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This article is written by Sneha Mahawar, from the Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies. The article discusses the grounds for filing complaints against a telecom company and is a mobile tower affecting one’s health.

Introduction

In today’s modern and fast-growing world it is impossible and impractical to stay without using mobile phones. Although the authorities of the telecom industries state that the prescribed levels of emissions do not affect the health adversely. But, it is considered that having a home or workplace within 50m of one individual is like staying inside a microwave oven 24/7. However, no study proves scientifically that the emissions from mobile towers have ever caused any health problems to any individual. The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) opines that the radiations emitted from the cellphone handsets and towers are perhaps carcinogenic to human beings and may cause glioma which is a type of brain cancer. Moreover, mobile towers are more dangerous than cell phone handsets as they emit greater-intensity radiation 24X7.

Grounds for filing complaints against a telecom company

Under Section 25 of The Telecom Consumers Protection and Redressal of Grievances Regulations, 2007, it is a right of any consumer who is dissatisfied with the company’s service to seek redressal under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. Thus, the grounds for filing a complaint against a telecom company are the same as the grounds for filing a consumer complaint against any seller, manufacturer, dealer, or provider of any defective deficient goods, services, etc. 

1. Deficiency of services 

Deficiency in any services refers to any sort of inadequacy, fault, incompleteness, imperfection, shortcoming, in the level of excellence, equality, essence, and manner of performance that is required to be maintained by or under any statute or law for the time being in effect or force or has been undertaken to be performed by a person in pursuance of a contract or otherwise about any service.

2. Unfair trade practices 

The amendments made in the Consumer Act established the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA). CCPA is established to raise, promote, urge, prevent, guard, and enforce the rights of consumers. The Central Consumer Protection Authority has also been given power and authorised with the responsibility under the Act to pass orders, prevent unfair trade practices, and impose reasonable penalties in case of misleading advertisements. The Central Consumer Protection Authority includes the District Collector, Commissioner of the regional office, and the Central Authority.

3. Defect in goods 

Defect in goods means any fault, imperfection, or shortcoming in quantity, the excellence of level, quality, potency, essence, purity, or acceptance range of standard which is required to be maintained by or under any statute or law for the time being in effect or force or under any contract, either express or implied in nature, or as is claimed by the trader in any manner whatsoever about any goods.

4. Excess price of goods and services 

If any seller, manufacturer, dealer, trader, or provider of any goods and services has charged above the set ceiling price by the government of India, or as displayed on the packaging contained such goods, or displayed on the price list, or agreed between the parties then the complaint can be filed for using malpractices in business.

5. Selling of hazardous goods 

If any seller, manufacturer, dealer, trader, or provider of any goods and services sell hazardous goods to the life and safety of an individual when used are being offered for sale to the public in contravention of any standards relating to the safety of such goods as required to comply with, by or under any statute or law for the time being in effect or force. Or else if the trader, seller, manufacturer, or provider could have known with due diligence that the goods so offered are unsafe to the use of the public.

6. Product liability 

The amendments made in the Consumer Act have introduced the provision for “Product Liability” which means that the manufacturer, trader, dealer, seller, or any other service provider is liable to compensate the consumer if any injury is caused to him due to the defect or deficiency in the service. 

Grievance redressal mechanism in the telecom service sector

  1. The foremost responsibility is to address the services related to the telecom sector such as billing, quality of service grievances that lies with the telecom service provider which arises from the terms and conditions laid down. 
  2. As per the licensing conditions, if there is any sort of dispute between the licensee and the aggrieved party regarding the provisions of service then they should notify the matter to all before providing the service. And the licensor shall not bear any kind of liability or responsibility in the matter under any circumstances. The licensee must keep the licensor indemnified for all the claims, costs, charges, damages, and whatsoever in the matter. 
  3. To make the process of grievance redressal mechanism efficient by the service providers, TRAI has issued the Telecom Complaint Redressal Regulations, 2012. The complete details of the Telecom Consumer Complaint Redressal Regulations, 2012 are available on the TRAI website.
  4. According to the new regulation, all the Telecom Service Providers shall set up a two-tier grievance redressal mechanism. This replaced the earlier regulations issued by the TRAI in 2007. The highlights are:
    • Establishment of a Complaint Centre with a toll-free “Customer Care Number”. It is the responsibility of the Complaint Centre to address all the complaints, grievances, problems, difficulties, or concerns received by them. Provisions have also to be made at the complaint centre to establish a Customer Care Number that could be accessed from any other service provider’s network.
    • Every complaint, grievance, problem, difficulty, or concern shall be registered under a unique docket number at the Complaint Centre. This registered complaint will last for a minimum of three months in the system. The consumer will be sent an SMS that will contain the docket number along with the date and time of registration and the time limit for the resolution of the complaint. The customer will and shall also be informed about the action to be taken via SMS.
    • Every service provider shall appoint an appellate authority which shall consist of one or more persons to deal with grievances, complaints, problems, difficulties, and concerns. If a consumer is dissatisfied with the redressal of his complaint, problem, grievance, difficulty, concern, or complaint remains unaddressed or no information of redressal of the complaint is received within the specified period, he can approach the Appellate Authority for redressal of his complaints.
  5. Every service provider shall constitute a two-member Advisory Committee in each of the service areas. This will comprise one member of the consumer organization registered with TRAI and another member from the service provider. All appeals of the consumers will be put up before the Advisory Committee, which will advise on all such appeals to the Appellate Authority. Individual timelines have been provided for each stage of processing the appeals.
  6. Accordingly, all complainants have to approach their service providers for redressal of their grievances, complaints, problems, difficulties, concerns via the “Two Tier Institutionalized Grievances Redressal Mechanism” of the concerned Service Provider established by it under Telecom Consumer Complaint Redressal Regulations, 2012 (1 of 2012) of TRAI issued on 05th January 2012 and amendments thereto. A list of consumer care numbers and appellate authority nominated by telecom companies for handling consumer Grievances is available on the TRAI website. These Regulations replace the earlier ‘Telecom Consumers Protection and Redressal of Grievances Regulations, 2007’ on the subject matter intending to improve the effectiveness of complaints redressal for the telecom consumer by the service provider.
  7. In case the complainant is dissatisfied with the decision taken by a service provider or delay in the redressal of his complaint, problem, concern, difficulty, grievance at any point of time /stage in the above procedure then the complainant is free to approach any appropriate Court of law or any other appropriate forum (judicial/quasi-judicial) against the service provider.

Grievances relating to Unsolicited Commercial Calls (UCC)

1. UCC regulations

To regulate the commercial calls and protect consumers from unsolicited commercial calls and messages (UCC), TRAI has notified “The Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulations, 2018“.

2. Brief procedure for blocking UCC

To block the UCC the customers (landline and mobile) who do not want to receive any sort of commercial communications have an option to dial or SMS to 1909 (toll-free) and register in either of the two categories mentioned, Fully Blocked Category, or Partially Blocked Category.

Customers can also change their preferences after three months of registration. 

  • Even after seven days of registration, the customer receives unsolicited commercial calls (UCC). He has an option to register a complaint with his service provider within 3 days of receipt of such UCC dialing or sending SMS to 1909. Customers will be asked to provide the telephone number or header of the message from where the call or SMS has been received, a short description of such call or message along with the date of receipt of call or SMS.
  • For complaints via SMS, the customer has to send SMS “the unsolicited commercial communication, XXXXXXXXXX, dd/mm/yy” to 1909.      
  • Service Providers will take action on the complaint and inform the complainant within 7 days of lodging of the complaint. Customers may check the registration status of their complaint through the link “UCC Complaint Registration Status”.
  • In the case of unresolved complaints/grievances from service providers, the complainant can approach TRAI for the resolution of his grievance. As per above mentioned TRAI Regulation, TRAI is competent to take action against the concerned service providers for the violations.

3. Public Grievance Cell in DoT

  • However, in case a grievance, complaint, problem, difficulty, the concern is not redressed even after following the procedure then an individual complainant has a right to approach an appropriate Court of Law along with all documentary evidence for non-redressal of his grievance, complaint, problem, difficulty, concern at the concerned Service Provider level. He may submit the grievance by hand, post, FAX, phone, or web portal. 
  • Complainants are advised to use a web portal for registering their grievance, so that the processing thereof may be monitored in a transparent; user-friendly, and structured manner. The grievances registered in the web portal; without following the prescribed procedure (as described above) may not be processed
  • Any grievance sent by e-mail shall not be attended to/entertained.
  • Complaints/grievances on UCC received in PG cell of DoT are forwarded to TRAI for appropriate action as TRAI is the competent authority to take action in such complaints as per the Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulations, 2018.
  • If the complainant is dissatisfied with the decision of the service provider or in the delay of redressal, the complainant can freely approach an appropriate court of law or any other appropriate forum against the service provider.

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) v. D.P. Sharma 

Facts 

In this case, D.P. Sharma took a broadband connection from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). It did not work for 27 days so he filed a complaint before the Jaipur District Forum seeking compensation. BSNL challenged the maintainability of the suit under the provisions laid down under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

The Forum relied on the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in the case of General Manager, Telecom, v. M Krishnan & Anr, where it was held that a dispute between telegraph authority and consumer does not fall within the ambit of the CPA. Conclusively, the complaint was not maintainable and was dismissed. 

Mr. Sharma re-appealed to the Rajasthan State Commission which held that the CPA does provide for an additional or an alternative remedy and thus, the complaint is maintainable. Further, it quashed the order of the Forum and directed BSNL to pay Rs 25,000.

BSNL filed a revision inquiry or questioning the validity, correctness, and legality of the State Commission’s order stating that the interpretation of law laid down by the SC is valid on all the subordinate courts and tribunals. The National Commission agreed with BSNL’s submission and held that the State Commission has no authority to interpret the law differently from what has been laid down by the Supreme Court. It was stated that Mr. Sharma would have to approach the Supreme Court if he wanted the interpretation of the law to change. The order of the State Commission was set aside.

Mr. Sharma then filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court. In another case, the apex court noted that the National Commission had differentiated the Supreme Court’s judgment and held that the telecom disputes be maintainable under the CPA.

Judgment 

The Supreme Court stated that the reasoning is given in that case and held that the consumer forum could exercise jurisdiction of telecom disputes between consumers and service providers. So, in the order of September 4, 2017, it directed the National Commission to deal with the dispute on a merit basis.

BSNL then attempted to argue that broadband did not function due to an incorrect code used by Sharma for which it could not be held liable. Sharma objected to this new plea raised by BSNL. The National Commission observed that a new plea could not be put forth and it considered the plea and questioned why a simple error about feeding an incorrect code could not be resolved for 27 days and considered this to be a deficiency in service. Accordingly, by its order of July 2, 2019, delivered by Justice Prem Narain, the National Commission dismissed BSNL’s revision and held that the order of the State Commission holding BSNL liable to pay Rs 25,000 towards compensation was accurate.

Conclusion

Hence, complaints can be filed against the telecom company on various grounds stated under the Consumer Protection Act. Due to changes in the statutes, it is easier to get a speedy trial and fast redressal. 

References


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