Several crores of unclaimed and un-refunded money belonging to consumers have been lying with various Central and state government departments, undertakings, financial and banking institutions for almost 10 years, according to a petition filed in the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) by a consumer body.
Binty, a voluntary consumer protection organisation that filed the petition (Case No.OP-65/ 2003), said the money comes from overcharging consumers in sale-purchase business transactions in the form of excise duty, customs, sales of goods and services and service tax, etc.
Mr GC Mathur, convener-trustee of Binty, said the money is neither revenue from government grants and similar subsidies, nor arising out of contracts of insurance companies, or public money. Binty has been looking into imperfections and failures of the free market and in the process came across a number of unfair trade practices and failure of the authorities to protect consumers’ interests.
Mr Mathur said the organisation has also drafted and proposed a Bill to remedy the situation. The worst offenders, he said, are chemists who overcharge consumers in the name of ‘local taxes extra’ without mentioning it in cash memos. Binty has cited cases from October 1997 to March 2005 amounting to billions of rupees in the petition filed in the NCDRC.
Another source of unclaimed money, Mr Mathur said, is the “deliberate faulty implementation of Value Added Tax (VAT) Scheme”. “While the VAT Scheme specifies that VAT is chargeable on price difference ~ the difference between the purchase price and the sale price of a dealer after it is set off against the previous VAT paid ~ traders are violating it in full glare of the authorities despite numerous protests,” the Binty petition said. “Here again, billions are involved,” claimed Mr Mathur, who plans to seek judicial adjudication in the case as well.
Binty, in the course of its research, found that pharmaceutical companies overcharging consumers amounts to Rs 98 crores. The amount lying in “unclaimed deposits accounts” with the urban co-operative banks is Rs 19,294.23 lakh, while figures for State Bank of India & Associates stand at a whopping Rs 1,40,26,81,242.2. These figures relate to more than 10 years accumulation. In respect of 19 nationalised banks the figure for more than 10 years accumulation stands at Rs 6,95,47,87,668.96. The unclaimed deposits include current accounts, savings accounts, fixed deposits and other deposits. Private sector banks, Binty claimed, might also have similar un-refunded deposits with them. IDBI, HFDC & ICICI did not reveal figures, it said.
The insurance sector, life and general, is another area where consumers’ unclaimed deposits have been gathering dust. The exact figures are not yet available. However, in the case of Life Insurance Corporation, the amount quoted is more than Rs 500 crore, Mr Mathur has submitted before the court.
After an RTI enquiry in October 2006, the office of the Commissioner of Trade & Taxes, Delhi Government, informed Binty that since 1997-98 till 2006 (September)-2007 the total refundable amount stood at Rs 102.82 crore.
Binty has pleaded that since it is consumers’ money and cannot be reimbursed to individuals ~ as is the case with excise duty under Central Excise Act, 1944, creating Consumer Welfare Fund ~ it would be appropriate to deploy it in a special fund, different from the existing Consumer Welfare Fund, created in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution.