There has been a spate of complaints against telecom companies in the various District Consumer Fora however many consumer complainants had their complaints dismissed as District Consumer Fora invariably takes the stand that consumer disputes involving telecommunication and mobile communications services do not fall under Consumer Protection Act, 1986 due to the Supreme Court ruling in General Manager Telecom Vs. Krishnan & others. Even if the District Consumer Forum ordered in favour of the Complainant, the State Commission and the National Commission always reversed the lower court’s order on the ground of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the above case. The Apex court, in the said case, had taken a stand that “where there is special remedy provided in Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 regarding disputes in respect of telephone bills, then the remedy under the Consumer Protection Act is by implication barred” and that the disputes concerning any telegraph line, appliance or apparatus are required to be referred to an Arbitrator appointed by the Central Government.
Undoubtedly, the consumers were put in a very difficult proposition as the telecom companies take support of the above ruling and escape from being punished for their deficiencies and unfair trade practices. The only remedy that was available was to approach the Central Government for Arbitration, which no consumer will venture to do.
However, there is good news now that will change the above and will make the consumers breathe easy.
Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Govt. of India have recently issued directions to National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in this regard. The letter bearing reference File No.J- 24/11/2014 –CPU states, inter alia, the following.
“I am directed to say that the Department of Telecommunications vide their letter No.2-17/2013 – Policy-I dated 24th January, 2014(copy enclosed) has informed that the District Fora are competent to entertain consumer disputes involving telecom service providers and consumers.
Briefly the case is that Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, West Bengal had requested the Department of Telecommunication to prefer a SLP in the Supreme Court to set aside the judgment passed in a case between General Manager Telecom versus Vs. Krishnan & Anothers in which it was decided that “where there is a special remedy provided in Section 7-B of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 regarding disputes in respect of telephone bills, then the remedy under the Consumer Protection Act is by implication barred”. As a consequence of this, District Fora would not enterain any complaints relating to telecom consumer disputes. The implications of the judgment has been examined threadbare in the Department of Telecommunications and it has been decided that now a days the existing telecom service providers – BSNL, Reliance etc., are the licensee and not vested with any authority. Therefore, the implications of the Supreme Court judgement in the aforementioned case does not extend to the disputes between telecom service providers and consumers. Therefore, it is within the competence of the Consumer Fora to enterain the such cases of disputes.
In view of the foregoing, it is requested to circulate the contents of the letter dated 24th January, 2014 issued by the D/o Telecommunication amongst all Consumer Fora requesting them to entertain disputes between consumers and Telecom service providers henceforth…….by Director (CPU)”
Consumers can now take heart from the above and pursue telecom complaints in the District Consumer Forums.