Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review : Tough Customer by Vandana Vasudevan

​Are you entitled for compensation for delayed flights? Can stickers be placed on the printed MRP? ​Can we hold a fairness cream to the promises made in its advertisement?

Photo of the book
Tough Customer - Vandana Vasudevan
 328 pages | MRP - ₹ 395
Publisher - Westland Ltd.
These are just some of the common questions that any ordinary person is curious about. Consumer law is a field of law that touches the life of the aam admi in innumerable ways on any ordinary day. However, till date all the literature that I had read about 'Consumer Law' was in the form of textbooks discussing each section of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and explaining the judicial interpretations of the same. It was all Consumer Law for the lawyers.

There was no book explaining consumer law for the consumer and this is the void that 'Tough Customer' by Vandana Vasudevan fills perfectly.

The book is divided into four parts, the first one covering the six rights of the consumer, a section on consumer service, another regarding the failure of certain consumer welfare legislation and the last being a must have 'Toolkit for consumers''.

Right from the first two chapters on safety and information, it is apparent how well researched the book is. The section on safety not only covers the obvious concerns that would come to one's mind such as issues relating to food adulteration and protection of financial data but it even goes on to give comprehensive information regarding India's mixed record with respect to railway safety and dubious record with respect to safety measures on roller coasters. The second section regarding the right to information is a delight to read it manage the laws relating to mandatory information disclosures on packaging in simple and succinct terms. Furthermore, we are treated to some fascinating case studies which expose how instant-noodles and cosmetics brands in India flout information disclosure and advertising norms with impunity.

The book's chapter on Right to Redressal shall be of particular interest to any reader as it describes the entire scheme of filing a consumer complaint in detail but at the same time in simple and clear language. Author employs bulletted lists under headings to explain various aspects of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and within those handful of pages an aam aadmi can find answers to all his questions such as "What is unfair trade practice?" "Who can complain?" "When and Whom to complain?" "What relief can the forum give?" etc. The author also goes beyond the Consumer Protection Act and has also included details of other redressal mechanisms such as the Banking Ombudsman, Insurance Ombudsman etc.

The book doesn't stop at just telling the reader how to file a complaint but also tries to inspire the reader by presenting the stories of several consumers who filed consumer complaints and got generous relief from the Consumer forums.  It is often said that the Indian judicial system is stacked against the ordinary man and that large corporations get away with anything. However, in this book we find tales of consumers who took on and won against mammoths like the Railways, DLF and Idea mobile. These real life stories written in a fine narrative style are not just heartening but also at times funny and unfailingly enjoyable to read. If I had to pick a fault with this book (apart from the fact that it has scared me regarding several things by exposing the lax safety standards in India), it would be that the author hasn't included any cautionary tales regarding when consumers failed to prove their case before the forums. Such counter-anecdotes could have provided some advice for the readers regarding the pitfalls to avoid while filing consumer complaints.

The section of the book on consumer service is also replete with anecdotes, most from author's own life regarding how the standard of consumer service in India is a major cause for concern while the following section is a detailed analysis of four consumer welfare laws and the author's views on possible reform. Here again what sets this book apart from most other law books is that even an analysis of the law never feels like burdensome reading. While getting the point across, it remains simple enough to be understood by the ordinary man.

The last section "Toolkit for consumers" is a real gem. It includes the contact details of various consumer welfare organisations and also contact information of consumer forums and other grievance redressal mechanisms. The toolkit also includes model form of a consumer complaint which can be adopted an used for his/her own purpose by the reader. This is followed by a checklist of precautions that an informed consumer must adopt in everyday scenarios such as while buying electric appliances or while buying jewellery. It might possibly be worth buying the book for this section alone! However do note that the tips and tricks aren't restricted to this section alone. The entire book is replete with small tips and information that shall come of use to every single person. (Eg - Tips to differentiate between genuine or fake maid agencies, entitlement to compensation in cases of delayed flights, identifying puffery in advertisements etc.)

When I was reading this book, it did not feel like drudgery for a single moment. Every single chapter is relevant and includes references to situations that we face day in and day out.

This book would be of some utility to each and every person who purchases or has ever purchased any goods or services in India!

Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Wesland Ltd.

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