On 25 June 2016, Vijay Gopal, a resident of Hyderabad was stopped from carrying a water bottle inside INOX, GVK Mall, Hyderabad.
Gopal had bought the bottle from a retail store and was carrying it with him inside the theatre when INOX security personnel confiscated it and issued him a cloakroom token to collect the bottle before going home.
When Gopal questioned the operations manager the reason for disallowing outside water bottles inside the multiplex, he was told it was for security reasons as water can be used as an ingredient for making explosives.
In another instance, Gopal bought a water bottle from INOX, Maheshwari Parmeshwari mall, also in Hyderabad, for which he was charged Rs 50, instead of the MRP of Rs 20.
Speaking to The Logical Indian he said,
“The practice of not allowing customers to carry outside water bottles into the screening area is a restrictive trade practice where INOX creates a manipulative environment to push customers into buying water bottles double its actual cost.”
“The multiplex also keeps its water dispensers at GVK mall close to the washroom and not the screening area or the pantry, where they ideally should. This again forces people to buy water from the cafeteria because they are unaware of the dispenser,” he added.
Irked at the unfair trade practices by INOX Movies across Hyderabad, Gopal decided to file a complaint at the district consumer forum, Hyderabad.
On 17 August 2016, he moved the forum on three contentions. First, INOX should allow people to carry outside water bottles as there might be many individuals who do not wish to purchase water from their cafeteria. Second, the water dispenser should be placed in an area where it is visible. And third, the multiplex should not charge more than the MRP of the bottle.
The multiplex denied the allegations made by Gopal and said that it had not committed any unfair trade practices. Its legal counsel made the following arguments:
The reason for not allowing water bottle inside was purely for security reason. Water can be used as an ingredient making an explosive.
INOX movies provide at all its multiplexes facilities for patrons to consume purified and filtered drinking water in disposable paper cups free of cost. Thus, when a patron purchases a packaged drinking water bottle at an INOX multiplex, they are aware of the MRP of such bottles and thereafter voluntarily purchases such bottle at the printed MRP which is also prominently displayed in the food counter.
The water bottle price is fixed at Rs.50/- taking into consideration the maintenance cost and also the capital investment on it and ambience and amenities provided in the multiplex.
INOX Movies sought dismissal of the complaint as it argued that there was no unfair trade practised on its part.
The Hyderabad Consumer Forum judgement
The Court sided with Gopal’s claims and found INOX guilty of unfair trade practices.
In its 4 April 2017 order, it directed INOX multiplex to grant the following reliefs:
The movie theatre to have visual representation/notification in the theatre premises that the customers can carry water bottles into the screening area.
Let them (customers) know the total number of screens at INOX movies, GVK one and the total number of water dispensers placed at this place. As he (Gopal) saw only one dispenser for multiple screens placed in a very isolated manner.
To take cognizance of this case and take required action against INOX Movies (Hyd) at GVK One Mall and directing them to stop such practices of looting ignorant customers.
The Court observed, “In view of the above judgement there cannot be two MRPs for the same water bottle and manufacturer also has no right to fix different MRP to two different water bottles of same quality and quantity. ”
“Therefore the opposite party (INOX) is directed to discontinue the unfair trade practice or restrictive trade practice and not to repeat them in future,” it added.
It also added that disallowing customers to carry water bottles inside the screening area is unfair and should not be practiced by INOX in any of its multiplexes in Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
As Gopal did not resort to any legal counsel and fought the case on his own, the Court further gave him a compensation of Rs 6,000 for the legal costs incurred.
“Though the judgement is in my favour, it is also in violation of Section 14, 1 (h) (Hb) of the consumer protection Act, 1988, which says that if loss or injury has been suffered by a large number of consumers who are not identifiable conveniently, the minimum amount of sum so payable shall not be less than five percent of the value of such defective goods sold or services provided to the customers” said Gopal.
When asked if he will move the Court for a higher penalty against INOX, Gopal said that he will file for the violation of the above-mentioned section and also press criminal charges against INOX if it continues selling water bottles at a higher price than the retail cost.
Even so, the judgement of the consumer forum is a welcome move as it clarifies a lot of issues.
According to the Court’s directive, the following clarifications have been made:
To sell the water bottle of the same quantity and quality at the same cost available outside the Cinema Hall.
To install/provide free purified water outlets adjacent to the entrance or exit of screens or any other places which is convenient to the customer who purchased the Cinema tickets and the said place shall be easily visible.
All the Cinema theatres situated in the Hyderabad and Secunderabad are not impleaded as a party to the proceedings but they shall follow the directions issued in the case.
Copies of the judgement shall be sent to each Cinema theatre. All the Cinema Theatres are directed to follow this judgement.
Additionally, moviegoers in Hyderabad and Secunderabad can now carry their own water bottles or water bottles purchased from outside the theatre if they want.
The compliance time given by the Court to all cinema theatres is 40 days from the date issue of the order, i.e., 14 May 2017.
The Logical Indian community acknowledges the judgement of the Hyderabad District Consumer Forum and we hope that more people come forward as Vijay Gopal did to fight against unfair trade practices.