The Delhi State Consumer Commission has held a global health club operator deficient in service, as it fixed timing for using treadmill to accommodate more members to make more profit and, thereafter, gagging two of its members (complainants) for raising the issue of quality by cancelling their membership.
NP Kaushik, judicial member of Delhi State Commission, held health club operator ‘Fitness First India Pvt Ltd’, Connaught Place, guilty of deficiency in service as it dismissed its appeal against the order of the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, which had directed it to pay Rs. 2 lakh to the two complainants.
“It is not the case of the OP (Fitness First) that it had prescribed any time limit for the use of any machine. Controversy arises only when the OP fixed a time limit of minute for the use of treadmill. The said limit clearly deteriorated the quality and it was a case of ‘deficiency in service’,” Kaushik said.
The commission also took note of the fact that the complainants’ memberships were cancelled for complaining against the deteriorating quality of services at the gym.
Fitness First opened its first club in England. Today, it has clubs in 16 different countries with seven clubs in India.
“OP, as referred to above, had 3,000 members in its club in Connaught Place, Delhi. It fixed the time limit so as to accommodate more and more number of members and earn more and more profits. Gagging the mouth of the complainants for raising the issue of quality is totally against the principles of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, which has been legislated with an object of protecting the interests of consumer. I am, therefore, of the considered opinion that the trial forum rightly held that OP was ‘deficient in service’ when it reduced times of the treadmill for its members,” the commission said.
The state commission also refused to interfere with the order of the district forum, which had directed the Delhi Police and the Municipal Corporation to revive the licence of the said gym on the ground that consumer courts do not have power to give such directions.
“Section 14(f) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, provides for the discontinuation of the ‘unfair trade practice’ or for restricting trade practice or not to repeat them. In other words, law does not take cognizance of only one event but goes upto avoiding repetition of any unfair trade practice. In the case of hospitals or doctors committing medical negligence, consumer courts often give directions to the Medical Council of India or such regulatory authorities to cancel the licences of erring hospitals/doctors. The plea thus raised by the Counsel for the OP/Appellant is devoid of merits,” it said.
In the instant case, complainants – an advocate and another a journalist, were members of Fitness First at Connaught Place.
In February 2010, the gym introduced a policy in its Connaught Place Club and limited the amount of time a person could spend on the treadmill to 25 minutes.
As per complainants, the treadmill was programmed to stop automatically after 25 minutes. It was ostensibly done so to control overcrowding and excessive demand of that machine. Restrictions were also placed on the facilities like steam and sauna rooms.
There were frequent breakdowns of various machines.
Members had expressed their dissatisfaction of the deteriorating services. Most of the times, water was not available in the club. Shower-rooms and toilets could not be used.
Both the complainants had similar concerns. They took it up with the gym authorities, but in vain. They then sent a legal notice on February 20, 2010, asking the club to restore services to proper condition. SMSes were sent to them giving an impression that their grievances have been addressed.
However, in May 2010, their membership was cancelled and a cheque refunding the balance of membership fee in May 2010 was enclosed with the letter of termination of membership.
They then sent another notice asking the club to restore the services. While one of the complainants received no response, the other was told that in view of their complaints about timing and quality, it was thought best by the club not to maintain business relation with them.
Both the complainants moved the district forum.
While awarding them compensation of Rs 2 lakh, the district forum also observed that the fine-print conditions relied upon by the club were unilateral. Membership could be terminated by efflux of time or in the event of complainants violating any rules and regulations of the club. It could do its business, subject to reasonable restrictions, including public laws and force.