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This article has been written by Sonia Shrinivasan, from RTI Cell, iPleaders and the article has been edited by Khushi Sharma (Trainee Associate, Blog iPleaders) and Vanshika Kapoor (Senior Managing Editor, LawSikho).

Introduction

On more than one occasion, most of us here reading this have regretted going to expensive salons and stylists, opting for expensive hair improvement treatments, only to regret our choice moments after seeing the results firsthand. The majority of us are okay with dealing with the embarrassment for a day or two, taking it in our stride, and moving on. However, not many days back, the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) ordered the payment of 2 crore rupees, as compensation to a woman, for getting a wrong haircut and treatment by the hairdressers of a salon of a renowned hotel chain.

The Consumer Protection Law 

The Consumer Protection Act, 2013

The Consumer Protection Act, 2013 is best described as social legislation enacted to secure and protect the rights of consumers, providing for speedy and inexpensive redressal of their grievances.

The Act mandates the formation and setting up of Consumer Disputes Resolution Commissions at the district, state, and national levels viz., District Disputes Resolution Commissions, State Disputes Resolution Commissions, and the National Disputes Resolution Commission. 

The District and State Disputes Resolution Commissions can decide monetary values of up to one crore and ten crores, respectively.  

According to the data available on the NCDRC website, as many as 629 District Commissions, 35 State Commissions, and 1 National Commission are functioning presently in the entire country.

The Act covers goods and services for consumers to take action against. Goods are defined as products produced, manufactured, and sold to consumers via retailers and wholesalers; services are construed to be those activities existing in the form of electricity, banking, insurance, etc.

The Consumer Dispute Redressal Mechanism

An aggrieved consumer may file a complaint in writing, before either Commission- district, state, or national, depending upon the amount of compensation sought. The remedy available to the consumer under the Consumer Protection Act, 2013 is an alternative available to the civil suit. However, a complaint under this Act is way more pocket-friendly, and the redressal is speedier.

In case of dissatisfaction with any decision passed by the District or State Commission, an appeal may be preferred in the concerned State or National Commission by the consumer himself.

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, NCRDC, is a quasi-judicial body established under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, headquartered in Delhi. Presently headed by Justice RK Agrawal, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India, the Commission is usually headed by a judge of the Supreme Court, either retired or serving.

It is empowered to hear cases involving pecuniary amounts exceeding ten crore rupees and acts as an appellate body for the cases decided by the District and State Commissions.

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Additionally, it forms rules regarding the working of subordinate commissions, supervising their functioning, along with making rules for the exchange/service of documents between the parties to a matter.

Section 21 of Consumer Protection Act, 1986 empowers the National Consumer to entertain a complaint valued more than one crore and also have Appellate and Revisional jurisdiction from the orders of State Commissions or the District forums in the country.

The Case in Question- Aashna Roy v. ITC Hotels

The said case, before the National Consumer Disputes Resolution Commission, was brought under Section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, read with Section 21 of the Act, alleging that the respondent staff of the salon of a reputed hotel chain was negligent while administering her a hair treatment and accused them of providing deficient services while giving her a haircut. 

Section 21 of the Act reads as:

(1) Where the Central Authority is satisfied after an investigation that any advertisement is false or misleading and is prejudicial to the interest of any consumer or is in contravention of consumer rights, it may, by order, issue directions to the concerned trader or manufacturer or endorser or advertiser or publisher, as the case may be, to discontinue such advertisement or to modify the same in such manner and within such time as may be specified in that order.

(2) Notwithstanding the order passed under sub-section (1), if the Central Authority is of the opinion that it is necessary to impose a penalty in respect of such false or misleading advertisement, by a manufacturer or an endorser, it may, by order, impose on manufacturer or endorser a penalty which may extend to ten lakh rupees:

Provided that the Central Authority may impose a penalty for every subsequent contravention by a manufacturer or endorser, which may extend to fifty lakh rupees.

(3) Notwithstanding any order under sub-section (1) and (2), where the Central Authority deems it necessary, it may, by order, prohibit the endorser of a false or misleading advertisement from making an endorsement of any product or service for a period which may extend to one year.

Section 12 states that,

No act or proceeding of the Central Authority shall be invalid merely by reason of—

(a) any vacancy in, or any defect in the constitution of, the Central Authority; or

(b) any defect in the appointment of a person acting as the Chief Commissioner or as a commissioner; or

(c) any irregularity in the procedure of the Central Authority not affecting the merits of the case

Facts of the Case

The Complainant, in this case, was a model by profession, set to appear for an interview for an upcoming modeling project. Almost a week before the said interview, she booked an appointment with her usual hairdresser at the respondent hotel’s salon. However, due to his unavailability, she was assigned a different hairdresser upon assurance from the salon manager.

The Complainant alleged that she specifically instructed the hairdresser to cut her hair in a certain way, a simple haircut that generally did not require an hour to be styled. Upon being questioned about such a long time, the Complainant was informed that she was being given a ‘London Haircut.’ Upon taking a look at the result of the haircut, the Complainant was horrified, as she observed that her entire length, barring 4 inches from the top, had been chopped off. 

Upon complaining about the same to the manager, her bill for the entire session was waived off. It was alleged that due to the resulting haircut, the Complainant lost her confidence as she was not looking pretty.

When no action was taken against the hairdresser, the matter was reported to the General Manager of the Salon, who allegedly misbehaved with the Complainant, daring her to take any action against them, which was brought to the notice of the CEO of ITC Ltd., 

Subsequently, an offer was made to the Complainant to extend her hair for the interview or provide a suitable hair treatment free of cost; the Complainant chose the latter after much persuasion. 

Following this, an external hair expert was arranged to advise upon the said treatment, which was to be administered by the salon’s in-house hairdresser under the supervision of the Complainant’s usual hairdresser. However, after the treatment, the Complainant alleged that her scalp had been damaged and burnt due to excess ammonia. On bringing this to the management’s notice, no action was taken against the salon staff, and as a result, the Complainant felt aggrieved.

Consequently, the Complainant approached the NCDRC, alleging deficiency in services of the salon staff and seeking Rs. Three crores as compensation for suffering humiliation, harassment, and mental trauma at the hands of the salon staff.

Arguments by the Petitioner

The Complainant sued the salon manager and employees on the grounds of deficiency in her services. They based their complaint on the fact that hair is considered to be one of the essential parts of a presentable look, especially for women, who are proud of their hair, and take extra care to ensure that their hair remains in good condition,

It was put forth before the Commission that, because women take such extensive care to ensure their hair remains beautiful and healthy, such mishaps can negatively affect their mental health, sometimes lasting their entire life.

The Complainant in an affidavit stated that the hair treatment administered to her caused permanent damage to her scalp, causing pre-mature greying and other scalp infections.

They also relied upon the fact that the salon employees impliedly admitted their fault by reversing her payment for the treatment.

Arguments by the Respondents

Objecting and contradicting the Complainant’s accusations, the Respondents, while requesting a dismissal of the complaint, stated that since the Complainant was not charged for the said services and hence does not qualify as a ‘consumer’ defined under section 2(1)(d) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Consequently, the three-crore compensation demanded thereof has no basis and is exaggerated beyond comprehension, as it was not supported by documentary evidence of any kind.

As for the merits, it was submitted before the Commission that the Complainant’s hair was cut as per her instructions, and no damage was caused by the hair treatment, per se. The intent behind filing this complaint was alleged to be malafide and aimed to malign the goodwill & reputation of ITC Ltd.

Citing the NCDRC’s prior decision in Ambrish Kumar Shukla & Ors v Ferrous Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd., with regard to determining the pecuniary jurisdiction of any dispute, it was highlighted that while determining the pecuniary jurisdiction of a Commission, the consideration has to be duly taken into account in order to calculate a fair compensation; which in this case was not involved.

Hence, the Complainant was not entitled to any relief under the Act.

What the Commission Held

While ruling in favor of the Complainant, the Commission awarded the Complainant a compensation of two crore rupees for the despair and trauma caused to the Complainant due to inefficient services provided by the salon employees. It recognized that women were, without a doubt, very cautious towards keeping their hair well maintained and healthy,

It acknowledged that the Complainant was a model for hair products and since this incident, has suffered mental agony due to lack of confidence and it was due to the hairdresser’s carelessness, she lost out on many professional opportunities.

Conclusion

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum rightly compensated the victim for negligence on the part of the salon staff, providing a wide and comprehensive interpretation to the term ‘ compensation.’ This ruling reiterated that compensation may or may not include actual loss and can be rightfully extended to compensating the mental or emotional loss suffered by an individual, which in this case was associated with the loss of hair and, by extension, the loss of one’s confidence.


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