New Delhi: In a move that sets another precedent on the applicability of the Right to Information Act (RTI) to the private sector, the Central Information Commission has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to check whether Hutchison Essar Ltd (HEL) adhered to billing norms while charging a customer, and to file a suit if it hadn’t done this.
The consumer courts are usually the last recourse for consumers who feel they have been wrongfully treated by companies, but the process takes time.
The HEL incident gains significance also because it is among the few instances of an RTI application being used to get information from the private sector. Wajahat Habibullah, chief information commissioner (CIC), said more people were filing applications seeking information on the private sector, including some that pertained to private educational institutions.
“We welcome such applications and hope that we get more of them,” he added.
The HEL case involves a Delhi-based consumer of the company, A.L. Aggarwal, who believed the company was charging him for value-added services he had never asked for in the first place. In July 2006, he wrote to Trai complaining about this and asking for some information on other customers of the operator who were also being charged for the same services.
Dissatisfied with Trai’s reply that it had already told telecom firms that “no chargeable value-added service was to be provided to a customer without his explicit consent”—the regulator said it didn’t have any of the other information Aggarwal wanted—Aggarwal appealed to a higher authority at the regulator. The authority ruled that Trai wasn’t required to ask for any information from HEL on the basis ofAggarwal’s complaint.
Aggarwal then approached the Central Information Commission in February. During the hearing, he said that in spite of the direction given by Trai—on not billing services without the customer’s permission—to mobile service providers, Hutchison Essar had charged him excessively.
During the commission’s hearings, Trai said that it would take up Aggarwal’s complaint and request for information with Hutchison Essar. The commission, however, directed that since Trai is also a quasi-judicial body, it would have to take the matter to court if HEL had indeed violated billing norms.
“Our usual course of action on individual consumer complaints is to forward them to the concerned operator, sometimes with our comments. If we get many complaints of the same nature, then we write to the companies to see whether it is a systematic or widespread issue requiring our intervention,” said Trai chairman Nripendra Misra.
The regulator has received 760 services-related complaints from customers between October 2006 and March this year, Misra added. A Hutchison Essar executive said the company complies with all the requests for information from Trai.