Could someone well-versed with the legal practices in India please read the following and advise?
My mother used the services of a local courier agent who is known in the neighbourhood for his affiliation with a number of courier companies and whose services are used frequently by people, including my family in the past, to send a parcel containing clothing items, children's toys, dry snacks and dry sweets at my address in the United Kingdom. It must be said that the food items were confirmed by the courier agent to be among the type of goods that are allowed entry to the UK. The items were packed and the invoice made in the presence of my mother, after which she was sent away with the assurance that the tracking number would be given to her by phone later. Having used their services for a couple of times in the past my mother had no reason to disbelieve them. Thus, apart from the invoice stating the money she paid for the services she was in possession of no document confirming the weight or contents of the shipment. When the parcel ultimately arrived, the original packaging, which was inside a new envelope, seemed to have been badly tampered with. Upon opening I found no evidence of any food items and what seemed even more shocking was the presence of a contents-declaration document containing a forged signature of my mother stating none of the lost items in it. Furthermore, the weight of the shipment as indicated on the airway bill on the parcel was 1.3 kilos whereas it weighed 3.1 kilos at origin, for which my mother was charged.
The nature of my complaint is two-fold - one one hand I want fair compensation reflecting the loss of contents, refund of difference in tariff based on the discrepancy of weight, related expenses such as international and local phone calls made to the agent regarding this matter, as well as photocopying and scanning of documents supplied to the agent as evidence, and mental and physical distress and harassment caused to my ailing mother, a recovering patient of breast cancer in very frail health, while, on the other, I want strictest penalty commensurate with the crime for the perpetrator who forged my mother's signature, because its implication goes far beyond the purview of this case. I am aghast to think of the grave possibilities of such forgery, especially with regards to trafficking of illegal substances, and the severe legal implications for a completely innocent customer embroiled in the ensuing dispute.
I brought the issue immediately to the attention of DHL Express India's Senior Vice-President and Managing Director and Vice-President of Customer Service by using the email forms on their website. On the following morning I called the agents, who denied to even speculate what may have gone wrong, at which, I asked them to provide to my mother all the proof they had of accepting the parcel at its origin, i.e., at their location. I offered to send them the scanned copy of the airway bill on the parcel indicating the weight discrepancy, in case they wanted to follow up the matter. Meanwhile DHL e-mailed me stating that though the agents used were affiliated to DTDC, DHL is looking into the matter. When my mother visited the agents to collect the agreed documents, all she was given was an archived copy of the DHL airway bill, which was a duplicate of the one that was stuck on the parcel. The agents maintained that they were not in possession of any document as proof of acceptance of the shipment at origin, which we found scarcely believable. Furthermore, they presented a person who purported to represent DHL and offered 50% reimbursement of the shipment fee, which was declined by my mother. He further added that such forgery of signature is par for the course and that we should not make any big deal out of it. Coming to know that, I e-mailed DHL asking if they were officially offering that compensation amount and whether this person's account on signature forgery was the official stance of DHL. I also added at this juncture that I was prepared to wait until 14 days, which ends on 3/4/15, before filing a case at the District Consumer Forum. DHL responded by repeating that the agents were affiliated to DTDC and to my question as to why I need to care about that since from the very outset my mother's aim was to use the services of DHL, which was what she was charged for and assured of as well, they explained to me in details the DHL-DTDC alliance that was at work apparently in our case. DTDC collects the shipment and drops it at the DHL facility, where, apparently the shipment and the contents-declaration form are accepted in "good faith" as per the admission of DHL. DHL further added that they were concerned by the nature of the incident and contacted the "International Head" of DTDC for an explanation and investigation, as well as advising DTDC to work out a "fair compensation" for us. In the interim the agents called my mother to say that they have managed to successfully claim damages from DHL and are willing to pass on 1.5 kilos worth of shipment fee to her. From this point onwards, DTDC took over the communication chain, and were initially showing some intent to investigate the problem. However, the moment they realised that my mother, in her credulity, had no other document stating the weight and contents of the parcel than the invoice, they tried to capitalise on this by saying that all evidence they have points at the weight and contents of the shipment to be as indicated on the parcel that reached me. When I challenged them on a number of issues concerning their due diligence and check processes with regards to accepting parcels from random public, they backtracked and tried to distance themselves from the agent by saying branding him as a 'freelancer' who is not affiliated to DTDC in any capacity. Furthermore, DTDC's representative said he advised all DTDC and DHL centres in the locality never to accept any parcel from this 'person'. DTDC also offered to replace the lost items and send them to my address, and as a matter of courtesy proposed to collect the parcel from our address. I appreciated their gesture and said that I would get back to them with my answer within the next two days, but again I put before them a series of questions to understand the situation so that I could decide my future course of action. It was not clear to me how an independent freelancer could purport to represent DTDC and convince DHL to accept parcels in "good faith". It was also unclear to me as to how DHL and DTDC allowed a freelancer to carry out business for over 10 years in course of which their brand image, business goodwill, trademark and other intellectual and trade properties were used, and abused in cases like ours, rampantly. I also asked if I could treat DTDC's severance of ties with this 'freelancer' as an official statement which has validity in court of law, because if both DTDC and DHL maintain distance from these agents, I have to ensure that they are penalised for the crime in their independent capacity.
1) What legal action can be taken in view of the signature forgery? I consider this violation to be of immense gravity. Does the Indian law provide for stringent penalty in such cases?
2) As I am not happy with DTDC's last offer, which does not address the mental harassment and distress as well as the stated expenses incurred due to this fracas, I wish to file a case with the District Consumer Forum. Since DHL and DTDC have been busy deflecting responsibility and both of them have disowned the agent as their representative, whom do I file the case against - the agents themselves or DHL, because it is DHL's service which we intended and eventually managed to avail?
3) Any other pertinent advice?
Thanking you in advance.