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Bengalurean sues telecom major Airtel over Rs 12 lakh bill, gets relief

Sent a mobile bill of over Rs 12 lakh, including international data roaming charges, a Bengalurean took his service provider to court for service deficiency. Apart from being told not to pay the exorbitant bill, the man was granted a compensation of Rs 10,000 for the trouble caused to him.

Melvin John Thomas was employed as a manager with a heavy equipment dealer in the city and travelled to China on work in late 2016. He held an Airtel sim as part of a corporate account. In October 2016, before the trip, he called the service provider’s helpline seeking activation of international roaming for voice calls for a specific period. Thomas was provided with the facility, but claimed he didn’t receive an intimation text on international roaming and the data plan.

Much to his shock, Thomas received a hefty Airtel bill of Rs 12,14,566, including for the period of October 29, 2016 to November 2, 2016, after the tour. The business executive claimed he suffered a heart attack after receiving such an exorbitant bill via SMS and questioned Airtel representatives on its authenticity after his recovery. Adding to his woes, the service provider then sent him a revised bill of Rs 12,18,732.

With his overall plan limit being only Rs 9,100, Thomas questioned Airtel on how such a huge bill was generated for data usage overseas as he primarily relied on WiFi during the China trip. After many interactions, Airtel sent Thomas another revised bill totalling Rs 5,22,407.

Realising that all his attempts to sort out the issue were futile, Thomas approached the Bangalore 1st additional district consumer disputes redressal commission in Shantinagar on December 12, 2016 with a complaint against Bharti Airtel Ltd.

In the litigation that commenced, Thomas’s lawyer presented his claims while Airtel’s attorney stated in court that the case wasn’t maintainable by law as the sim the complainant held was part of a corporate plan with his employer. Moreover, during the China trip, Thomas may have left his data plan option in active mode, resulting in consumption of excessive data leading to a bill of Rs 12,18,732, which Airtel had revised to Rs 5,22,407. The contention of a hefty bill was false and the heart attack story fictitious, the company’s lawyer said.

The judges of the consumer forum questioned Airtel on the upper limit of Thomas’s package, which was Rs 9,100. They also noted as per rules, the service provider should have notified the customer when his usage touched 70% of the permissible limit. Moreover, Airtel which initially billed Thomas Rs 12,18,732, reduced the amount to Rs 5,22,407, which is 60% less than the original sum. How was such a reduction possible if the customer had indeed used the data, wondered the judges. It simply raised the doubt whether the hefty bill was generated to make the customer pay. While some question such exorbitant charges and approach the consumer court, many may be paying such large sums to avoid trouble, they pointed out.

In their verdict on March 5, 2021, the judges ordered Airtel not to collect Rs 5,22,407 or any amount in respect of the said bill, adding the service provider was entitled to collect only the maximum monthly bill, for which the limit is Rs 9,100. The court also ruled that Airtel must pay the customer Rs 5,000 towards damages and another Rs 5,000 towards his court expenses. ToI

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