Telecom consumers all over have faced some or the other issues like excess billing, unsolicited service activation and resulting balance deduction, no or poor quality service etc. While telcos offer redressal mechanisms like customer care and Appellate authority, sometimes the solution is not up to user’s satisfaction. Many consumers then think of approaching consumer forum or courts to solve the problem but often hold back due to multiple reasons. We believe that lack of awareness on how to take the legal route is the most important one. This was also clear from the emails and comments we often receive at TelecomTalk.
This encouraged us to get in touch with Law Office of Karthikeyan‘s ( http://lawk.in ) Mr. Karthikeyan on behalf of TelecomTalk readers to understand the legal recourse available when one faces issues with a telecom operator. Karthikeyan practices at Madras High Court and specializes in Intellectual Property Law, Cyber Law and other technology laws.
He is an official guest lecturer on Cyber Laws at Tamil Nadu Police Academy. He regularly delivers lectures on IP Law and IT Law at various Government institutions, Societies, Associations, NGOs, academic institutions including colleges, universities etc in India.
Our questions try to cover almost everything from how to lodge a case, engage a lawyer and other good practices.
1. Where should one go when faced with an issue from a telecom operator – consumer court or civil court?
2. Does every city / town have a consumer court or are they in district headquarters only?
It is located in every district. Appeal from District consumer forum can be filed at State consumer forum and from State consumer to National consumer forum.
3. How exactly does one file a case in the consumer court or court of law?
Based on their jurisdiction/locality they can file the case at their district consumer forum.
a. What are the documents necessary?
All their pleadings has to be supported with documentary evidence. Ex: Bill copies, email correspondence etc
b. Does one need to engage a lawyer or go on one’s own?
Engaging a lawyer is not mandatory but to present the case in a proper procedural way it is advisable to engage a lawyer.
4. We heard that one can argue one’s case in courts. Is it really practicable? How about knowing relevant sections of law and fighting against top corporate lawyers of the country?
No law in the country mandates that a lawyer has to be engaged to argue the case before the court of law so party in person can appear and argue the case before the court. Engaging a lawyer has many advantage since he knows the laws and procedures well in order to present the client’s case before the court and to defend the corporate lawyers. We cannot expect a common man to know all the enactments in India this would be an advantage for the defense lawyer. For example in India the laws relating to Telecommunication starts from Indian Telegraph Act 1885 and it has around 30 enactment including the latest Information Technology Act 2000 amended in the year 2008. Every laws keep on changing based on the court precedents and parliamentary enactments so a lawyer would always be updated on this perspective.
5. In the news, we come across cases where consumer courts pass judgement after few years. Is it always the case or can one expect a resolution in a shorter time frame like weeks or months?
It depends on the volume of pending cases before the respective forum and the availability of Judges. It also depends on how the other side lawyer is cooperating in order to defend the case. Example: He has to obtain necessary documents and instruction from the Corporates.
6. Recording phone calls without consent is deemed illegal. In such a case how to accumulate evidence, especially when operators engage agencies which might threaten customers over a phone call?
No doubt, a consumer can record a threatening call and produce it before the court as evidence. Many courts in India had accepted the telephone recordings as evidence but the burden is on the consumer to prove that it is an untampered evidence.
7. In typical terms, how much will filing a case and fighting it cost in terms of money?
There is no standard tariff for filing a consumer case through a lawyer. It varies from case to case based on jurisdiction, compensation claimed, documents required, professional time spent, expenses involved etc
8. Some terms and conditions from service providers might state that litigations are subject to a particular city’s jurisdiction. If one does not live in that city, how can one go about filing a case? Can telcos actually impose ‘subject to jurisdiction’ as it would be in their favour?
Since we sign an agreement with the operators while purchasing a SIM card we are governed by the terms of agreement and we had already given our express consent by signing it. The agreements are governed by Indian Contract Act 1872 so we are estopped from discussing on the change of jurisdiction.
9. While one might be able to state mental agony, financial losses etc. how to arrive at the right compensation amount? Are there any formulas for the purpose?
Yes, you can claim compensation for mental agony, financial losses etc. There is no stricter formulas to arrive at the compensation and it differs based on circumstances of each case.
10. Can legal procedures like filing a case, engaging a lawyer be done online? Are there any firms which offer such services?
There are numerous lawyers available to handle consumer cases. Depending upon the lawyer you engage you can either correspond with them through emails or meet them in person. Cases cannot be filed online but case status, case history and judgment can be tracked online.
11. Is in person appearance mandatory in courts? Or can a lawyer appear on behalf of a client?
If you engage a lawyer then he/she would appear on behalf of you. If party in person then you should appear before the court on every hearing.
12. If a lower court’s order is not satisfactory, how does one go about appealing in a higher court / forum?
Appeal from District consumer forum can be filed at State consumer forum and appeal from State consumer forum can be filed at National consumer forum.
13. If a telco does not honour an order in favour of the consumer, how to (s)he proceed with a contempt of court procedure?
Under THE CONTEMPT OF COURTS ACT, 1971 a separate contempt action can be initiated against the company who does not obey the court order. It is advisable to engage a lawyer in order to handle the contempt proceedings.
Some of the Regulations in India that governs the Telecom operators regarding their quality of services are:
- Regulation on Quality of Service of Basic and Cellular Mobile Telephone Services, 2005
- Quality of Service (Code of Practice for Metering and Billing Accuracy) Regulation, 2006
- Telecom Consumer Protection and Redressal of Grievances Regulation, 2007
- Telecom Unsolicited Commercial Communications Regulations, 2007