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'No charges for default services'
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In a court ruling that can help millions of telephone users who are forced by their service providers to pay for facilities provided to them by default even though they never asked for it, a trial court has held that a consumer “cannot be made to pay for it merely because the facility was so granted and the service was availed”.

“Grant of a facility without being asked for it and permitting its use without bothering to look into the various complaints being made by the consumer regarding over-charging, is case of severe deficiency in services by the respondent (service provider) for which the consumer cannot be made to suffer,” Additional District Judge Kamini Lau said while disposing off a petition filed by one Laxmi Narayan, who said that MTNL had charged him for STD, a facility which he never asked for.

Narayan had challenged the MTNL’s bill of Rs 46,971, on a 23-year-old connection. He alleged that at the time of getting the connection he had specifically mentioned in the application that he did not want STD facility and yet the company went ahead to charge him for it. He also challenged the award of the arbitrator, which asked him to pay 50% of the bill, on the ground that the same was against the facts and law.

The arbitrator, who was appointed to settle the dispute between MTNL and Narayan, had come to the conclusion that Narayan had never requested for the STD facility but was provided and the service was availed. The arbitrator said that having used the said facility, Narayan was liable to pay.

Trashing the contentions of the arbitrator, the court held that Narayan was not entitled to make payment of any amount of the STD call charges for the disputed period and shall only be liable to pay the regular charges.

“The arbitrator has committed a serious error in failing to appreciate that when the subscriber has not specifically asked for the STD facility, the question of making specific request for debarring would not arise. Moreover, the subscriber had made repeated requests to the MTNL informing it that he was being overcharged and at no point of time did the MTNL disclosed the fact that STD facility was used,” ADJ Lau said.

Consumers welcomed the judgment saying now it will help them fight back. “My service provider recently put on a caller tune on my number without me requesting for it. They charged me Rs 60 for a month and I had to pay extra to get it removed. But with this ruling, I hope such things will stop,” said 23-year-old Ankita Sinha, a textile designer.

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