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Bombay HC asks Centre to set up ombudsman for telecom sector

The Bombay High Court has asked the Centre to instate an ombudsman for the telecom sector, a move that will aid redressal of consumers’ complaints. The court further directed the government to submit a plan for this in a month’s time.

The ombudsman will be sort of a public lawyer, who can be approached by consumers in case of disputes with the telecom service provider. The Division Bench of Justice SS Kemkar and Justice MS Karnik was hearing a petition filed by Gansham Ramchandani.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been recommending this move for complaint redressal for a while. In its latest recommendation for the new telecom policy, the authority reiterated this as well. The Bombay HC also asked the Central government to respond to TRAI’s recommendations.

In March, the TRAI has also told the DoT that setting up an ombudsman in the sector would have the power to levy penalties on the telecom service providers.

Once the Centre’s plan is submitted, there will be more clarity on the mechanism of the ombudsman’s functioning, however, TRAI in March had told the DoT that the public advocate should have the power to levy penalties on service providers.

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The TRAI has a Telecom Consumers Complaint Monitoring System, but that only allows consumers to file complaints and monitor the progress. The complaints are forwarded to the service providers, as the TRAI is not responsible for their redressal.

For years, there has been little clarity to telecom users on complaint redressal. In 2009, the Supreme Court said that telecom complaint cannot be addressed or heard by consumer courts. Then in 2010, a consumer complaint redressal forum said that consumers do not have to go through the process of arbitration and can approach consumer forums. Albeit, the confusion remained.

The TRAI recommended an ombudsman back in 2004. A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology in December 2017 also reiterated the recommendation, while adding a suggestion for an e-court for addressing consumer grievance in telecom sector which will take e-evidence and give e-judgements.

“The Committee are of the view that the existing telecom grievance redressal mechanism is woefully inadequate and there is an urgent need to strengthen the Consumer grievance redressal mechanism. This problem has been further compounded by the fact that consumers are not aware of the little existing grievance redressal mechanism put in place both at TSPs and at the Government levels,” it said.

The government responded to this saying the suggestion was being considered by the DoT, but little happened. The Bombay HC’s order is likely to speed things up.

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