For many years, private banks ignored the law of the land and employed several illegal methods, including abduction, intimidation and physical violence, to coerce hapless customers to pay their dues. The supreme court eventually had to come down heavily on the banks as well as the regulator to put stop to such terror tactics unleashed by the banks through their 'recovery agents'.
It seems like all those recovery agents are now being hired by telecom companies and this time, their tactics may vary, but the effect is as intimidating and humiliating. This is despite the fact that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had in 2007 issued a four-page guideline to all telecom service providers on 'collection of dues by outsourced agencies engaged by them'.
The guidelines, for example, says that "2(b) service provider should ensure that before a collection case is given to an outsourced agency, advance intimation through telephone call or SMS, followed by intimation in writing, is given to the customer regarding his outstanding dues so that the customer's response could be elicited. Such intimation should have the contact details of the supervisory officer of the service provider who can be contacted for further clarification, if needed."
The guidelines also clarify under 2(c) that whenever a bill is disputed by the consumer and such a dispute is pending before the nodal officer or appellate authority, such cases shall not be handed over to the recovery agency for collection of dues.
Similarly, it says under 2(e) that "secrecy/privacy of the consumer information should be ensured as per the licensing conditions". 3(h) clearly says that the contract between the telecom company and the collection agency should have a provision to ensure that the outsourced agency will not make multiple points of contact with a defaulting consumer at a time through its different employees/agents.
The guidelines also stipulate that 5(b ii) an agent of outsourced agency shall be polite towards the customer so as to avoid allegation of bad behaviour.
Similarly, 5(b iii) says that "agent of outsourced agency shall not threaten the customer by using abusive language or following criminal means."
These regulations, however, will have no meaning unless the regulator comes down heavily on violators.
A Singh: Due to some unfortunate reasons, I could not pay my cell phone dues. On July 22, I came to know that the service provider had called some of my family members and friends and suggested that they ask me to pay up. Before taking such a step, no one from the company intimated me. This has caused me immense agony and I am constantly left worrying as to how many more people the service provider may have called. The service provider violated my right to privacy and damaged my reputation. Then two days ago, a recovery agent called and abused me. What can I do?
Besides the fact that the service provider has blatantly violated the guidelines of the regulator on several counts, these humiliating tactics can have a very serious repercussion on the psyche of the victim. So this calls for strong action on the part of TRAI. Complain immediately to TRAI.
I would also suggest that you send a complaint to the nodal officer of the service provider-you can find his contact details on the website of the service provider -if you have a problem with immediate payment, you can also work out an amicable settlement.
The public grievance cell of the department of telecommunication is also open to you, but only if the nodal officer fails to redress your complaint. The address is room no: 518, Sanchar Bhavan, 20, Ashoka Road, New Delhi-110001.