Delhi Consumer Commission Upholds Rs 5 Lakh Penalty Against Bharti Airtel for Customer Harassment

In a significant decision, the Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has affirmed a district forum’s ruling that imposed a Rs 5 lakh fine on telecom giant Bharti Airtel Ltd. The penalty was levied for what was described as the humiliating and harassing treatment of a customer, in addition to the wrongful disconnection of his services despite his having settled his dues.

The commission, led by President Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal and judicial member Pinki, dismissed Airtel’s appeal against the initial verdict which deemed the fine as “punitive compensation.” The decision mandates that Rs 3 lakh of the total fine be contributed to the state consumer welfare fund, while the remaining Rs 2 lakh is to be paid directly to the complainant. This payment aims to compensate for the “extreme and deliberate insult, humiliation, mental agony, harassment, loss of benefit of services, and litigation expenses” that the consumer endured.

The matter escalated when the customer, having issued a cheque for the installation of internet and landline services, faced repeated allegations of cheque dishonor due to insufficient funds, despite bank records confirming the cheque’s clearance. Throughout the ordeal, Airtel reportedly failed to verify these claims or halt the persistent, baseless demands for payment, culminating in the unjust disconnection of services and threats of legal action against the customer.

The commission highlighted that Airtel’s inability to address the complaints or provide substantial evidence of due diligence significantly contributed to the customer’s distress. This oversight demonstrated a clear negligence in service provision and an abuse of the company’s position to exert undue pressure on the consumer.

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Justice Sehgal pointed out, “It cannot be denied that the appellant was not only negligent in providing its services but also used its position to harass the respondent (customer).” She concluded that the deficiency in service was sufficiently proven, affirming the district consumer forum’s judgment and finding no faults in their decision.

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