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Mobile phone users can approach consumer forum for deficiency in services, says SC

Mobile phone users can approach consumer forum for deficiency in services, says SC
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court has held that an individual facing any deficiency in telecom services can approach consumer forums directly with his complaint against the company.

The fact that the remedy of arbitration under the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 is of a statutory nature would not oust the jurisdiction of the consumer forum in such matters, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath said.

"It would be open to a consumer to opt for the remedy of arbitration, but there is no compulsion in law to do so and it would be open to a consumer to seek recourse to the remedies which are provided under the (Consumer Protection) Act of 1986, now replaced by the Act of 2019, the bench said.

The top court passed the verdict on an appeal of Vodafone by which the company had challenged an order of National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) by which it had affirmed the view of SCDRC that Section 7B of the Act of 1885 would not be applicable to a private service provider since it is not a Telegraph Authority.

In its recent order, the court said that the insertion of the expression telecom services' in the definition which is contained in Section 2(42) of the Consumer Protection Act of 2019 cannot be construed to mean that telecom services were excluded from the jurisdiction of the consumer forum under the earlier Act of 1986.

On the contrary, the definition of the expression service' in Section 2(o) of the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 was wide enough to comprehend services of every description including telecom services, the bench said.

Referring to a verdict from last year relating to home buyers, the bench said that the court had invoked the doctrine of election, which provides that when two remedies are available for the same relief, the party at whose disposal such remedies are available, can make the choice to elect either of the remedies as long as the ambit and scope of the two remedies are not essentially different.

The bench noted that where Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 applies, a statutory remedy of arbitration is provided.

The fact that the remedy of arbitration under the Act 1885 is of a statutory nature, would not oust the jurisdiction of the consumer forum.

"The (Consumer Protection) Act of 1986 and its successor, the (Consumer protection) Act of 2019 are subsequent enactments which have been enacted by Parliament to protect the interest of consumers. Hence, an ouster of jurisdiction cannot be lightly assumed unless express words are used or such a consequence followed by necessary implication, the bench said.

The bench refused to accept the submission of Vodafone Idea cellular Ltd that the specific incorporation of telegraph services in the Act of 2019 is an indicator that it was only as a result of the new legislation that telecom services were brought within the jurisdiction of the consumer fora.

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