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Bharti Airtel fined Rs 5 lakh for insensitive customer service

A New Delhi consumer forum has imposed a fine of Rs 5 lakh on Bharti Airtel Ltd after the company continued to seek dues from a person even after the bill was paid.

In a complaint by IT professional Jasmeet Singh Puri, the forum also expressed its consternation at the “lackadaisical attitude” of Bharti Airtel’s customer care officials in replying to a customer complaint.

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The email communication between Puri and Bharti Airtel “reveals a lack of sensitivity in OP1’s (Airtel’s) executives to the plight of their customers as well as no supervision in a big company like OP1 for quick redressal of consumer’s grievances.

“In fact, consumer emails are replied to in an insincere manner with no effort being made to reconcile the wrongs/disservice caused to them which clearly proves that mischief conduct of OP1’s representatives, which appears to be deliberate and mala fide, with a purpose and design to harass the responsible professional, to heap insults, humiliation, mental agony by crass and bizarre attitude of OP1. It is not a routine case of issuing redemption for dues to a company, but a motivated misconduct to time out the consumer by irresponsible executives of OP1,” the New Delhi district consumer forum said in its order on September 4, 2014.

It may be noted that telecom companies used to enjoy “immunity” from consumer courts till about six months ago. But owing to a large number of complaints and representations, the central government had issued repeated clarifications that telecom companies do not enjoy any immunity from consumer protection laws and complaints against them must be admitted by consumer fora.

Telecom companies, which have nearly 50-60 crore customers in India, generate a huge number of complaints. But till recently, consumer courts used to direct complainants to set up an arbitration panel in case of disputes with telecom operators.

In the present case, Puri, a high ranking IT professional, said Airtel had disconnected his internet connection and continued to demand money from him even though he had paid the bill via a cheque drawn on his account in Bank of Baroda. Bank of Baroda backed up the complainant and said the money, Rs 4,995, had indeed been transferred to Bharti Airtel’s account.

In his complaint, Puri said he needed a steady internet connection for the discharge of his professional duties. But the same was disrupted by the provider Airtel.

“..owing to the disconnection of fixed landline and the internet connection, the complainant has suffered immense loss in his professional careers which can never be compensated in terms of money,” Puri said.

In addition, Puri said, “he and his family stated receiving calls from the executives of OP1 (Bharti Airtel) that the cheque in question was dishonoured for insufficient funds. The complainant informed the executive to check the status of cheque with bank (OP2) but OP1 never cared and continued making indiscriminate calls, without any formal written information to this affect. It is alleged that every kind of communication with OP1, the executive remained callous, uncaring, demanding repeatedly same information, despite emails etc but it all fell on deaf ears.”

The forum, comprising President CK Chaturvedi and members SR Chaudhar and Ritu Garodia, was also not pleased with the telecom company’s defence.

“It is seen from the records that OP1 (Airtel) instead of explaining its position in the Court, by filing its reply or seeking regret or apology for its conduct, chose to remain a spectator and its counsel with no obvious defence offered to pay Rs.5,000/- as compensation to add insult to the injury caused to the complainant. It has thus forced the complainant to litigate and bear the tortious course in the Court by wasting money and time,” they noted in their order.

“After considering the material, submissions and particularly the Act of discontinuing the services, despite payments and raising bills again, shows a lack of coordination between different department of OP1 (Airtel) whereby the complainant is made to suffer; all due to internal mismanagement as well as lacksidal attitude of OP1 executives towards the very people who provides a market for their services. We hold that it is a fit case for punitive damages to teach OP1 a lesson, so that its executives are disciplined and deterred from such behaviour to innocent consumers,” the forum said.

The forum imposed a punitive compensation of Rs 5 lakhs on the telecom company, out of which Rs 2 lakh would be awarded to Puri “for the extreme and deliberate insult, humiliation, mental agony, harassment, loss of benefit of services due to wrongful disconnection, and litigation expenses.”

Airtel has the option of appealing the ruling at the state-level forum.

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