The Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Kozhikode, has declared ‘illegal’ the practice of newspaper agents collecting service charges from subscribers for door delivery of newspapers without the prior permission or consent of the printer and publisher.

“Agents simply giving receipt for service charge of a particular newspaper without the permission or consent of the printer and publisher of the newspaper will affect all other newspapers also, so it is a fit case to stop the taking of service charge by the agent himself without the prior permission of the printer and publisher of the daily morning newspaper,” a two-member bench led by forum president G. Yadunadhan held in a written order pronounced on July 19, 2013.

The order has been published recently on the centralised website, which covers all the decisions of consumer forums and commissions across the country.

The case deals with a complaint filed two years ago by a subscriber, Valsan Nellikott, a resident of Kozhikode, against the authorised agent and managing editor of the Malayalam daily, Mathrubhumi, for having to pay Rs. 10 as service charges.

In the order authored by Mr. Yadunadhan, the forum held the demand of the service charge illegal. It ordered the newspaper agent to refund the subscriber a sum of Rs. 10 along with a compensation of Rs. 2,000.

It has also directed Mathrubhumi’s managing director, P.V. Chandran, to ‘monitor’ hereinafter any demands or payments of extra charges by agents at ‘any point of time.’ The forum also ordered the managing director to take “appropriate action against the so-called authorised agent”.

The forum held that the agent should approach the newspaper management concerned for ‘benefits,’ instead of asking the subscriber to pay up “service charge arbitrarily”.

“The actual amount shown on the newspaper itself includes commission of the agent. So the act of the opposite party is deficiency of service and unfair trade practice,” the consumer forum observed.

Lat year, newspaper agents had gone on a stir seeking hike in service charges. The strike had gone on for over a month.

The order records Mr. Nellikott’s argument before it that the agent’s act was highly improper and not acceptable. He claimed to have suffered “mental agony and huge monetary loss” owing to the demand of Rs. 10 as service charge.

The agent, V. Baby, sought the forum to dismiss the case. Mr. Baby argued that neither the daily nor the agent has any responsibility to deliver the paper at the subscriber’s doorsteps.

“Agents pay the cost of the paper in advance to Mathrubhumi as is done now. The agents appoint personnel to deliver the paper at the doorsteps of persons who request the same to do so and for that these agents are bound to receive service charges. The service charge is highly necessary for door delivery of the paper. The service charges being collected is just Rs.10. There is no exploitation,” the agent argued in his version to the forum.

In his plea, Mr. Chandran denied any deficiency in service. He called Mr. Nellikott’s complaint “misconceived, ill-advised and ill-motivated”. He said special contractual terms cover the relationship between the agent and the newspaper. “Recently some groups of newspaper agents of different newspapers had raised demands including right to collect service charges for effecting door delivery,” the order records Mr. Chandran’s version.

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