The Bombay High Court has directed the Central Government and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to reply to a PIL petition filed by Mr. Gansham Ramchandani seeking the setting up of an Ombudsman in the Telecom sector. The next hearing in the case is due on April 7, 2017.
According to the Petitioner’s Advocate Mr. Hitesh Ramchandani, The TRAI had floated a consultation paper that there was a need to set up an ombudsman in the Telecom Sector but in the year 2009 the Government decided as to not to set up the same.
Currently in telecom the redressal tire system is that the Consumer redresses first to Telecom Service Provider and if not satisfied then to Appellant Officer of the same service Provider. This tier-mechanism of a call centre and the appellate is not independent and it lies within the same authority of the telecom service provider who is a party in the matter. The Department of Telecommunication only acts as a facilitator and just forwards the consumer grievance to the service provider, the Department of Telecommunication does not give any order or penalise the service provider for not redressing the Consumer Grievance as they are not vested with powers to penalise the service provider for not redressing the Grievances. The service provider is at a discretion to close the complaint received from Department of Telecommunication without resolving the Consumers Grievances. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India does not entertain and does not redress individual Telecom consumer complaints.
The Advocate recalls the Loop Mobile shutdown incident. The Loop Mobile shut down its operations in Mumbai in November 2014. Many reports suggest that the company has not refunded the security deposits of the postpaid consumers ranging from Rs 3,000 to Rs 10,000 individually. The problems related to people losing their mobile numbers and the refund of a security deposit after the closure of service have also been mentioned.
The telecom sector in India has grown rapidly in last decades. From a subscriber base of around 90 million in March, 2006, the number of telecom subscribers in India reached around 1.04 billion by June 2016. These subscribers filed approximately 10.23 million complaints just in the Jan-March Quarter in 2016 with the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs). The complaints were on account of wrong billing, indifferent or poor quality of service, non-provision of contracted services, etc.
There is no other sector with such a mass base of 1 billion customers. An average consumer probably has complaints worth Rs. 30 or Rs. 20 a month. A very small value, but large numbers. Since amount involved in most of the consumer complaints related to telecom service is very meagre in comparison to the litigation cost and in view of the time taken by the Consumer Courts/Forums in deciding the case, consumers in general are not willing to approach the Consumer Courts/Forums for redressal of their complaints.
Currently in India, the other Sectors such as Banking and Insurance also have an Ombudsman to immediately redress individual complaints. The RBI (Reserve Bank of India) who is the regulatory body of banks had set up an office of Ombudsman in the year 1995, who immediately redresses the complaints by giving order which is binding on consumers as well as to the banks.
The IRDA (Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India) had set up an office of ombudsman in the year 1998 who immediately redresses the complaints by giving the order and the order is binding on consumer as well as to the insurance service provider.
Australia had set up an office of the ombudsman in the year 1993 and United Kingdom in the year 2003 for telecommunication sector, to help consumers to resolve their disputes with their service providers, which they are not able to resolve through normal procedures.