For a long time, telecom consumers needed clarity on whether they would need to go in for the lengthy process of arbitration to settle a dispute with a service provider. However, a recent judgement delivered by a consumer court makes it clear that users can go to consumer forums to settle their grievances
Telephone users may no longer need to go through the lengthy process of arbitration to settle a problem with a service provider. They can now directly approach the consumer courts. A recent judgement given by the consumer disputes redressal forum in Mumbai has upheld the maintainability of telecom cases in consumer forums, while taking into consideration the issues arising out of a recent Supreme Court judgment.
In a judgement dated 31 December 2009, SP Mahajan, president, consumer disputes redressal forum, central Mumbai district and SS Patil, member, ruled that complaints regarding telephone services can be filed before the consumer forum and need not be referred to arbitration.
“The order of the central Mumbai district forum comes as a major relief to telephone users all over the country and would help consumers to seek redress from consumer courts rather than be thrown to the mercy of arbitrators,” said Achintya Mukherjee, honorary joint secretary, Bombay Telephone Users’ Association.
The forum heard a case filed by the Consumer Welfare Association (CWA) against Bharti Airtel Ltd for disconnecting the phone of the complainant and compelling him to make payment for a disputed bill.
The forum raised the point whether a telecom complaint was maintainable in the consumer courts in light of the Supreme Court’s judgement in the case of the general manager (telecom) versus M Krishnan. In this case, the court held that Section 7-B of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 provides a special remedy for a dispute between a telegraph authority and the user by an arbitrator appointed by the Union government. As such, the consumer forum would have no jurisdiction on such a dispute.
However, the forum concurred with the view of the complainant that the Indian Telegraph Act spoke of disputes between the ‘telegraph authority’ and subscribers.
“The current telecom service providers—whether government or private—are not covered under that definition and are not telegraph authorities, they are merely licensees,” said well-known consumer activist, Jehangir Gai.
Consumer advocacy groups (CAGs) all over the country have been agitated over the lack of clarity on the part of the Union government stand on whether consumer courts were barred from taking up telecom cases by the judgement of the Supreme Court.
BTUA on behalf of the CAGs had sought the stand of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the consumer affairs department and the Union government on the matter. BTUA has been told that the opinions of the Attorney General of India and the ministry of justice have been sought.
Telecom consumer cases include dropped calls, over-charging of customers, unwanted value-added charges and false calls. These cases involve mobile providers, internet service providers, broadband service providers, DTH operators, cable TV operators and landline service providers.