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PIL on setting up ombudsman for telecom sector: Bombay HC issues notices to Govt, TRAI
The Chief Justice of Bombay High Court issued a notice to the Central Government and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in January 2016 by a petitioner to set up an ombudsman for the telecom sector.

According to the petitioner's advocate, the PIL was filed to appoint an ombudsman in telecom industry who will be an independent body to redress and pass orders and penalise the service providers for complaints and grievances against telecom service providers.

The petitioner's advocate has stressed the point before the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court that currently in the telecom sector the two-tier redressal system is that the consumer redresses first to Telecom Service Provider and if not satisfied then to Appellant Officer of the same service provider. This tier-mechanism of a call centre and the appellate is not independent and it lies within the authority of the telecom service provider who is a party in the matter.

The Department of Telecommunications only act as a facilitator and just forward the consumer grievance to the service provider. The Department of Telecommunications do not give any orders or penalise the service provider for not redressing the Consumer Grievance as they are not vested with powers to penalise service provider for not redressing the Grievances.

The service provider is at discretion to close the complaint received from the Department of Telecommunications without resolving the Consumer Grievances. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India neither entertains nor redress the individual compaints.

The petitioner's advocate stated to the Bombay High Court that in the year 2004 TRAI had floated a consultation paper that there was a need to set up an ombudsman in the Telecom Sector but in the year 2009 the Government decided as to not to set up the same.  

The telecom sector in India has grown rapidly in last decades. From a subscriber base of around 90 million in March, 2006, the number of telecom subscribers in India reached around 1.04 billion by June 2016. These subscribers filed approximately 10.23 million complaints just in the Jan-March Quarter in 2016 with the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs). The complaints were on account of wrong billing, indifferent or poor quality of service, non-provision of contracted services, etc.

There is no other sector with such a mass base of 1 billion customers. An average consumer probably has complaints worth Rs 30 or Rs 20 a month. A very small value, but large numbers. Since amount involved in most of the consumer complaints related to telecom service is very meagre in comparison to the litigation cost and in view of the time taken by the Consumer Courts/Forums in deciding the case, consumers in general are not willing to approach the Consumer Courts/Forums for redressal of their complaints.

Currently in India, the other Sectors such as Banking and Insurance also have an Ombudsman to immediately redress individual complaints. The RBI (Reserve Bank of India) who is the regulatory body of banks had set up an office of Ombudsman in the year 1995, who immediately redresses the complaints by giving order which is binding on consumers as well as to the banks.

The IRDA (Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India) had set up an office of ombudsman in the year 1998 who immediately redresses the complaints by giving the order and the order is binding on consumer as well as to the insurance service provider.

Australia had set up an office of the ombudsman in the year 1993 and United Kingdom in the year 2003 for telecommunication sector, to help consumers to resolve their disputes with their service providers, which they are not able to resolve through normal procedures.

The next date of hearing in the case is scheduled on 18th November 2016.

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