Can a consumer complaint be filed against telecom companies?

A consumer complaint can be filed against telecom companies on any of the grounds mentioned in the Consumer Protection Act and the statutory remedy of arbitration provided under Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 does not oust the jurisdiction of the consumer forums. This has been held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Vodafone Idea Cellular Ltd. vs. Ajay Kumar Agarwal, 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 221.

Furthermore, there is no compulsion in law to choose one of the available remedies and it is open to a consumer to opt for one of the two available remedies -

  1. to opt for the remedy of arbitration under Section 7B of the Telegraph Act, 1885 or
  2. to seek recourse to the remedies under Consumer Protection Act, 2019

(Refer IREO Grace Realtech (P) Ltd. vs. Abhishek Khanna, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 277 where the Hon’ble Supreme Court invoked the doctrine of election, which provides that when two remedies are available for the same relief, the party at whose disposal such remedies are available, can make the choice to elect either of the remedies as long as the ambit and scope of the two remedies is not essentially different. These observations were made in the context of an allottee of an apartment having the choice of initiating proceedings under the Consumer Protection Act or the RERA.)

The Background

Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 provides that any dispute pertaining to telegraph/telecom services shall be decided by arbitration. This, therefore, raises a question whether such disputes can be adjudicated by the consumer forums.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in an authoritative judgement clarified the legal position in this regard. The court observed that though the Telegraph Act can be construed to be a special enactment for regulating telegraphs, the Consumer Protection Act is a special (and later) enactment intended to protect the interest and welfare of consumers and hence, an ouster of jurisdiction cannot be lightly assumed unless express words are used or such a consequence follows by necessary implication.

 Relevant Legal Provisions:
  • Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885
  • Section 11 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986

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