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Updated: Court Reverses Order On Telemarketing In India

Update: The Indian telecom regulatory body TRAI has been struck with the realisation,  supremely delayed as it is, that consumer complaints are not being addressed by the three-tiered structure most operators have – customer care, nodal officers and appellate authorities and has decided to set up an online complaints register by April 1, 2010 to determine how many are redressed by operators, Economic Times has reported. The site will be open to the public and TRAI is also looking at allowing complaints sent by SMS or voice next. Meanwhile, operators are planning to make call centre services paid for callers who dial in for enquiring purpose rather than to register a complaint.

Instead of introducing a strict law and a heavy fine or punishment to help protect consumers from telemarketers, TRAI is re-inventing the wheel – there is an archive of complaints at the Indian Consumer Complaints Forum – why not use that database?

Earlier (Jan 19): In a blow to consumers in India, the Delhi High Court has adjudicated that the earlier verdict of mobile operators, banks and other bodies placing telemarketing calls and sending unsolicited text messages having to pay the subscriber a penalty of Rs. 25,000 has been annulled, the Indian Express reports.

In 2007, the Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission decided that under the Consumer Protection Act of 1986, a subscriber could be compensated with Rs. 25,000 by the concerned party making the calls or sending the SMSs. But the ruling has been made void by the High Court now. The reason? The order lacked a legal sanction and the Commission does not have the power to decide the minimum compensation in such cases.

The Cases
On case registered in December 2006 by a consumer Nivedita Sharma against top mobile operator Bharti Airtel, ICICI Bank, American Express Bank and the Cellular Operators Association of India filed at the Commission is available here.  Sharma took them to court demanding a compensation of Rs. 3.45 million, which includes Rs. 0.5 million for “mental agony and harassment”. COAI intervened to put up a joint front on behalf of all the providers. The commission ruled that Airtel and COAI were to be penalised Rs. 5 million, the banks Rs. 2.5 million and Sharma receive a compensation of Rs. 50,000.

Another case registered in 2008 by Dilshaad Rai against MTNL is here. This was a shorter case and was concerning the large number service messages sent to Rai. The commission ordered MTNL to pay Rs. 25,000 to Rai as compensation.

No Respite Yet

Though it sided with the Commission that telemarketing calls should end, it appears from the report that the court has not attempted to resolve the issue at hand by setting a legally-binding compensation limit.

It is common knowledge that the Do Not Call registry in India is non-functional and that telemarketing calls and unwanted text messages are being received by the consumer, but it appears that no help is at hand yet. Guess we have to grin and bear for now.

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