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SC: Consumer courts can’t entertain telecom disputes...

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SC: Consumer courts can't entertain telecom disputes

PTI

New Delhi, September 6: The Supreme Court has held that consumer courts cannot entertain disputes relating to telecom services under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.

The judgement has come as a much-awaited relief to telecom operators, which are being dragged to consumer courts for deficiency in services.A Bench headed by Mr Justice Markandey Katju said, "In our opinion when there is a special remedy provided in Section 7-B of the Indian Telegraph Act regarding disputes in respect of telephone bills, then the remedy under the Consumer Protection Act is by implication barred. "It said that Section 7-B of the Telegraph Act provided for appointment of an arbitrator by the Central government specifically for determination of the disputes and the award of the arbitrator should not be questioned in any court.

According to the court, the provisions of the Telegraph Act, which is a special law, would prevail over a general law like the Consumer Protection Act.Allowing a BSNL appeal, the Supreme Court set aside the impugned judgment of the Kerala High Court that had dismissed the PSU's appeal questioning the consumer court's jurisdiction to entertain telecom disputes.

Citing another apex court's judgement in the case of Chairman, Thiruvalluvar Transport Corporation Vs Consumer Protection Council, the Bench said the National Consumer Commission had no jurisdiction to adjudicate claims for compensation arising out of motor vehicles accidents.

The BSNL was dragged to a consumer court after it had disconnected a consumer's telephone connection for non-payment of telephone bill.

The district consumer forum had allowed the consumer's plea in November 2001 and directed BSNL to re-connect the telephone connection and pay compensation of Rs 5,000 with interest at the rate of 12 per cent per annum from the date of filing of the complaint.Both the single judge and the Full Bench of the high court had dismissed the BSNL's plea challenging the jurisdiction of the consumer forum to pass the impugned order. 

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SC rules consumer courts ineligible to entertain telecom disputes      

07 Sep, 2009

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that consumer courts can't entertain telecom service disputes under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. 

A bench, headed by justice Markandey Katju was responsible for this decision. In their own words, "In our opinion, when there is a special remedy provided in Section 7-B of the Indian Telegraph Act regarding disputes in respect of telephone bills, than the remedy under the Consumer Protection Act is by implication barred." 

According to the bench, Section 7-B of the Telegraph Act provided for appointment of an arbitrator by the central government exclusively for the determination of disputes, and that the award of the arbitrator shall not be questionable in any court. 

It said Section 7-B of the Telegraph Act provided for appointment of an arbitrator by the central government specifically for determination of disputes and the award of the arbitrator should not be questioned in any court. 

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Also read FULL Judgment at: 

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

CIVIL APPEAL NO. 7687 OF 2004, dated 01 September, 2009

General Manager, Telecom ------ Appellant

Versus

M.Krishnan and another ------ Respondent 

O R D E R

Heard learned counsel for the appellant. No one appears for the respondents although they had been served.

This appeal is directed against the Full Bench judgment and order dated 14.02.2003 of the High Court of Kerala at Ernakulam whereby the Writ Appeal filed by the appellant herein has been dismissed.

The dispute in this case was regarding non-payment of telephone bill for the telephone connection provided to the respondent No. 1 and for the said non-payment of the bill the telephone connection was disconnected. Aggrieved against the said disconnection, the respondent No. 1 filed a complaint before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, Kozhikode. By order dated 26.11.2001, the Consumer Forum allowed the complaint and directed the appellant herein to re-connect the telephone connection to the respondent No. 1 and pay compensation of Rs. 5,000/- with interest @ 12% per annum from the date of filing of the complaint.

Aggrieved against the order of the Consumer Forum, the appellant filed a writ petition before the High Court of Kerala challenging the jurisdiction of the consumer forum. A learned Single Judge of the High Court dismissed the writ petition. Thereafter, the appellant filed a Writ Appeal before the Division Bench of the High Court. The Division Bench felt that the matter required consideration by a larger Bench and hence the matter was placed before the Full Bench. By the impugned order the Full Bench of the High Court has dismissed the writ appeal. Hence, the appellant is before us by way of present appeal by special leave.

In our opinion when there is a special remedy provided in Section 7-B of the Indian Telegraph Act regarding disputes in respect of telephone bills, then the remedy under the Consumer Protection Act is by implication barred. Section 7-B of the Telegraph Act reads as under:- "S. 7B Arbitration of Disputes:-

(1) Except as otherwise expressly provided in this Act, if any dispute concerning any telegraph line, appliance or apparatus arises between the telegraph authority and the person or whose benefit the line, appliance or apparatus is, or has been provided, the dispute shall be determined by arbitration and shall, for the purpose of such determination, be referred to an arbitrator appointed by the Central Government either specifically for the determination of that dispute or generally for the determination of disputes under this Section.

(2) The award of the arbitrator appointed under sub-s.(1) shall be conclusive between the parties to the dispute and shall not be questioned in any Court."

Rule 413 of the Telegraph Rules provides that all services relating to telephone are subject to Telegraph Rules. A telephone connection can be disconnected by the Telegraph Authority for default of payment under Rule 443 of the Rules.

It is well settled that the special law overrides the general law. Hence, in our opinion the High Court was not correct in its approach.

In Chairman, Thiruvalluvar Transport Corporation Vs. Consumer Protection Council (1995) 2 SCC 479 it was held that the National Commission has no jurisdiction to adjudicate upon claims for compensation arising out of motor vehicles accidents. We agree with the view taken in the aforesaid judgment.

In view of the above, we allow this appeal, set aside the impugned judgment and order of the High Court as well as the order of the District Consumer Forum dated 26.11s.2001.

Appeal allowed. No order as to the costs. 

.....................J. (MARKANDEY KATJU)

.....................J. (ASOK KUMAR GANGULY)

NEW DELHI, SEPTEMBER 01, 2009

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