite Parties averred that the passengers were informed at the time of booking itself that they were not responsible for any late running of the train; visit to all site seeing places was subject to availability of time; itinerary could be altered under unavoidable circumstances like natural calamities; there might be some delay in the providing food in the train etc.; and, therefore, no deficiency of service could be attributed to them.

16. The District Forum based on the evidence adduced dismissed the Complaints on the ground that the Opposite Parties had refunded the amounts spent by the Complainants and that any inconvenience caused to the Complainants could not be attributed to the negligence of the Opposite Parties but only to the earthquake and derailment of trains.

17. Aggrieved by this order, the Complainants preferred Appeals before the State Commission and the State Commission allowed the same, observing as follows:

'19. Further the contention of the complainants is that the alleged earthquake, derailment of oil tankers etc., had all occasioned much earlier to the commencement of the tour. In the circumstances, the organizers of the tour ought to have foreseen such eventuality and planned the package tour accordingly, instead of exposing the tourist to unexpected misery in a far of strange place; apart from monetary aspects; the said unorganized package tour will expose the tourists to unnecessary anxiety and tension. Thus prima facie it is seen that there is deficiency in service on the part of Ops in conducting the package tour.

20. In the circumstances whether it is on account of negligence or otherwise, glaringly it is seen that there is deficiency in service on the part of the Ops. The very object of going in a package tour is to have a comfortable tour without any anxiety and tension. Hence, the contrary observation by the District Forum that any inconvenience caused to the complainants is not attributable to the negligence is not proper. Thus impugned order is not sustainable.

21. With regard to the amount to which the complainants are entitled it is seen that with comfort or without comfort, all the complainants have completed the tour programme and thus they are not entitled for refund of the amount paid by them. However, for the stress, they undergone, misery to which they are exposed on account of deficiency in service on the part of the Ops, they have to be compensated adequately and to meet the ends of justice, it is reasonable to assess the same at Rs.2,500/- to each of the complainant. In the peculiar circumstances of the case, the said amount does not carry any interest if it is paid within 8 weeks from the date of receipt of this order.'

18. Hence, the Revision Petitions by the Opposite Parties.

19. The learned Counsel for the Revision Petitioners submitted that the State Commission failed to consider that out of the several passengers, who had availed of the special package tour, only 6 passengers had filed their Complaints. He contended that the State Commission erred in observing that the Opposite Parties, the Revision Petitioners herein, should have foreseen such eventualities and planned the package tour accordingly whereas they are not liable for any late running of trains on account of natural calamities like earthquake etc.; and that though the tour had been arranged at very inexpensive rates, yet they had refunded Rs.6889/- as per the bills submitted by the Complainants and, therefore, there was no deficiency of service on their behalf.

20. The contention of the Revision Petitioners that the State Commission has erred in observing that they should have foreseen such eventualities is unsustainable, in light of the fact that admittedly the earthquake in the North East region occurred on 18.09.2011; the package amount was collected on 23.09.2011, which is much after the occurrence of the earthquake; and the tour itself began on 29.09.2011, which is more than 10 days after the occurrence of the said earthquake. Therefore, it can be concluded that the State Commission has rightly observed that the Revision Petitioner/Tour Operators should have foreseen the problems, which arose, and planned the package tour accordingly. The Revision Petitioners/Tour Operators should have taken extra care and caution while accepting the amounts after the earthquake in the North East area, when the tour was planned from Mysore to Darjeeling, Kolkata, Gangtok, which are all in the North East region. Instead of making necessary arrangements and planning the Special Dussehra Package Tour accordingly, blaming the natural calamity, which had taken place 10 days prior to the onset of the tour, is unjustified.

21. The second contention of the learned Counsel for the Revision Petitioners they have already refunded Rs.6889/- as per the bills submitted by the Complainants and, therefore, no deficiency of service can be attributed to the Revision Petitioners, also cannot be sustained. It is an admitted fact that the Complainants had organized at their own expense transport, visits to site seeing places and also arrangements for procuring food etc. The very object of going on a package tour is to enjoy the whole experience and have a comfortable stay, which in the instant case admittedly did not happen and the Revision Petitioners/Tour Operators cannot limit their liability to only refunding the actual amounts spent by the Complainants with respect to food and transport. The Revision Petitioners themselves have admitted in their written version that they had offered Rs.40/- for breakfast and Rs.60/- for lunch and dinner. The Revision Petitioners had also admitted that as far as the site seeing tour was concerned, there was a change in the itinerary and that all the passengers were taken for site seeing to only those places which were possible. Merely because the Revision Petitioners had refunded a sum of Rs.6889/- does not mean that the Complainants did not undergo any sort of inconvenience, anxiety, stress and strain during the package tour. Almost at every place, the Complainants had to suffer on account of changes in the site seeing program, delay in transportation and also procurement of food, for which the State Commission has awarded a meagre compensation of Rs.2500/- to each of the Complainants. In the light of their own admission that food, transport and the site seeing tour program was not arranged as per their promise, awarding of paltry sum of Rs.2500/- towards compensation by the Sta

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te Commission does not warrant any interference in our limited jurisdiction. 22. In this regard, reliance can be placed on the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Gurgaon Gramin Bank v. Khazani And Anr., IV (2012) CPJ 5 (SC), wherein it has come heavily against the public authorities for litigating on trivial matters. In the said case, the Apex Court has, inter alia, observed as follows: '12. We are of the view that issues raised before us are purely questions of facts examined by the three forums including the National Disputes Redressal Commission and we fail to see what is the important question of law to be decided by the Supreme Court. In our view, these types of litigation should be discouraged and message should also go, otherwise for all trivial and silly matters people will rush to this court.' 23. Besides, I am constrained to observe that on the facts of the case, wherein, on merits, the State Commission has not granted any damages except for Rs.2500/- as compensation to each of the Complainants, in view of inconvenience, discomfort and strain, which they had to undergo in such a situation is truly meagre. If notice in these matters is issued to the Complainants, with payment of travel and allied expenses of Rs.10,000/- to each of the Complainants, the cost of litigation which the Revision Petitioners would have to incur would increase manifold. 24. For all the above reasons and keeping in view the judgment of the Apex Court in Khazani (supra), I do not see it a fit case to exercise our limited jurisdiction. 25. In the result, these Revision Petitions fail and are dismissed accordingly, with no order as to costs.