The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is clearly down with a vengeance on dropped calls. After its move to penalise telecom operators was blocked by the Supreme Court (See: Thwarted on call drop penalty, Trai mulling other steps), it has now asked government to amend the law to allow it to impose penalty of up to Rs10 crore on mobile operators and a jail term of up to two years on their executives for any violation of the regulatory framework.
This follows a Supreme Court judgement quashing a Trai order that asked telecom operators to compensate subscribers for call drops at the rate of Re1 per call with a cap of Rs3 a day.
The regulator has now suggested to the Department of Telecom amendments in various provisions in the Trai Act, 1997, with a view to be an "effective sector regulator" (Trai seeks Act amendment to penalise call drops).
"If a service provider violates any direction, order or regulations made under this Act or terms and condition of licence, service provider to be liable for penalty which may extend to 10 crore rupees," Trai said in its communication to the Department of Telecom (DoT).
The regulator said that after a detailed examination of the Supreme Court judgement it has concluded on the need for seeking greater clarity in protecting interest of consumers, grievance redressal and enforcement of its regulations and orders.
"In order to be an effective sector regulator Trai needs to be statutorily empowered to enforce its direction, orders, regulations as well as terms and conditions of licence issued to service providers through imposition of penalties for contravention of such regulations directions etc," Trai said.
The regulator has proposed amendment of Section 29 of the Trai Act 1997 which is about penalty for contravention of its directions, and also sought introduction of three new sub-sections 29 A, 29 B and 29 C.
Trai wants the amended section 29 to have provision for imprisonment and fine for violators.
"Section 29 may be substituted with ... if a person violates direction of the authority, such personnel shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may be extended to two years and shall be liable to fine which may be extended to Rs15 lakh," Trai said.
In case the violation continues there should be provision of additional fine that can be extended to Rs15 lakh for every day till the time default continues, it said.
At present, Trai can impose a fine of up to Rs2 lakh for a violation and in case default continues penalty of Rs2 lakh can be imposed till the time of breach of rules.
At present, disputes between consumers and telecom operators are not taken up by consumer courts as a Supreme Court judgement of 2009 had barred seeking any such relief under the Consumer Protection Act, saying a special remedy is provided under the Indian Telegraph Act.
The regulator has proposed a new Section 29 B under which if a company furnishes false report knowingly then it will also be considered as violation of the Trai Act.
Recently, telecom operators had disputed the regulator's test drive findings over call drops.
While Trai's test drive found poor quality of network resulting in call drops, operators contested the findings and said that they comply with the benchmark set by the regulator.
As per proposed Section 29C, the penalties imposed under Section 29 and its sub-section will be in addition to any other penalties imposed on telecom companies for a violation.
The National Telecom Policy 2012 envisages to undertake legislative measures to bring disputes between consumers and telecom service providers within the jurisdiction of consumer forums established under the Consumer Protection.
The Policy envisages "to review the TRAI Act with a view to addressing regulatory inadequacies/ impediments in effective discharge of its functions" but government is yet to execute it.