Mobile phone users can go to consumer forums with complaints

The Supreme Court has ruled that a person facing a deficiency in telecommunications services can go directly to consumer forums with their complaint against the company

The SC bench delivered this verdict on an appeal by Vodafone challenging an order from the National Consumer Dispute Recovery Commission

A person facing a deficiency in telecommunications services can go directly to consumer forums with their complaints against the company.

The jurisdiction of the consumer forum in such matters is entirely valid despite the fact that consumers had recourse to arbitration under India’s Telegraph Act 1885, a three-member bench of the SC has ruled.

A panel of judges DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath said that it would be open to a consumer to opt for arbitration, but there is no legal obligation to do so and that it would be open to a consumer to bring an action. the remedies provided by the (Consumer Protection) Act 1986, now replaced by the 2019 Act.

The SC bench delivered this verdict on an appeal by Vodafone challenging an order from the National Consumer Dispute Redress Commission (NCDRC). The order had confirmed the view of the National Commission for the Settlement of Consumer Disputes which had ruled that Section 7B of the 1885 Act would not apply to a private service provider since it is not not from a “telegraphic authority”.

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However, the court said that the term ‘telecommunications services’ which exists in the definition given in section 2(42) of the Consumer Protection Act 2019 cannot be interpreted to mean that the telecommunications services were excluded from the jurisdiction of the consumer forum under the earlier Act of 1986. In fact, the term service was broad enough to encompass services of all kinds, including telecommunications services, the bench said in its recent order .

Further, the court said that where two remedies are available for the same relief, the party may choose either remedy “so long as the scope and scope of the two remedies are not materially different.”

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Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 provides for a statutory remedy of arbitration, but this does not exclude the jurisdiction of the consumer forum, the court said. According to the bench, the (Consumer Protection) Act 1986 and its successor, the (Consumer Protection) Act 2019 are subsequent pieces of legislation which were enacted by Parliament to protect the interests of consumers.

The bench refused to accept Vodafone Idea Cellular Ltd’s argument that the specific incorporation of “telegraph services” into the 2019 law was an indicator that it was only as a result of the new legislation that the telecommunications services have been placed under consumer jurisdiction. for a.

He said: ‘This observation cannot be accepted for the simple reason that the specification of services in section 2(s) of the earlier Act 1986 was illustrative. This is apparent from the use of the phrase “includes, but is not limited to”.

Further, under Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act, any dispute over a telegraph line, apparatus or apparatus between the telegraph authority and the person for whose benefit the line, apparatus or device is or has been supplied shall be decided by arbitration. And such a dispute shall be submitted to an arbitrator appointed by the central government, either specifically for the determination of such dispute or generally for the determination of disputes within the scope of the section, the bench said.

The bench called the Consumer Protection Act 1986 a milestone in legislative efforts to protect the welfare and interests of consumers.

This verdict stemmed from a consumer complaint filed by a Ajay Kumar Agarwal on May 25, 2014. He had filed a complaint with the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Ahmedabad alleging that Vodaphone, with whom he had a post-paid mobile connection, had over -charged it.

The complaint said Agarwal was paying a basic monthly rent of 239 on its post-paid mobile connection to service provider Vodafone.

Agrawal had subscribed to an ‘automatic payment’ scheme via a credit card to pay his bills to Vodafone on time. He alleged that the average monthly bill was around Rs 555 but for the period between 8 November 2013 and 7 December 2013 he was charged Rs 24,609.51.

Agrawal approached the district consumer forum to seek compensation in the amount of Rs 22,000 plus interest, in addition to consequential repairs.

Harry L. Blanchard