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Telecom Disputes Are Maintainable In Consumer Court

D P Sharma had a broadband connection from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). Since it remained inoperative for 27 days, he filed a complaint before the Jaipur District Forum seeking compensation. BSNL contested it, challenging its maintainability under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

The Forum relied on the Supreme Court (SC) judgement in General Manager, Telecom, versus M Krishnan & Anr, where it had been held that a dispute between a telegraph authority and consumer does not fall within the purview of the CPA. It has to be resolved through statutory arbitration as provided under the Indian Telegraph Act (ITA). It concluded that the complaint was not maintainable and dismissed it.

Sharma appeal to the Rajasthan State Commission which observed that the CPA provides for an additional or an alternative remedy. It held the complaint to be maintainable. It set aside the Forum’s order and directed BSNL to pay Rs 25,000.

BSNL filed a revision questioning the correctness and legality of the State Commission’s order, terming it to be contrary to the interpretation of law laid down by the SC which would be binding upon all the subordinate courts and tribunals. The National Commission agreed with BSNL’s submission and held that the consumer fora have no authority to interpret the law differently from what has been laid down by the SC. It pointed out that Sharma would have to approach the SC if he wanted the interpretation of the law to change. The State Commission’s order was set aside.

Sharma then filed a Special Leave Petition in the SC. The apex court noted that in another case, the National Commission had differentiated the SC judgement and had held telecom disputes to be maintainable under the CPA.

The SC concurred with the reasoning given in that case and held that the consumer forum could exercise jurisdiction of telecom disputes between consumers and services providers. So, it order of September 4, 2017, it directed the National Commission to deal with the dispute on merits.

Hence arbitration would not be applicable to disputes between consumers and telecom service providers, and consumer fora could entertain complaints.

BSNL then attempted to argue that broadband did not function due to an incorrect code used by Sharma for which it could not be held liable. Sharma objected to this new plea raised by BSNL. The National Commission observed that a new plea could not be put forth. Yet it considered the plea and questioned why a simple error about feeding an incorrect code could not be resolved for 27 days. The Commission considered this to be a deficiency in service.

Accordingly, by its order of July 2, 2019, delivered by Prem Narain, the National Commission dismissed BSNL’s revision and confirmed the order of the State Commission holding BSNL liable to pay Rs 25,000 towards compensation.―Business Standard

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