Under fire from consumer groups and an irritated regulator over the quality of redressal of subscriber complaints, India’s telecom services industry has invited D.P. Wadhwa, a former judge in the Supreme Court, and former chairman of the National Consumer Commission, to be the its ombudsman.
The move comes as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is finalizing its recommendations to the government on setting up an institutional mechanism for resolving disputes of fixed-line and mobile phone consumers.
Telecom operators, represented by industry lobbyists, including the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUTSPI) and the Cellular Operators’ Association of India, had found themselves at the receiving end of consumer angst at a recent Trai meeting. The regulator took up the matter after it started receiving complaints from subscribers.
“We have had preliminary talks with justice Wadhwa, and we expect the body to be fully functional within a month,” said S.C. Khanna, secretary general of AUTSPI, which represents private fixed-line and CDMA operators. He added that the former judge would have a free hand in running the ombudsman.
Consumers, whose complaints are not redressed by the company within the stipulated time, will be able to register their grievances by email, fax or telephone at the office of the ombudsman in New Delhi. Khanna said specific timeframes for the disposal of the complaints at the ombudsman-level will be worked out.
Consumer groups, many of which had vehemently opposed the idea of an industry-sponsored, non-judicial body as the independent arbitrator, reiterated their demand for a government-funded court of final appeal.
“Our main requirement is that the ombudsman should be appointed by the regulator or the government, like in the banking and insurance industries,” said S.K. Virmani, co-ordinator for three telecom consumer organizations.
The industry-sponsored ombudsman could still work if it was transparent enough, Viramani added.