This article on ‘Consumer court penalizes BSNL for Poor Internet Services: Facts and Laws‘ was written by an intern at Legal Upanishad.
This article deals with the recent instances involving complaints against Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) for its poor services, in the consumer courts and the subsequent remedy that is expected to be granted in such a case. It has been discussed which authority deals with the telecommunication domain and what has changed in comparison to the past in a case where a consumer wants to make a telecom company liable for its poor services because it was a conception that such a dispute was resolved through arbitration and not otherwise. However recent judgments have changed this stance.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and Related Provisions
The field related to Indian telecommunication is regulated and managed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), established under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, of 1997.
The responsibility of TRAI involves protecting the interests of the customers of such services and their providers. It is also present to ensure the smooth and seamless expansion of this sector. The standards for quality of services, tariff, and disbursement of money by the providers are some of the purposes of this authority. It also conducts periodic surveys to have knowledge about the actual scenario of services and the related problems that the consumers face due to incompetence and ineffective services provided by the telecom companies.
TRAI as a regulatory authority is also responsible for the proper implementation of the relevant legal measures which would be applicable in a dispute. It is evident from the general trend of cases that the subject matter involves the fault of the telecom provider in relation to poor telecom services.
Change in Approach
A common conception was that such a matter in relation to telecom disputes can only be settled via statutory arbitration. This view was made keeping in mind the provisions under the Indian Telegraph Act (ITA).
However, this stance has changed by the decision of the Supreme Court in the case Ajay Kumar Agarwal vs. Vodafone Idea Cellular Ltd. In this case, the appellant filed a complaint against the respondent with the District Consumer Disputes forum. The complaint was that the bill of the appellant was 45 times the average bill that he used to receive in the preceding months.
It was held by the Court that it was the consumer’s volition to get the remedy via arbitration as there is no bar to going for recourse under the Consumer Protection Act, of 1986 (now replaced by the 2019 Act). It was observed that the definition of ‘service’ under Section 2 of the Act was wide enough in its scope to bring telecom services under its purview.
Cases Involving BSNL
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited & Anr. vs D. P. Sharma, the complainant had broadband that was non-functional for 27 days owing to bad services on part of BSNL (service provider). A complaint was filed at a District Consumer Forum in Jaipur. BSNL contended that the action was not maintainable as it didn’t come under the purview of the Consumer Protection Act, of 2019. The Forum relied on the rationale that the dispute between the service provider and the consumer came under Telegraph Act and was not maintainable.
Then, the complainant appealed to the state commission which held that the consumer was entitled to remedy under CPA, 2019 and ordered BSNL to pay compensation amounting to Rs. 25,000.
Against this order, BSNL filed a revision questioning the Commission’s order contending that the rationale used in the order is against the law established by the Supreme Court and that the complainant needs to approach the highest court of the land to change the interpretation. The National Commission agreed with such contention and held that the state commission had no authority to interpret a law contrary to its actual intent. Then, the complainant under Article 136 filed a special leave to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court held that the jurisdiction in relation to telecom disputes would fall under consumer forums and directed the National Commission to dispose of the case. In further proceedings under the commission, BSNL brought up new contentions which were not allowed and the telecom provider (BSNL) was asked to pay compensation to the consumer.
In another recent case, a district consumer forum at Dehradun fined BSNL due to the failure of the telecom operator to provide adequate services which affected the consumer during the COVID work-from-home era. A person working at a private firm took an internet connection from BSNL by paying around Rs. 7,000. There were two problems with the service. Firstly, the availability of the service of very frequently interrupted. Secondly, the speed of the connection was one-seventh the claimed speed by the company.
A suit was instituted against the company as the person could not do his work even for a single day. He had to change the connection and face anger if his employer due to his absence from meetings. Also, he claimed that no solution was provided by the company after repeated calls to customer care.
The Court after hearing the arguments ordered BSNL to pay the entire amount with 6% interest and pay additional Rs. 6,000 for litigation charges and mental harassment.
The recent decisions of the Courts and Consumer forums have now given wider options to a consumer to get the remedy under the law. The older perception that arbitration is the only way in eyes of the Indian Telegraph Act has now changed and a consumer has the option to get a remedy in a dispute with a telecom operator under CPA, 2019. It needs to be mentioned that TRAI has played a significant role in regulating these companies and preventing them from going haywire.
As far as BSNL is concerned, it has been notorious for its bad service even though it is the source that gives spectrum to various private entities. The downfall of this company shall be avoided and the recent package to revive BSNL is one of the many steps that are required on part of the government to improve the health of the company and the user experience.
- Aaron Rodrigues. (14 December 2022). Telecom users can now approach consumer courts directly. Retrieved: https://www.moneylife.in/article/telecom-users-can-now-approach-consumer-courts-directly/3300.html
- [Online Legal India]. (14 December 2022). Consumer Complaint Against Telecom Company. Retrieved: https://www.onlinelegalindia.com/blogs/consumer-complaint-against-telecom-company
- [Times of India]. (14 December 2022). Court levies penalty on BSNL after poor services. Retrieved: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/court-levies-penalty-on-bsnl-after-poor-services-hit-mans-work-from-home-schedule/articleshow/95988748.cms
- [Indian Kanoon]. (14 December 2022). Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited & … vs D. P. Sharma on 3 July 2019. Retrieved: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/165814211/
- [Communications Today]. (14 December 2022). Telecom Disputes Are Maintainable in Consumer Court. Retrieved: https://www.communicationstoday.co.in/telecom-disputes-are-maintainable-in-consumer-court/