Consumers can seek records of action taken by private telecom service providers (TSP) on their complaints from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India under the RTI Act, the CIC has held. In a directive seen as a major step opening doors of questioning private companies under the Act, Information Commissioner Basant Seth said it is clear that under the Right to Information Act a consumer, through TRAI, "can access the information on the action taken by the service provider on his complaint".
The Central Information Commission was hearing the plea of Delhi-based Akshay Kumar Malhotra who had sought to know from TRAI the status of his complaints filed with Vodafone related to unsolicited voice calls and SMSes received on his mobile phone which was listed on the Do Not Disturb registry.
He had filed various complaints with TRAI. Through his RTI application having 22 queries spread over six pages he sought to know information relating to not taking action and reasons for the same mentioning certain relevant rules of Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference (TCCCPR) rules.
However, the TRAI did not provide desired information. During the hearing, Malhotra cited Section 2(f) of the RTI Act which says "the information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force" adding that the TRAI has the authority to access the information from Vodafone which must be supplied to him."
The TRAI claimed that it has no such authority under the TRAI Act. It said such information cannot be called from the service provider solely for providing information under the RTI Act.Seth said TRAI is sole regulatory authority in such cases. "On the issue of seeking action against the service provider through RTI application, the respondent has stated that RTI application can be used only for seeking information available on the records of the CPIO, hence the applicant has no right to seek action under the RTI Act," he noted.
The Information Commissioner, however, added that RTI Act can be used with TRAI to access information on action taken by the complaint of a consumer by a private company but inaction on the part of redressal of his grievance can be agitated only before Consumer Disputes Refressal Forum.
He said Malhotra had followed appropriate course of law in lodging complaint before Vodafone, Delhi, the service provider, and upon "non-action on the part of the service provider" he sought to know the status of all his complaints from the TRAI, which happens to be "sole regulatory authority" in such cases.
"In response thereto, as is evident from the records of the case, no information has been provided by the respondent. However, it is clear that the applicant has sought no interpretation of regulations," he said.
Citing TRAI Act, Seth said it specifically includes the transparency provisions and empowers the authority to call upon any service provider at any time to furnish in writing such information or explanation relating to its affairs as it may consider necessary.
"The consumer/subscriber forms the most crucial part of the entire system being the recipient of the telecom services and hence undoubtedly the interest of consumers of the telecom sector cannot be underestimated and rather is the primary objective of the public authority (TRAI)," he held.
Seth said it is abundantly clear that one of the key functions of the TRAI is to protect the interest of the consumers of the telecom sector. "The information sought by the applicant regarding the status of his complaints with the Vodafone company regarding UCC...clearly falls within the regulatory powers exercised by the TRAI and thus there can be no reason which prevents TRAI from gathering the information from the service provider and providing the same to the applicant," he said.