AND APPELLATE TRIBUNAL
(Disputes resolution mechanism in Telecom, Broadcasting and DTH/Cable Distribution services sectors)
1. Need for TDSAT
· Initially Dispute settlement fell within TRAI’s purview
· With intensifying competition, explosive growth and rapid technological advancement expeditious settlement of disputes became an issues of great public concern. Need was felt for a very level adjudicatory body which could inspire confidence amongst those who approach it.
· An amendment of TRAI Act 1997 in the year 2000 led to setting up of TDSAT to adjudicate disputes and dispose appeals in order to protect consumer interest and to promote as well as ensure orderly growth of Telecom Sector.
· TDSAT came into existence on May 29, 2000.
· Its jurisdiction was extended to Cable TV services and Broadcasting industry also in January, 2004.
· It has exclusive jurisdiction to entertain all disputes whether it is telephony, cable or broadcasting.
· India is a unique case of institutionally separating Regulatory & Adjudicatory/Dispute Resolution functions to avoid any conflict of interest.
2. WHAT/WHO IS TDSAT
· TDSAT is an independent quasi; judicial body with exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes between the licensor and a licensee; between two or more service providers and between a service provider and a group of consumers. It also has jurisdiction to hear and dispose of appeals against any direction, decision or order of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
· The Tribunal however does not possess any jurisdiction over the matters relating to the monopolistic trade practice, restrictive trade practice and unfair trade
practice; the complaints of individual consumer which are maintainable before
a Consumer Dispute Redressal Forum or the National Consumer dispute Redressal Commission; and the dispute between Telegraph Authority and any other person referred to in sub-section (1) of section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
3. INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK OF TDSAT
· TDSAT has a Chairperson and two Members, who take decisions by majority. Its orders are executable as Decree of a Civil Court Jurisdiction of Civil Courts is barred.
· TDSAT has independent functioning to instill confidence in litigating parties. Principles of natural Justice apply.
· Not only lawyers but Chartered Accountants, Cost Accountants, Company Secretaries and Officers of Litigant Parties are also entitled to appear and present their cases. TDSAT can summon and enforce attendance of any person to examine him on oath.
· Willful violation of TDSAT's orders, attracts financial penalty. Appeals against its Orders can be preferred to the Supreme Court of India on points of law only. No appeal lies against an inter-locutory order or against an order by consent of parties.
4. OBJECTIVES OF TDSAT
· To protect the interest of service providers as well as consumers so as to promote and ensure orderly growth of the sectors including matters connected therewith and incidental thereto.
· To expeditiously settle disputes with focus on balancing act while adopting simple procedures, uniformity in principles of settlement and flexible approach, which may not necessarily be court like.
· To achieve certainty and maintain consistency while promoting orderly growth of sectors healthy competition & level playing field amongst operators and empowerment of subscribers/consumers.
· To be pro-active & keep itself prepared to effectively tackle new & emerging areas of conflict.
· To encourage and to draw upon alternate dispute resolution mechanisms like negotiations, mediations and conciliation before taking up the process of adjudication.
5. ISSUES INVOLVED IN TELECOM DISPUTES
· Interdependence and competition of market players e.g., Interconnection matters, inter-operator billing disputes etc.
· Dissatisfactory services, billing disputes.
· Exploitation of rapid technological advancements and technology convergence blurring distinction and disturbing level playing field amongst the service provider.
· Over lapping jurisdictions, lack of adequate clarity in laws/ regulations leaving scope for ambiguity, mis-interpretation or infirmities of various kinds.
· Certain policy and regulatory actions failing to address legitimate expectations stakeholders.
· Recovery of outstanding dues of stakeholders.
· Licensing disputes.
6. ISSUES IN BROADCASTING SERVICES
· Subscriber base disputes wherever addressable systems and choice of TV channels/ bouquets, are not available.
· Signal disconnection / refusal / denial.
· Pricing of channels / bouquets.
· Non-Payment/ Recovery of subscription/ carriage fee.
· Terms & conditions of Model Subscription Agreement.
· Piracy of signals / illegal transmission of signals.
· Quality of service issues.
· Absence of choice of channels.
· Absence of cost based tariff / subscription fee with clearly defined fair distribution margins for each stage in the value chain for transmission and distribution of signals.
· Licensing disputes.
7. LITIGANT FRIENDLY STEPS TAKEN BY TDSAT
· TDSAT has notified procedures for filing of petitions and appeals.
· TDSAT has contributed in strengthening the regulatory framework, provided an avenue for expeditious dispute resolution with consistent and constructive approach, followed simple and flexible procedures, boosted investor's confidence and contributed towards the smooth functioning of telecom industry in India.
· TDSAT proactively provides counseling on various legal issues to aggrieved persons, especially to consumers.
· TDSAT has set-up a Mediation Centre to help litigants go through a mediation process and arrive at a mutually agreed settlement of the disputes with the help of trained mediator. The Mediation Centre has started functioning from 29th July, 2013 and has been successful in helping settle large number of cases so far.
· Fee is exempted on Petitions/ Appeals where necessary & legal aid is extended to consumer groups.
· TDSAT also provides legal aid to indigent litigants who do not have enough resources to bear the cost of litigation.
· Not only the backlog of cases stands reduced due to expeditious disposal, the fresh filing of cases has also increased due to improved confidence in the institution of TDSAT. There is increased awareness generated amongst the various stakeholders, including consumers as a result of the seminars organized by TDSAT.
With Government, working on New Telecom Bill, converging and consolidating the sectorial laws, it would interesting to see the role of TDSAT in near future, which is Sector specific and specialized Tribunal.