The country’s leading mobile service provider, Bharti Airtel, is in the dock for allegedly intimidating a retired High Court judge to recover outstanding dues from him.
In a complaint to the Sanjaynagar police on Monday, T. Jayaram Chouta alleged that Airtel’s recovery agents threatened and abused his family and spread rumours about his death.
Mr. Chouta, who was a judge in the High Courts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and headed the State Consumer Redressal Commission, alleged that his son Sandesh J. Chouta, a practising advocate in Karnataka High Court for the past 15 years, got an Airtel connection 10 years ago.
He also obtained an add-on connection which was in use for some time. When he received an arbitrary bill of Rs. 50,000, he disconnected the service and moved the consumer court.
The case is pending before the II Additional District Consumer Redressal Forum in Bangalore.
Meanwhile, the recovery agents started calling the younger Chouta and demanded payment. He initially ignored the calls but they allegedly started threatening him with dire consequences.
The ‘road accident’
Matters came to a head when the Airtel staff called the retired judge’s home and told the family he had been hospitalised following a road accident.
This triggered panic particularly as the caller had got hold of his wife’s number.
One agent, identifying himself as Arjun Vishwanath, called up a relative of Mr. Jayaram Chouta in Puttur informing them that he had died in a road accident, the complaint stated. Anxious relatives called up the Chouta residence to convey their condolences and realised it was a hoax call.
According to the complaint, the agent then called another relative in Mumbai telling them that Mr. Jayaram Chouta had died. The caller even started calling family members and used abusive language, the complaint said, alleging there was no doubt the calls were made at the insistence of the company’s chief executive officer and other senior staff.
Based on the complaint, the Sanjaynagar police registered a case against Airtel’s managing director and chief executive officer and against its recovery department under Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act. The police have also charged the company with criminal intimidation, intent to insult the modesty of women, extortion by threatening with life and public nuisance.
Sanjaynagar Inspector Prabhushankar said investigations are on.
When contacted, Airtel’s spokesperson told The Hindu Mr. Chouta had an outstanding bill of Rs. 59,000 when he went to Spain and had paid only part of the amount. As the bill had been due since many months, the recovery staff were contacting him to get the payment. When Mr. Chouta started avoiding the calls, the staff had tried alternative numbers provided by him.
The company did not know that the add-on number was with Mr. Chouta’s father. Enquiries with the staff concerned revealed that they have not misbehaved with the client in any way, the spokesperson added.