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Telecom Companies Can Not Force E-billing

Advocate Beena Menon had subscribed to a mobile connection from Reliance Communications right from the launch of the Dhirubhai Ambani Pioneer in February 2003. She had opted for detailed billing at an additional monthly charge of Rs 50. From the beginning of 2011, she stopped receiving her bills on time. Often, her address would be incomplete. Sometimes, she did not even receive the bill. As bills could not be paid on time, the company benefitted through the imposition of a penalty for late payment. Several times, her outgoing calls were barred, branding her a defaulter even though the company was at fault for not sending the bills on time. This was done even before the scheduled date prescribed under the ‘Dues Recovery Policy’ framed by the company.

Menon filed a complaint before the State Commission against the company and Chairman Anil Dhirubhai Ambani, claiming she had been put to a loss in her professional practice and also inconvenienced in social activities, for which she sought compensation.

The company contested the case. It argued that the complaint was not maintainable as a dispute between a telegraph authority and a consumer could be adjudicated only through arbitration. Rejecting this contention, the State Commission held that Reliance was not a telegraph authority and that a dispute between a consumer and service provider was maintainable.

Reliance contended that Menon should have opted for receiving bills through email rather than complained about non-delivery or delayed delivery of bills. Menon countered that it was her right to get a paper bill and supported her stand with a directive from the Telegraph Authority of India (TRAI). On merits, Reliance stated that the claim was inflated, as the dispute was merely regarding the delayed payment charges amounting to Rs 883. The Commission rejected this plea, holding that the claim is not restricted to wrongly levied penalty for delayed payment, but also for the loss caused by the suspension of telecom services when the mobile was disconnected.

The Commission held that it was mandatory to serve a bill upon the consumer. It held that the unilateral change in Menon’s address and the failure to deliver the bills on time constituted a deficiency in service. Since the bill was not served on Menon, she could not be faulted for non-payment, and it was wrong of the company to impose delayed payment charges or disconnect her phone. As she had not produced evidence to substantiate the extent of the loss caused to her, the Commission granted a token compensation of Rs 25,000 and litigation costs of Rs 5,000. Reliance and Anil Ambani were jointly held liable to pay these amounts.

Accordingly, by its order of January 10, 2019, delivered by S K Kakade for the Bench headed by Usha Thakara, the Commission allowed the complaint and held Reliance as well as its Chairman Anil Ambani jointly and severally liable to compensate Menon.―Business Standard

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