Mr X, a customer of Bharti Airtel, recharged his pre-paid mobile as with usual with Rs 100. However, the next day, he
found that his balance was reduced by Rs 3 and, in 12 days, by another Rs 36, though he did not make any calls. When he contacted the call centre, he was surprised to learn that the ‘cricket alerts’ service was activated without his asking for them. He filed a case against the mobile operator in the district consumer forum. It ruled that activating a service without the customer’s consent was tantamount to ‘cheating’ and ordered a monetary compensation of Rs 5,000 to him.
In many instances, the telecom operators also browbeat customers by slapping a legal notice. For instance, a customer of Reliance Communications, who didn’t want to be named, received a legal notice from a lawyer hired by the telecom operator for non-payment of dues for its data services. The letter threatened legal proceedings if the dues were not settled immediately. Fighting it out with the telecom operator might seem a big ordeal. Yet, if you think you have been unfairly charged for a service, you should raise your voice.
Know the procedures
Whenever you have a service-related problem, you need to inform the telecom operator by calling the customer service number. On registration of the complaint, you will be provided with a ‘unique docket number’. It will contain the date and time of registration of the complaint and the time limit for its resolution. You can also register your complaint through email or at the portal of the mobile service provider. As per the TRAI website, once the complaint is registered, it has to be redressed within three days. If the customer is not satisfied or doesn’t receive a response, he can approach the Appellate Authority of the telecom operator within 30 days of the expiry of the time limit prescribed for redressal of the complaint. Once the complaint is placed before the Appellate Authority, the advisory committee attached to it has to render its advice on every appeal placed before it within 15 days. If the customer is still unsatisfied, he can approach the district or State consumer forum (depending on the value of claim).
Record conversations
Often, when you face a problem with the service provider, several rounds of conversation towards resolving the same happen over the phone.
In such cases, it might help to record them. “Various courts have given their approvals to voice recording as admissible evidence,” says Aarthi Narayanan, a partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas. She cites the Ram Singh & Ors vs Col. Ram Sing case, where the voice recording was admitted as evidence. However, the whole conversation has to be presented before the court. No tampering or erasing of even a microsecond is admissible and it has to be clearly audible.
Respond to legal notices
It is advisable to send a legal reply denying your liability to pay the dues and the reasons for the same. If possible, specify the docket number and the issues as well as the timeline of events. This will make it clear to the service provider that the customer is well-prepared for the legal combat and will not chicken-out. And if the telecom operator happens to initiate action before a civil court, you must appear through an advocate to defend the case. However, fret not. If the amount is small (say, a few thousands), it’s very unlikely the service provider will go to court.
Don’t worry about criminal suits
Criminal proceedings are initiated only if the customer has committed an offence that is punishable under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The offences may include cheating, causing hurt, criminal intimidation, etc. “Such offences have to be made out by the telecom operator and a first information report (FIR) against the consumer would have to be filed before the jurisdictional police station. In reality, such criminal proceedings are rarely initiated; they are often quoted in the legal notices to intimidate the consumer to pay up,” says Aarthi.
Don’t pay collection agents
Often, the telecom service providers hire collection agents to collect the dues from the customers. The basic rule is to tell them upfront that you will talk only to a telecom service representative.
Beware of handing out any payments to them unless you get a document in writing confirming the closure of the issue from the telecom operator. Even if you make a payment, pay it in cheque and in favour of the telecom operator. If they still pester you with calls and SMS, consider suing the telecom operator for causing ‘mental agony’ or ‘financial losses’
(This article appeared in The Hindu Business Line on November 06, 2017)