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Troubled with Spam SMS or Calls? Do Not Disturb, TRAI is Sleeping!
In September 2011, Pranab Mukherjee, when he was the finance minister, made the lethargic Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issue a notification to curb unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) or spam calls and SMS. Unfortunately, the ordinary mobile subscriber has no respite from the spate of unwanted commercial calls and SMS messages bombarding her everyday despite being registered on the national do not call (NDNC) registry. 
 
The TRAI released consultation papers and then launched a mobile app called DND (do not disturb) to report unwanted SMS or call. But without any real time monitoring or strict action against violators - which include top insurers, lenders, telecom operators and credit card issuers, this menace continues, leaving mobile subscribers searching for a respite. 
 
In addition, unlike other regulators like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) or Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), the telecom regulator seems unconcerned about customer issues and has no formal mechanism for grievance redress or filing complaints.
 
TRAI does not take any cognizance of individual complaints from telecom subscribers. The TRAI portal under its telecom consumer complaints monitoring system, says, “TRAI Act, 1997 does not envisage handling of individual consumer complaints by TRAI. Consumers are advised to take up their complaints with their respective service providers. Complaints, if any, received in TRAI are forwarded to the service providers. No follow up action is taken by TRAI on individual complaint(s).”
 
When the regulator is not responsible for addressing consumers grievances, there are no prizes for guessing how complaints are treated. A majority of complaints are discarded without much action or on flimsy grounds, especially those against telemarketers or the telecom service providers. 
 
According to the telecom regulator, as on May 2018, there were 23 crore mobile subscribers registered with the DND registry. 
 
Last heard, TRAI and its chairman RS Sharma were coercing Apple Inc to allow access to call and SMS details for its DND 2.0 mobile app on iPhones in India.  
 
The app DND 2.0 works well for Android based devices. In my previous article, I had examined the first version of the DND app. The new version is much better in terms of ease of use and functions. Unfortunately, an app is not a regulator and can only act as a facilitator by forwarding details of spam calls and SMSs to the central registry number 1909 in a specified format.  
 
I am also regular complainant about unwanted SMS and calls. I had opted for full or zero DNC category (which means no telemarketing SMS/call). However, except in few cases, where the number of the caller or SMS sender is available, and thus can be disconnected, there is hardly any action against the telemarketers or spammers reported on the app.
 
 
This is especially true for spammers who use codes (XX-XXXXXX) to send bulk text messages; they are evidently protected through various means. For example, one astrologer was spamming me with SMSes using ‘BW ASTROL’ as header. When I filed complaint through the DND app, after a few days, the status showed 'incomplete/incorrect info'! 
 
Many spammers are shielded by the telcos themselves as these are paid services. For example, I used to receive several SMS from a portal  selling old items, with a header of ‘IM-Selold’. When I complained, I was told this was a 'service SMS/call'!  
 
Interestingly, the header ‘IM’ stands for Idea from Mumbai circle, my service provider. So no guess how the spammer could have received my mobile number and got away from the crime with a label of 'service SMS/call'. As per TRAI regulations, first letter in the header of the SMS denotes name of operator followed by area or region. (For more check this page from NDNC.in)
 
Out of my 30 complaints about the Idea number filed through the DND app, there was action only against four. This too was because these four were mobile numbers and were disconnected after my complaint. On my Jio connection, I had filed 15 complaints, and there was action against one number only. 
 
In both cases, there was no action against any telemarketer, who had used bulk SMS services. This means telemarketers, who sent SMS through any telco are shielded by the same or other telco from where the message originated. 
 
Check the SMS below that was sent by a telemarketer. 
 
 
However, instead of taking any action, I was told this was a service SMS/ call! 
 
 
I am wondering which service provider offers to book a spacious flat for Rs2.5 crore. This is a clear marketing messge soliciting business, however, Idea Cellular, Vodafone (I received the SMS on this number as well) and TRAI (yes, ultimately the buck stops with the regulator) think otherwise.  
 
 
This action taken message was sent by Vodafone. It mentions ‘no action has been taken by HFCL’. This HFCL is Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd, which had won 4G licences in almost every telecom circle. As per TRAI, there are 175 telecom service providers, but HFCL does not feature in the list. I even checked the list of registered telemarketers. There are 8,638 registered telemarkers as per the national do not call registry portal but again HFCL is not there in the list. So the large question remains, who is HFCL and how it was supposed to take action on my complaint?
 
In the above cases, the operator is Idea Cellular, which recently was merged with Vodafone. Hope, they will at least try to match with DNC handling efficiency of Vodafone (it is not the best, but still much better compared with others).
 
On handling DNC complaints, less said is better for Reliance Jio. It directly tells that the spammer is not a telemarketer or the CDR (communication detail record) does not match or the subscriber only has opted for this preference or service call/SMS. 
 
What I found through my UCC complaints and attempted resolutions is that Lodha, one of the biggest name in building and construction is not a telemarketer and hence all SMSes (spams text messages) sent by them should be considered as ‘gift’. In case of another spammer, ‘Radius’ builders and developer, I was told this was my opted preference on a zero DNC number!
 
 
As I mentioned earlier, I have opted for zero DNC, which means telemarketers should not send me any SMS or make any calls on my number. However, it does not happen. Despite the zero DNC, I continue to receive spam SMS and calls.  
 
 
Another reason, why there is no action against spammers is non-availability of records. This is absurd, but yet most of the times used by telcos. For example, Vodafone have a funny way to handle DNC complaints. When you file a complaint (by sending an SMS to 1909 in this format: the unsolicited commercial communication, XXXXXXXXXX, dd/mm/yy), you will immediately receive an SMS providing complaint number. What follows is really funny. The customer care executive will call you and ask to provide all the details, which you had already shared through the SMS. What is weird, is many a times when I complained through Twitter, Vodafone told me that they could not reach me. This too when I was in our office in well-located and connected place like Dadar! But maybe they are admitting their poor coverage or network signal in this area.
 
Is there any solution for getting rid of telemarketing SMS or calls? Unfortunately, nothing within the ambit of TRAI or its rules and regulations. Few years ago, one mobile subscriber had won a compensation of Rs3 lakh from Airtel after filing case in the Maharashtra State Consumer Commission. Shashikant Ganga, a Mumbai-based lawyer had filed complaint about receiving text messages despite having opted for do not disturb (DND) facility. After hearing both the parties, the State Commission had awarded Rs3 lakh to Ganga and asked Airtel to pay this amount within 60 days, says a report from Times of India
 
But then how many subscribers will approach the consumer courts? This means, TRAI has to pull its socks and help mobile subscribers get rid of unwanted commercial communication or spam SMS and telemarketing calls. The regulator can do this by imposing heavy penalty on telemarketers as well as both the operators, sender and recipient for failing to filter spam messages or calls.
  
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User

COMMENTS

BR

2 weeks ago

SMS sent through Service Giver can be stopped by DND service. SMS sent directly to cellph nos by people or advertisers who got other users' cellphone nos by any means Iike through friends, correspondence for any purpose, calls made to others from those nos) , can send to those nos even if DND Service is active. DND service is active for some weeks. It must be reactivated to continue to stop SMS through the advtg system.

Mahesh S Bhatt

3 weeks ago

Why are we complaining on additional revenue streams of Telcos when TRAI has washed off its hands on primary State Responsibility of Quality of Calls in Rs 584 bill ie 58400crores between 5 operators predominantly Idea/Voda/Reliance/Bharti & (BSNL/MTNL) for 110 crores subcribers the mecanism.

ie per Operator per Year Revenues Rs 11680 cr taking 5 major operators.

Complaint the Service Provider nicely worded Customer Care but NO ONE CARES eg Vodafone
As per website & personally experienced:

Vodafone Nodal Officer Mumbai
Office of the Vodafone Nodal Officer Mumbai is located at 2Nd Floor, Skyline Icon, 86 / 92, Andheri Kurla Road, Marol Naka, Near Mittal Industrial Estate, Andheri East, Mumbai, Pin Code 400059. You can contact Mumbai Nodal Officer with the unique complaint number (docket number) on 982-001-5032 from Monday to Friday, between 9:30 AM and 6:00 PM. The docket number is generated when you register your complaint by calling Vodafone Customer Care Number Mumbai on +919820098200 / 199 / 198 or registering online through www.vodafone.in. Alternately subscribers who would like to send written complaints can also do so by sending e-mail at nodal [dot] mum [at] vodafone [dot] com or faxing their complaints to +91-226-666-1200.

Appellate Authority Mumbai
Office of the Vodafone Appellate Authority Mumbai is located at 2Nd Floor, Skyline Icon, 86 / 92, Andheri Kurla Road, Marol Naka, Near Mittal Industrial Estate, Andheri East, Mumbai, Pin Code 400059. If Vodafone India Limited subscribers want to appeal further, they can do so by appealing to Appellate Authority with their unique complaint number (docket number) by calling on +91-982-001-5713 from Monday to Friday, between 9:30 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. or by sending e-mail at appellate [dot] mum [at] vodafone [dot] com or faxing their complaints to +91-226-666-1200.

Vodafone India Limited
Postal Address: Appellate Authority, Vodafone India Limited, 2Nd Floor, Skyline Icon, 86 / 92, Andheri Kurla Road, Marol Naka, Near Mittal Industrial Estate, Andheri East
Pincode: 400059
Mumbai, Maharashtra
Phone Number: +91-9820015713
Fax Number: +91-2266661200
E-mail Address: appellate [dot] mum [at] vodafone [dot] com

Means the appellate also is on Vodafone server & nocomplaint factually reaches TRAI or DOT technically.

God also cannot bless Mahesh Bhatt

Harish

3 weeks ago

Cheap telemarketers, cheaper telcos, cheapest trai.

B. KRISHNAN

4 weeks ago

TRAI is only interested in protecting telecom companies interests, because they stand to gain by the business offered by telemarketers. TRAI have a vested interest here: they want to earn more and more money thru auctions of spectrum and this is possible only if the telecom companies in turn earn more profit - let the interest of the poor consumer be damned!

Aditya G

4 weeks ago

I follow the old & time-tested rule: do not answer any call from a number that is not in your phone book. It works for me.

I don't think TRAI has the intent, infrastructure, or bandwidth to combat spam or calls. Machine learning is probably the only way to combat it. And the best solution for this is to develop an ML algorithm inside the handset itself. But it's expensive AF.

REPLY

Tarun Goel

In Reply to Aditya G 4 weeks ago

I have the Same Experience. Though there is a Good Action taken on Telephonic Call from 10-digit number. But there is ZERO action on the Marketing SMS i.e. Example "AD-GiriJi" or IM-VOUCHR" etc.. My experience with reporting to Airtel is same as you.

Additionally I have observed,
(1) Time Delay is Increased for the OTP.
(2) Many times OTP is not received. - Banks Do blame DND for this.
(3) Many important Service SMS are blocked.

My understanding is, Instead of Penalizing the SPAM Marketing company, and imposing fine/disconnecting the connection. Airtel is Filtering the SMS, which increase the Time Delay for SMS Delivery, and Some of the SMS are being filtered.

One more issue is, some of the Banks are making many calls and they claim to be service calls, while their intention is to sell insurance.

Surendra Babu Matavalam

In Reply to Tarun Goel 4 weeks ago

I see this filtering even in Jio. Airtel is much better compared to Jio in handling DND complaints. Out of around 10 complaints in Jio, none of them is blocked. I just stopped complaining now.

God Save Us From the Govt-Owned ‘Service’ Providers Like the Post Office and BSNL
To my night prayers for good health and peace, I am adding a new prayer, to “save us from our ‘service providers’.” Whether it is the municipal corporation, water supply, electricity undertaking or telecom services, most of the government service providers harass citizens with their inefficiency, unaccountability, and one-sided rules that protect them, not the users for whom they exist.
 
For donkey’s years, I have been paying my telephone bill at the post office (PO) across the road, because it is convenient. I have a post office savings account, and the bill amount gets deducted automatically and quickly.
 
This month, the PO refused to accept my payment, saying they are no longer authorised to do so. Checking with the supervisor brought the brusque reply that this change in rules is printed on the bill. I went home and checked the small print in the four-page bill document. It gives instructions for payment at post offices. So what is going on?
 
I sent a complaint to the general manager of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), the telephone services provider. Two days later comes the reply by email, “You can pay through bank instruction.”
 
Ah yes, I know. I opted for electronic clearing services (ECS) payment some years ago, and had the horror of being billed Rs700 extra for a modem that I never ordered or received.
 
Getting the charges reverses involved running around from one exchange to another for seven months; that taught me a lesson, and I now prefer to receive a monthly bill, check it, and pay at the PO.  
 
The GM’s response offers no clarification on whether post offices are now barred from accepting payment. This is like the infamous French queen who said, “Let them eat cake” when informed that the poor people had no bread to eat. 
 
Instead of having my grievance addressed, why should I opt for ECS when I have had a bad experience with that option?
 
This same BSNL also sends out bills dated 6th of each month, but the bills reach the customer only by 22nd or 23rd,  the last date for payment.  No one asks why a local letter takes two weeks to be delivered. 
 
So twice during this year, after waiting for the bill, I asked a friend to pay at the Bangalore One kiosk near her house, without a bill (I was undergoing hospital treatment, and could not go myself). 
 
The bill also says, ‘Non-receipt of bill is no reason for non-payment”. 
 
Many years ago, I had contested this clause and written in my consumer column about such ‘one-sided’ rules that government services impose. Why is it that the department observes no accountability, and puts the onus of regular payments on the user? Without a bill, my advance payments at Bangalore One kiosk had to be on a rough estimate, so I was paying more than the actual bill. Why? What kind of ‘service’ is this?
 
I had sued a private telecom service provider under the Consumer Protection Act and received compensation as well as strictures from the magistrate against the company, for harassing customers. 
 
As a senior citizen undergoing treatment, even filing cases under the CPA becomes difficult. So what does one do? “Eat cake, if there is no bread?’ (The insolent queen was beheaded for this statement; our government staff, however, goes scot-free.) 
 
The receipts for electricity and water bill payments are printed on thermal paper that fades and goes blank after some weeks. In case of problems, the ‘blank’ receipt is no use. 
 
Service providers often claim “arrears” and slap penalties, so one has to preserve proof of payment, to protect oneself. 
 
Given the slothful state of even our consumer courts, how many citizens can afford the time and expense of making trips to courts for months, even years, to claim a refund of a paltry amount? 
 
We cannot do without ‘services’ like electricity and water, which are monopolies. In the process of paying this BSNL bill, I have had to tear up the PO account cheque and write another for the Bangalore One payment, when a charge is collected for the wasted leaf. What a shoddy state of affairs!
 
It is the same with most government ‘services’ – government clinics and hospitals are so woefully inefficient that even the poor prefer to go to private hospitals, even though they cannot afford it. 
 
As for government schools, the less said the better; children enrolled in class nine cannot even subtract properly; they merely copy what the teacher writes on the blackboard, without understanding. And the ‘no detention’ policy ensures that they come to high school without even basic literacy.  I have already written about the state of public sector banks, which now have non-performing assets (NPAs) running in to obscene figures. (Read: Banks, the (Dis) Service Providers
 
One aggrieved citizen, or even a handful, complaining about poor quality of services, gets us nowhere. We need massive mobilisation of users of telephones, water, electricity, banks and schools, to voice their concern, in large numbers, to get attention. Till that happens, all one can do is pray -- to ‘save us from dis-service providers’
 
P.S. As I write, I have an update from the GM saying that it is the “post office that is not accepting payment”, so BSNL is not at fault. So where does a citizen turn, tossed between government owned two ‘service providers’?
 
(Dr Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Bengaluru-based senior journalist, writer, musician and consumer activist. She is a renowned senior vocalist in both traditions of Indian classical music - Hindustani and Carnatic, an A-graded artiste of All India Radio in both traditions. She is also a musicologist and author, and has written a book on the Rampur gharana.) 
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User

COMMENTS

Harish

3 weeks ago

Please dump BSNL

Thaijwel Akkara

4 weeks ago

Except for the Passport Seva Services all other Govt services are pathetic.... unfortunately citizens have no choices if there are no privatized options.

Prakash Patel

1 month ago

The writer has tremendous patience and perseverance. Wherever we have choices, must opt for the better. What is the need in wasting time with BSNL, opt for another one. These government organizations are beyond repair. They are surviving only on taxpayers money, otherwise, they would have long been dead.

TIHARwale

1 month ago

when it comes to service providers Government or Private all are same. recently Jet has cancelled some of its flight for December 18. Jet SMSed the passenger. when flight is cancelled why Jet automatically send the refund to customer account if booked directly and to online travel portal if booked thro online travel portal and SMS/email to passenger of having refunded the ticket cost in full. when Chidambaram ticket was involved and news came in media in less than 24 hours airlines/online travel portal refunded the ticket cost in full.

Balajee K.S

1 month ago

It happens like that..in BSNL or PO or Insurance or Transport or any for that matter in State/Central Govt depts/offices. It is very difficult to get things done in Govt depts., unless you go within the stipulated time. Whenever go to HPO you see, one counter is operating among 6/8 counters available with personnel sitting there inside doing some calculation or tampering with mobile or reading weekly magazine or some times there is not even a person in the entire department and is empty but the 'CLOSED' board is hanging or blocking the counter and that too in that one counter a long serpentine queue is waiting and running even outside the PO.. I suggest that the public should slowly avoid.. and choose some other alternative ways..

Debo C

1 month ago

BSNL bills can be paid online or thru mobile App of many banks and BSNL. Bill can be viewed on BSNL Mobile App. so what is the issue? should we not upgrade ourselves with time? Or wallow in self piety that senior citizens cannot use mobile or internet services?

Ashok ashok

1 month ago

In india i think majority of indians at some point of time would have also had similar problems dealing with PO or BSNL.Since they are govt servants they do not have any accountability and go scot free.Govt has to think of improving the services which they provide which are very bad or even atrocious.

Anand Vaidya

1 month ago

Why don't you exit as many Gov services as possible? Afterall, Airtel has much better service (though not perfect) all bills can be paid online (web/mobile). Even mobile broadband is cheaper/convenient/better

I don't see any reason for gov companies/dept to improve unless Mr. Lee Kuan Yew reincarnates in India and takes over as PM.

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