Rs 2 Crore Compensation For Bad Haircut Excessive : Supreme Court Asks NCDRC To Decide Model's Claim Afresh
The Supreme Court on February 7 set aside an order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission(NCDRC) awarding compensation of Rs. 2 crores awarded to a lady model for a bad haircut and poor hair treatment she underwent at a 5-star Hotel in Delhi.
While remitting the matter back to the NCDRC for fresh determination of the compensation amount, a Division Bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Vikram Nath observed that the determination should be based on evidence and not based solely on the Respondent consumer's claims.
"The NCDRC discussed regarding the importance of hair in a woman’s life and also that it could be an asset for building a career in modelling and advertising industry but then quantification of compensation has to be based upon material evidence and not on the mere asking".
Aashna Roy, the respondent visited the Salon of Hotel ITC Maurya on April 12, 2018. As her regular hairdresser/stylist wasn't available, she availed the services of another stylist, though she wasn't happy with her services on prior occasions. She went ahead with the new stylist on the assurance from the manager that the latter had improved by a great deal.
This was Roy's instruction regarding her haircut - “long flicks/layers covering her face in the front and at the back and 4-inch straight hair trim from the bottom". After an hour, when questioned, the hairdresser said she was giving her "the London Haircut".
Roy was in “utter shock” when she saw that the stylist had “chopped off her entire hair leaving only 4 inches from the top and barely touching to her shoulders”, quite contrary to her instructions. This, she said, caused great humiliation and embarrassment, and her career in the world of modelling "was completely shattered". Owing to this, she went into a state of depression.
Subsequently, the hotel made an offer to do hair treatment free of cost—Roy agreed after a lot of persuasions. On May 3, 2018, Roy went to the salon for this purpose. She was informed that an in-house hairdresser would do the treatment under the supervision of her regular stylist. The hotel staff convinced her that the in-house stylist was good and well-trained, prompting Roy to oblige.
However, during the treatment, she said her hair and scalp were completely damaged with excess ammonia and consequently, there was a lot of irritation.
According to Roy, the hairdresser had scratched and cut her scalp with nails on the pretext of massaging the scalp to open the hair cuticles.
She also claimed that her scalp was burnt after an ammonia-laden cream was applied to it. A hair spray was then provided which provided her a temporary respite. Post the treatment, she alleged her hair turned “hard and rough” and her scalp was feeling irritated. She flagged this issue with the hotel staff but they were “abusive, rude and disrespectful” and she was threatened from visiting the salon again.
Roy stated that she even approached ITC Hotel Group's management but her efforts were futile. Left with no other choice, she moved the NCDRC on the ground of deficiency in service against the Salon and sought a written apology from ITC Management along with a compensation of Rs. 3 crores for alleged harassment, humiliation, and mental trauma.
The NCDRC awarded her ₹2 crores in September, 2021 holding that owing to the haircut against Roy’s instructions, she lost her prospective assignments and suffered a huge loss that completely changed her lifestyle and “shattered her dream to be a top model”.
"Thereafter, it (NCDRC) refers to the importance of hair in the life of women and also the emotions and sentiments attached to it. The NCDRC further records that the respondent was a model for hair products and because of her long hair she had been a model for VLCC and Pantene".
Supreme Court's analysis
The Supreme Court, first stated that the question as to whether service was deficient or not, was looked into by the NCDRC and it, therefore, did not wish to go into that question.
The next question was - what would be appropriate compensation for the said deficiency? "From a perusal of the impugned order of the NCDRC we do not find reference to or discussion on any material evidence to quantify the compensation", the Bench noted.
Therefore, the respondent was posed with a series of questions about her modeling assignments and her then job before she visited the salon in 2018. She was unable to point to such records, noted the Court.
In its absence, it would be difficult to quantify or assess the compensation under the said head but only under pain and suffering. Even then, the amount of Rs. 2 crores would be excessive and disproportionate, said the Bench.
"What could be quantified was compensation under the head of pain, suffering, and trauma. However, an amount of Rs. 2 Crores would be extremely excessive and disproportionate. This Court, therefore, is of the view that the NCDRC fell in error by awarding compensation to the tune of Rs.2 crores without there being any material to substantiate and support the same or which could have helped the NCDRC to quantify the compensation".
In its order, the Bench stated that Roy had refused to use the assistance of any counsel, though legal aid was offered, which may have prevented her from realizing how to substantiate her claims towards the compensation sought. Senior Advocates KV Viswanathan and Debal Kumar Banerji represented ITC Limited.
“In view of the above, we are left with no option but to set aside the order of NCDRC awarding Rs.2 crores as compensation for loss of income, mental breakdown and trauma and pain and suffering”, the Court ordered while directing the Supreme Court Registry to remit the matter to the NCDRC along with the Rs. 25 lahks deposited by ITC at the time of issuing notice in the appeal.
The bench directed that the NCDRC should decide the compensation amount after allowing Roy to lead evidence.
"In the facts of the case, we are of the view that the respondent if she has material to substantiate her claim may be given an opportunity to produce the same. Once deficiency in service is proved then the respondent is entitled to be suitably compensated under different heads admissible under law. Question is on what basis and how much. Let this quantification be left to the wisdom of the NCDRC based upon material if any that may be placed before it by the respondent."
Case Title: ITC Limited vs Aashna Roy | Civil Appeal No. 6391 OF 2021
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 87
For Appellant(s) Mr. L.K. Bhushan, Adv. Ms. Raashi Beri, Adv. For M/s. Dua Associates
For Respondent(s) Respondent-in-person
Consumer Protection Act 1986 - Supreme Court terms Rs 2 crores compensation awarded by the NCDRC for a bad hair-cut suffered by a model at a 5-star hotel saloon as excessive and disproportionate-quantification of compensation has to be based upon material evidence and not on the mere asking - para 13, 15