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Consulates do not come under consumer courts
August, 16th 2012

Foreign consulates do not come under the purview of Indian consumer courts and are not liable to pay compensation to an Indian citizen for errors in visas due to which an Indian is stopped from travelling abroad.

The Goa state consumer disputes redressal commission consisting of commission president, Justice N A Britto, and member Jagdish G Prabhudesai, recently in its ruling said consulates are sovereign. The commission set aside the order of the North Goa district consumer forum which had awarded damages to a Goan man who could not travel to Portugal because the Portuguese consulate in Goa entered wrong dates in his visa.

Joao Xavier Ramos Fonseca from Salvador do Mundo and his wife had decided to go to Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal on a pilgrimage to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary on September 30, 2008. Fonseca approached the consulate general of Portugal in Goa for a Schengen visa, paid 60 equivalent to 3,923 and obtained the visa.

As Fonseca's wife was based in Doha, she obtained her visa from the embassy at Qatar. Fonseca proceeded to Doha and both were to proceed to France and Portugal via Paris on October 15, 2008. At the airport, Fonseca was stopped because his visa was stamped from October 6, 2009 to November 19, 2009 instead of October 6, 2008 to November 19, 2008.

Fonseca and his wife did not board the plane to Paris. He contacted the Portuguese consulate and requested for assistance. The consulate advised him to courier his passport so that they could rectify the mistake but Fonseca declined as he was already on foreign land and needed the passport.

Fonseca claimed that he lost the payments made towards accommodation in Rome, etc, totaling 1,07,405.80.

Fonseca's contention is that the consulate committed a gross deficiency in service. On July 28, 2010, he filed a complaint seeking to recover 1,07,405.80, compensation of 5,00,000 and 1,50,000. The consulate argued that Fonseca should have pointed out the mistake at the time of collecting the visa itself.

The North Goa district consumer forum issued an ex-parte order on January 20, 2011, in his favour. Dissatisfied with the compensation awarded, Fonseca appealed to the Goa state consumer disputes redressal commission.

Fonseca's counsel N G Kamat argued that issuing of visa is a "service" for consideration. He submitted that the mistake made by the Portuguese consulate amounts to deficiency and that the remedy can be availed under the Consumer Protection Act.

Amicus curiae Raunaq Rao submitted that the consulate do not perform commercial activity, that the grant or rejection of a visa is subject to a case-to-case basis and the same cannot qualify as rendering of any service for consideration.

He submitted that while applying for a visa a citizen does not hire the services of the authority.

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