In order to help millions of suffering telecom customers across the nation, the Department of Telecom (DoT) on Tuesday stated that private companies do not enjoy any immunity from being prosecuted at district consumer forums.
The DoT also clarified that private telecos can not be defined under the definition of the Telegraph Authority of India specified in the Telegraph Act. Until now, private telecom companies had been arguing that they can not be prosecuted in consumer forums because they represented the Telegraph Authority of India. In defence of their argument, they were citing an earlier Supreme Court directive that upheld Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd’s right to defend itself against consumer disputes on the basis of Section 7B of the Telegraph Act.
The Act states that in the event a dispute occurs between a consumer and the telegraph authority, it had to be resolved only through arbitration instead of through courts.
The Act says that any disputes between the telegraph authority and any consumer has to be resolved through arbitration and not through courts.
A number of district forums had openly criticized the Supreme Court judgment. For example, the district forum of Ferozepur stated in 2009 that even the apex court doesn’t have the authority to interpret laws contrary to their spirit.
“From the bare perusal of the above said Regulations framed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India exercising the powers conferred upon it under Section 36 and Section 11 of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, it is abundantly clear that the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 prevail over the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997 and the jurisdiction and powers of the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forums are over and above the jurisdiction and powers of the Tribunals established for the purpose of adjudication of disputes relating to telecommunication services,” it stated.
On Tuesday, the DoT made it clear that since private companies do not possess the power or functions of the Telegraph Authority, they can not seek immunity from prosecution at district consumer forums.
“The district consumer forums are competent to deal with the disputes between individual telecom consumers and telecom service providers,” it said.
The full order can be accessed here