The Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has imposed a total fine of Rs 75 lakh on a mobile service provider, two banks and the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) for pestering the public with unsolicited telemarketing calls and text messages, despite a ban.
While Airtel and COAI are to jointly pay Rs 50 lakh, ICICI Bank and American Express Bank will share the remaining Rs 25 lakh fine. Although various courts have issued directions in this regard, this is the first time in India that companies have been penalised.
On Monday, the commission, headed by Justice J.D. Kapoor, said: “To stop this menace, we feel inclined to impose heavy damages on the service providers and banks for their care-a-fig attitude and continuing to indulge in these activities despite our earlier ban and the Supreme Court’s clear-cut directions.”
The order came on a petition filed by a lawyer who was an Airtel subscriber. The court said every subscriber who suffered from such calls shall be entitled to a minimum compensation of Rs 25,000.
The commission also reminded mobile service providers that they had a contractual obligation to treat personal information given by subscribers as confidential. The forum said it was a matter of “grave concern” that addresses and financial standings of people were being traded to financial institutions without consent.
COAI had pleaded innocence before the court. It said there were various other sources — like clubs, hotels and other banks — from where financial institutions could obtain information. COAI said it had already introduced a ‘DND’ (do not disturb) service on its website which could be accessed by any subscriber. It also questioned the jurisdiction of the forum as the issue was pending before the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court.
ICICI Bank and American Express Bank said the complaint against them was not maintainable as they had nothing to do with the complainant or service provider. But the forum held that they were “equal culprits and beneficiaries by way of unauthorisedly obtaining confidential information from Airtel”.