A Division Bench of Delhi High Court on Monday upheld an order of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, mandating cellular operators to compensate subscribers for call drops from January 1, 2016.
Dismissing a batch of petitions filed by Cellular Operators Association of India, and 21 telecom operators, the Bench, comprising Chief Justice G. Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath observed, “There is no dispute about the power of TRAI to make regulation under section 36 of the Act. The impugned regulation has been made in exercise of the power conferred under the Act, keeping in mind the paramount interest of the consumer… It is also relevant to note that the regulations do not penalize every call drop but is limited only to three call drops a day per consumer.”
The Court ruled that TRAI is free to implement its decision from January 1, 2016 onwards, as it has not stayed the notification since the filing of the writ petition.
Telecom Consumer Protection (Ninth Amendment) Regulations, 2015 makes every originating service provider providing cellular mobile telephone service liable to credit the calling consumer i.e. a consumer who initiates a voice call, by one rupee for each call drop within its network for a maximum of three call drops per day. The service provider is also supposed to provide the details of the amount credited to the calling consumer within 4 hours of the occurrence of call drop through SMS/USSD message. In case of post paid consumers, the details of the amount credited in the account of the calling customer needs to be provided in the next bill.
The telecom operators had contended before the Court that the impugned regulations penalized them, without proving any wrong-doing. They had termed the regulation as “arbitrary and whimsical”, claiming that such a restriction on the companies’ tariff structure could only be interfered with by an order, and not a regulation.
They had further contended that though the expression used is ‘compensation’, it has the effect of extraction of a tax/cess/penalty. It stated that such extraction of money has no legislative sanction and is violative of Article 265 of the Constitution of India.
The operators had averred that there are several extraneous factors such as closing down and sealing of sites, spectrum related issues and deployment of additional network capacity by way of augmenting spectrum resources, which are beyond the control of the service providers. They hence contended that they cannot be made liable for every call drop, ignoring the fact that Quality of Service Regulations have recognized that 100% coverage is not possible.
The Court dismissed these contentions, to conclude that the regulations have been made to ensure quality of services extended to the consumers by the service providers. “For the aforesaid reasons, particularly in view of the fact that the liability to compensate the consumers under the impugned regulations is limited only to originating calls with a cap of three calls per day per consumer and nominal compensation of one rupee for each call drop has been prescribed, we are unable to hold that the impugned regulations are manifestly arbitrary. We found that absolutely no case is made out by the petitioners to rebut the presumption that the impugned regulations are intra vires,” the Bench further observed.
Image from here.
Read the Judgment here.