Kochi: Shopping malls have emerged as a kind of new public sphere in a consumer society which takes pride in purchasing of goods and services as an end in itself. Normally, mundane things such as consumer rights need not be an issue at avenues of such 24/7 hedonism.
So it was a surprise when a petition came up in a consumer forum in Ernakulam on malls charging parking fee from customers visiting the new avatars of worship.
If the collection of parking fee by shopping malls and other business establishments is legal or not is a much-debated issue.
Most shopping malls across the state levy parking charges from the consumers and some are even charging `60 for an hour. As per the Consumer Protection Act 1986, the alleged collection of parking fee is a ‘restrictive’ act.
The parking space provided in the non-commercial area as a condition precedent for availing the services of the entire mall is 'restrictive' in nature as per the provision of the Consumer Protection Act.
The “restrictive trade practice” means a trade practice which tends to bring about manipulation, of price, or its conditions of delivery, or to affect the flow of supplies in the market relating to goods or services in such a manner as to impose on the consumers unjustified costs or restrictions.
The Act also stipulates that a trade practice which requires a consumer to buy, hire or avail of any goods or, as the case may be, services as a condition precedent to buying, hiring, or availing of other goods or services.
As per the sanctioned plan issued by the local self-government authority concerned, the area reserved for parking cannot be put to commercial use in any manner, and that such collection of parking fee is a commercial activity, done without obtaining the required permission from the local authority.
When the layout plan of malls and hospitals were approved by the local authority, the portions earmarked for parking would not be included in the floor area ratio which implies that the opposite party cannot charge for providing a parking facility for the customers of the various shops situated in the mall.
Various court orders suggest that parking facility is a free service to be provided by the respective shop owners to their consumers who use the shopping mall.
In most cases shopping malls, textile and other shops are using basement area for parking.
Though in many countries parking in basement area is considered cheap, in Kerala consumers are forced to shell out a big amount of money for basement parking.
When the local body clears the building plan for malls, hospitals and other commercial establishments, the basement is not considered as a commercial area. The mall may, therefore, operate such places as free parking space or charge only as per the rates allowed by the municipality.
Recently, Ernakulam Consumer Redressal Forum had asked a leading shopping mall in Kochi to deposit the parking fee being collected by them within the space allotted as parking space in the approved plan by the civic body.
According to K. P. Pradeep, a high court lawyer, shopping malls are collecting parking fee in an illegal manner. “They are bound to obey the rules especially the Kerala Municipality Building Rules, 1999. However, most of the malls are charging fee for allowing the consumers to use the space,” he said....