Aggregators can't wash hands off truant 'delivery partners': Legal experts
By Supriya Ramesh
New Delhi, March 19 : In February this year, Delhi's Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission issued a notice to delivery company Dunzo for alleged sexual harassment by its delivery partner, who showed up drunk at a womans address at midnight and later even threatened her over WhatsApp to withdrew her complaint.
The bench of Raj Kumar Chauhan and Dr Rajendra Dhar issued a notice to Dunzo following a complaint seeking Rs 50 lakh damages for negligent hiring and alleged sexual harassment by a delivery partner.
The complainant Rahella Khan was represented by lawyers Abhishek Yadav and Ankita Wadhwa.
In her complaint, Khan had stated that she had placed an order and a Dunzo delivery partner had showed up in a drunk condition at her address at midnight and abused her. After two days, he sent her a text message asking her to withdraw her complaint.
Khan also alleged that the man then harassed her and sent her murder and rape threats. He even used extremely profane language. The man even sent her photo of some girls which he claimed to have murdered while warning her that she would be next.
The complainant had even sent a legal notice to Dunzo, who in response, blamed her for contacting the delivery partner directly.
Not getting any response or action from Dunzo, Khan had filed a police complaint on which an FIR was also registered.
"Such behaviour amounts to 'deficiency in service' and amounts to a 'consumer dispute' under the Consumer Protection Act, which was rightly raised before an appropriate Consumer Commission," Gurmeet Nehra, legal scholar and Member, Supreme Court Bar Association, said.
"This is welcome decision coming from Delhi State Consumer Dispute Resolution Commission to award damages of Rs 50 lakh to meet the mental agony and deficiency in services."
This is not the first case. In January this year, a three-member bench of Dr Rajender Dhar, Ritu Garudia, and Raj Kumar Chauhan of a District Consumer Forum in Delhi had issued notice to Zomato on a complaint alleging sexual harassment by company's delivery partner.
The complainant, in her plea, stated that she had suffered enormous trauma in the form of sexual assault, physical harassment, and mental and emotional breakdown as a result of grave misconduct by the delivery agent hired by Zomato without a background check.
"Despite the complaints by the complainant, no efforts whatsoever were made to reach out to the complainant or provide the complainant with any resolution or help," the plea added.
"It takes a lot of courage for the victims of sexual assault to come forward and report the incidence and since Zomato categorically asked to follow up and get back twice the Complainant waited but no heed was ever given," the plea read.
The plea further stated that the chat window was closed by displaying the issue as 'resolved' to create a worrying situation. It was also stated that Zomato's inaction and willful default towards the complainant, is liable to compensate for the deficiency in services, harassment, time wastage, mental agony, litigation expenses, and immense suffering caused.
According to the plea, the details of the delivery agent provided on the Zomato app and the actual agent who arrived to deliver the food differed. This was discovered later, and no photo was uploaded to the app, which could have aided in the identification of the accused, the complainant stated.
"Sending threatful text messages to the victim who is consumer of their services is a criminal offence under Indian Penal Code. State has rightly lodged FIR and should promptly initiate criminal proceedings against the culprit who intimidates the victim with death and rape threats," Nehra said.
Furthermore, the plea stated that after receiving a call from the investigation officer requesting the identification of the delivery agent, the complainant went to the Police Station to do the same and identified the delivery boy. Thereafter, the delivery executive admitted to using his brother's Zomato account to make all of the deliveries, the plea alleged.
The complainant, represented by advocates Pragya Parijat Singh, Harshita, and Shivank, moved the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in Delhi (Mehrauli), seeking compensation of Rs 20,00,000 for the agony, trauma, and harassment, both physical and mental, she endured.
Nehra further said: "A crime is an offence against the society and such culprits not only brings bad name to the company but they are threat to peaceful living and law-abiding citizens, specially women and children who are vulnerable sections of society. Such mental agony suffered can not be compensated in terms of money. If no timely action is taken this time against such accused then in future such people can pose serious threat to others."
The complainant has also sought an unconditional and unqualified apology, by way of writing a letter and acknowledging the omissions on the parts of the opposite parties. Additionally, she has sought direction to them to pay the cost of litigation.
Stricter laws are surely needed but companies should also make sure they follow proper guidelines while hiring employees, say experts.
"There is a concept called master-servant liability. Master-servant liability extends as much as the work. If the servant is doing some work told by the master, during working hours, then the master is liable. But on the other hand, if the intentions were only of the servant's, that person would be liable for criminal activity and not the company till the time it's proven that the company was also playing a part in the conspiracy," Rishabh Raj, a Supreme Court advocate, said.
Raj added: "In the coming era of gig economy and the rise of many delivery companies, there is a need for a law which states exactly who would be liable for such activities. Are we having a character clearance certificate, police verification of the person whom we are hiring, or even their criminal background data and previous job profile. There should be some guidelines made by the government so that these mobile-based delivery companies should be following to verify this person even if they are working for a short term."