Consumerism is an ideology whose essential attribute is to advance, promote and safeguard the interests of consumers. The credo of consumerism aims to protect consumers from any sort of exploitation. It is this principle which has influenced the enacting of various consumer protection laws in India. The Consumer Protection Act is regarded by many as the ‘Magna Carta’ of this area of law.
Other, more specific, laws to safeguard consumers are The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act 1997, (TRAI), Telecom Consumers Protection and Redressal of Grievances Regulations, 2007, and so forth. These laws, inter alia, consolidate the objectives and beliefs of consumerism. For instance, one of the objectives of TRAI Act is explicitly stated in its statement of objects and reasons as “to protect the interests of the consumers of telecom sector”. Many of these laws stipulate various Consumer Rights and also a redressal mechanism for the due enforcement of these rights. They are hence meant to protect the body of consumers from any kind of unscrupulous exploitation or fraud.
Notwithstanding such laws, in J&K it seems that this whole regulatory mechanism has been put aside. This is manifested in the prolonged internet restrictions that allow gross exploitation of telecom consumers by telecom service providers. Whilst much has been discussed about the legality of the internet restrictions, what has been profoundly ignored are the interests of telecom consumers who have been subjected to open loot and exploitation. It should be noted that in this whole communication and internet blockade, people are not only deprived of right to internet access but also of their consumer rights, which amounts to a double whammy.
Even at present, in most districts of J&K, 2G internet services continue to be in place as the government keeps extending its ban on high-speed internet. Telecom consumers subscribe for 4G mobile data services but in return get poor 2G service because of the internet restrictions. This amounts to “deficiency of service” under the respective provisions of laws and qualifies as a practice of unscrupulous consumer exploitation. These unchecked exploitation practices are totally against the spirit of consumerism.
It would be highly unfair to put the entire onus on telecom service providers for this exploitation, as the role of the government and the regulatory authorities also needs to be criticised. It was the task of these authorities to balance and harmonise security interests with that of consumer interests. However, no appropriate directions were given to telecom companies by the government in this regard and ultimately the consumers had to bear the brunt and suffer losses. Both telecom service providers and government authorities should have come up with a framework to provide consumers with fair and proportionate 2G plans which at least would have been in the interest of justice to consumers.
It is highly unlikely that the authorities concerned are going to compensate the losses suffered by consumers of telecom sector in any way. Nevertheless, we can only be optimistic about their future course of action as bringing some relief and advantage to consumers. It is worth to mention a quote believed to be of Mahatma Gandhi that highlights the significance of consumerism: “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us; we are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work; he is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business; he is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him; he is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.” It is, therefore, urged that certain policy and direction should be devised by both telecom service providers and government authorities to stop the exploitation of telecom consumers in J&K and this surely would be in the interest of consumers, consumerism, and justice in toto.
—The writer is a Law student at Department of Law, Central University of Kashmir. [email protected]\