Supreme Court dismisses Vodafone's appeal The telecom company had sought to know if the Indian Telegraph Act banished the authority of the consumer forum in deciding a dispute The Supreme Court has held that consumer complaints against telecom companies are maintainable before the Consumer Forum/Commission. The three judges bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant...
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Supreme Court dismisses Vodafone's appeal
The telecom company had sought to know if the Indian Telegraph Act banished the authority of the consumer forum in deciding a dispute
The Supreme Court has held that consumer complaints against telecom companies are maintainable before the Consumer Forum/Commission.
The three judges bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Vikram Nath observed that the existence of an arbitral remedy under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, would not oust the jurisdiction of the consumer forum.
A consumer had filed a complaint before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Ahmedabad. It alleged a deficiency of service on the part of Vodafone Idea Cellular Ltd.
The telecom company raised an objection to the maintainability of the complaint by placing reliance on a Supreme Court judgment in the General Manager, Telecom vs. M Krishnan and Another (2009) 8 SCC 481.
The District Forum had dismissed the objection holding that a private service provider was not a 'telegraph authority' for the purpose of Section 7B of the Telegraph Act. The State and the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission had later affirmed it.
The issue thus raised before the apex court in the appeal filed by Vodafone Idea was whether Section 7B of the Telegraph Act ousted the jurisdiction of the consumer forum in deciding a dispute between a telecom company and a consumer.
Under the Act, any dispute concerning a telegraph line, appliance or apparatus, between the telegraph authority and the person for whose benefit these were provided, could be determined by arbitration. Such a dispute was to be referred to an arbitrator appointed by the Central government.
Referring to the provision and the definitions under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the bench observed, "The existence of an arbitral remedy will not oust the jurisdiction of the consumer forum. It would be open to a consumer to opt for the remedy of arbitration. But there is no compulsion in law to do so. It would be open to the consumer to seek recourse to the remedies, provided under the Act, now replaced by the 2019 Act."
The court disagreed with the view taken in the M. Krishnan case that when there was a special remedy provided under the Telegraph Act regarding the disputes related to the telephone bills, the remedy under the Consumer Protection Act was by implication barred.
The court ruled, "The decision is incorrect on two grounds. First, it failed to recognize that the 1986 Act is not a general law but a special law that has been enacted by the Parliament of India specifically to protect the interests of the consumers. Second, even if it is assumed that the Act is a general law, it is a settled position of law that if there is any inconsistency between the two legislations, the later law, even if general in nature, would override an earlier special law."
Yet another contention raised in the case was that the specific incorporation of telegraph services in the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 was an indicator that it was only as a result of the new legislation that the telecom services were brought within the jurisdiction of the consumer forum.
Rejecting the argument, the bench observed, "This submission cannot be accepted for the reason that the specification of services in Section 2(s) of the 1986 Act was illustrative. This is apparent from the use of the expression 'includes but not limited to.' The specification of services of the erstwhile Act was, therefore, not intended to be an exhaustive enumeration of the services, which are comprehended within the definition.
"On the contrary, by adopting the language, which provides that the expression 'service' would mean service of any description, which is made available to the potential users, the Parliament indicated in unambiguous terms that all services would fall within the ambit of the definition. The only exception was in the case of services rendered free of charge, and services under a contract of personal services."
It further held, "The insertion of the expression 'telecom services' in the definition, contained in Section 2(42) of the 2019 Act cannot be construed to mean that the telecom services were excluded from the jurisdiction of the consumer forum under the 1986 Act. On the contrary, the definition of the expression 'service' in Section 2(o) of the 1986 Act was wide enough to comprehend services of every description, including the telecom services."