Non-refund of prepaid food card balance and hiking food prices in malls and multiplexes need attention

When senior citizen Nagaraj went with his grandchildren to one of the recently set up malls in the city, little did he expect he would be forced to visit it again. At the mall's food court, Nagaraj used a prepaid card for food purchase. After dining, he returned the card and asked for a refund of the balance of Rs. 80. However, he was in for a surprise when the cashier refused the refund and told him that as per the management's policy, the balance would have to be used during his next visit. Nagaraj's arguments that he had no plans to visit the mall in the near future and that it was unethical on their part to retain his money fell on deaf ears.

Irked, Nagaraj sought our guidance and wrote to the people concerned demanding that they refund the money along with interest. He also asked them to compensate him for the unwarranted mental suffering he went through and sought an end to such iniquitous practices.

In addition to being unfair, the practice is also restrictive. It impedes upon others' businesses, and the consumers are denied the right of having food at a restaurant of their choice and are more or less compelled to visit the same place if there's a balance in the prepaid card, or stand to lose it.

While on the topic of malls, one other associated subject is that of the cinema hall. Watching movies in theatres is incomplete without popcorns, ice creams and so on. However, with the advent of multiplexes in the city, these simple snacks have become a costly affair. There appears to be no rationale behind the prices fixed for food items sold in the mall or multiplex premises; they are mostly three or four times more than the price of the same item sold outside or the MRP.

Also, most theatres have notices that say ‘Outside food not allowed'. Audiences are not allowed to carry their own eatables inside the cinema halls. They have no option but to buy over-priced food from the stalls in the theatre. It is unfortunate that watching a movie has become an extravagance today, particularly for the middle and lower classes, thanks to increased ticket prices and the steep hike in food and parking charges.

It is time the authorities concerned took stringent action to ensure the public is not exploited.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)