Recovery agents used ‘abusive’ language and threatened complainant, family members

A consumer forum in Bangalore has directed Bharti Airtel Ltd. to pay a compensation of Rs. 50,000 to a mobile phone subscriber for harassing him and his family members with “abusive, vulgar and filthy language” in a bid to recover “disputed” bill amount through its recovery agents.

The 2nd Additional District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum has issued the direction on a complaint filed by Sandesh J. Chouta, son of a retired judge of the Karnataka High Court T. Jayaram Chouta. The forum also awarded Rs. 5,000 as cost of litigation.

“It is a fit case to award compensation, so that it should have a deterring effect on Opposite Party [Bharti Airtel’s Managing Director], and he should not repeat a similar conduct against his other customers,” said a Bench comprising forum president T. Rajashekaraiah and member J. Niveditha in their order. There was a dispute between the complainant and Bharti Airtel over amount charged for roaming while the phone was used in Spain during May 2012. Though the complainant, after paying only a portion of the bill amount [Rs. 5,000] had in July 2012 approached the forum alleging excess billing and deficiency of service, Bharti Airtel was pestering him through repeated calls and SMS for paying the remaining amount.

It was in December 10, 2012 that the complainant received repeated calls from Bharti Airtel’s recovery agents that not only his life but those of his family members would be in danger if he failed to pay the amount. The agents also called the complainant’s wife on her mobile phone and threatened her with “obscene words”, besides cautioning that her husband’s life would be in danger if the amount was not paid.

Shockingly, on the same day the agents called Justice Chouta [who elaborately narrated the incident in his affidavit] on his landline number and told him that his son had met with an accident and was in hospital. Also, different persons called two of the complainant’s woman relatives on their mobile phones. Some agents abused them using vulgar language and threatened to kill the complainant. Later other agents called these two relatives informing them that the complainant had died in a road accident. They spent anxious moments before they learnt the information on the death was false.

The forum observed that though Bharti Airtel denied claims of the complainant on excess billing in its affidavit, it did not state anything on these allegations.

Meanwhile, the forum has found that Bharti Airtel had inflated the bill amount by about 60 per cent as against the approximate charges, including international roaming charges, indicated in the SMS. The bill amount indicated in the SMS was Rs. 35,731 and the amount claimed in the bill was Rs. 59,340.

The forum found that Bharti Airtel did not give an explanation for such a huge difference even after the subscriber had switched off his mobile without using it abroad after knowing the approximate bill amount through SMS and sent an email for cancelling international roaming.

The forum did not accept the complainant’s contention that Bharti Airtel did not inform him about actual charges of international roaming before activating the service while upholding bill amount of Rs. 35,731.

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