To provide relief to telecom users on service quality, regulator Trai is considering seeking feedback from the public on introducing a new ombudsman mechanism to resolve their complaints. As things stand, the scales are tilted towards service providers as current rules do not allow a customer to approach courts for resolving such disputes.
“The current system of complaint resolution is not effective... It is an unhappy situation,” said Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Chairman R S Sharma. Sharma added that the regulator plans to release a consultation paper in a fortnight to deliberate on the institutional arrangement that should be adopted to improve efficiency of the consumer grievance redressal framework.
He did not go into specifics, saying the views on the same will be sought from people and an automated or technology-based platform could be explored. “We need to mull whether an automated system, say a technology platform, can be used. We will have to see how technology can be leveraged to resolve complaints... We will invite suggestions on what should be an appropriate system,” he explained.
Unlike other sectors, an average grievance of telecom consumers has certain peculiarities. There are over 100 crore customers in the Indian telecom sector, and disputes between telecom operators and users mostly involve billing, change in tariff plans and start of value added services, where the monetary value is relatively small.
That is precisely why an average consumer can not approach courts as the value is very low and even cost of filing an affidavit is more than the complaint value itself. Even the disputes are not taken up by consumer courts as a Supreme Court judgement of 2009 had barred seeking any such relief under the Consumer Protection Act, saying a special remedy is already provided under the Indian Telegraph Act. The National Telecom Policy 2012 seeks “to undertake legislative measures to bring disputes between telecom consumers and service providers within the jurisdiction of consumer forums established under the Consumer Protection Act”, but it is yet to be implemented. Consumers find themselves in a piquant situation as they cannot go to Trai because it cannot entertain individual complaints. If it receives them, Trai forwards the same to the telecom service provider (TSP) concerned.
Users can approach the Department of Telecom, but then, it also does not have much powers except through the arbitration route provided in Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. DoT merely forwards complaints to the telecom operator. Trai issued a regulation in 2012 creating a grievance redressal mechanism which provides for establishment of such a system by TSPs. In effect, many of these complaints end up at the doorstep of the telecom operator — which itself is a party to disputes. The complaints are addressed by telecom operators at three levels, the first being the customer care centre. In case the customer is not satisfied, he or she can go to the nodal officer and then to appellate authority, which is set up by telecom operators themselves.