5 Jun 2016

Penalty on telephone companies for call-drops illegal: Supreme Court

Upholding the grievance of the telephone companies challenging the validity of the regulations, the Supreme Court in its recent decision Cellular Operators Association of India v. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Civil Appeal No. 5017/2016 (decision dated 11.05.2016] has set aside these regulations citing lack of legal basis for enacting them. The Court even repelled the argument of "public interest" canvassed by the Government of India to justify these regulations being of the view that legal and constitutional rights cannot be undone solely by citing public interest.

The relevant legal observations of the Court are as under;
32. We find that it is not necessary to go in detail into many of the submissions made on either side as to the technical difficulties which may or may not lead to call drops. This is for the reason that even if we accept the demarcation of the cause of call drops to be what the learned Attorney General says it is, the Impugned Regulation must be held to be manifestly arbitrary and an unreasonable restriction on the appellants’ fundamental rights to carry on business. According to the learned Attorney General, the cause for call drops is twofold – one owing to the fault of the consumer, and the other owing to the fault of the service provider. And, for this dichotomy, he has referred to the technical paper dated 13.11.2015, which shows that an average of 36.9% can be call drops owing to the fault of the consumer. If this is so, the Impugned Regulation’s very basis is destroyed: the Regulation is based on the fact that the service provider is 100% at fault. This becomes clear from a reading of the text of the said Regulation together with the Explanatory Memorandum set out hereinabove. This being the case, it is clear that the service provider is made to pay for call drops that may not be attributable to his fault, and the consumer receives compensation for a call drop that may be attributable to the fault of the consumer himself, and that makes the Impugned Regulation a regulation framed without intelligent care and deliberation.
33. But it was said that the aforesaid Regulation should be read down to mean that it would apply only when the fault is that of the service provider. We are afraid that such a course is not open to us in law, for it is well settled that the doctrine of reading down would apply only when general words used in a statute or regulation can be confined in a particular manner so as not to infringe a constitutional right. ...
39. We were then told that the Impugned Regulation was framed keeping in mind the small consumer, that is, a person who has a pre-paid SIM Card with an average balance of Rs.10/- at a time, and that the Regulation goes a long way to compensate such person. The motive for the Regulation may well be what the Attorney General says it is, but that does not make it immune from Article 14 and the twin tests of Article 19(6). The Authority framing the Regulation must ensure that its means are as pure as its ends – only then will regulations made by it pass constitutional muster.
40. We were also told that huge profits were made by the service providers, and that the amount they would have to pay would not even be a flea bite compared to the profits they make, viewed in the background that they are not pouring in enough funds for infrastructure development. This was stoutly resisted by the appellants, pointing out that the so called huge profits earned is misleading, as the figure of net debt is far greater than that of revenue earned, and that huge sums had been pumped in for infrastructure development. Without going into the factual controversy thus presented, there are two answers to this submission. First and foremost, whether the service providers make profits or losses cannot be said to be relevant for determining whether the Impugned Regulation is otherwise arbitrary or unreasonable. If the Attorney General were correct, then the converse proposition would also be true – namely, that even if all the service providers were suffering huge losses, then such regulation, since it makes them fork out crores of rupees and add to their losses, would have to be held to be unconstitutional. Assuming that six out of the twelve service providers make profits, and the other six make losses, the Impugned Regulation cannot be held to be constitutional so far as those making a profit, and unconstitutional qua those making losses. And what if the same service provider makes a profit in one year and a loss in the succeeding year. Is the Impugned Regulation unconstitutional in the first year and constitutional in the succeeding year? Obviously not. Secondly, it is always open to the Authority, with the vast powers given to it under the TRAI Act, to ensure, in a reasonable and non-arbitrary manner, that service providers provide the necessary funds for infrastructure development and deal with them so as to protect the interest of the consumer. Consequently, this submission is also without substance.
45. In view of the aforesaid, it is clear that the Quality of Service Regulations and the Consumer Regulations must be read together as part of a single scheme in order to test the reasonableness thereof. The countervailing advantage to service providers by way of the allowance of 2% average call drops per month, which has been granted under the 2009 Quality of Service Regulations, could not have been ignored by the Impugned Regulation so as to affect the fundamental rights of the appellants, and having been so ignored, would render the Impugned Regulation manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable.
46. Secondly, no facts have been shown to us which would indicate that a particular area would be filled with call drops thanks to the fault on the part of the service providers in which consumers would be severely inconvenienced. The mere ipse dixit of the learned Attorney General, without any facts being pleaded to this effect, cannot possibly make an unconstitutional regulation constitutional. We, therefore, hold that a strict penal liability laid down on the erroneous basis that the fault is entirely with the service provider is manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable. Also, the payment of such penalty to a consumer who may himself be at fault, and which gives an unjustifiable windfall to such consumer, is also manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable. In the circumstances, it is not necessary to go into the appellants’ submissions that call drops take place because of four reasons, three of which are not attributable to the fault of the service provider, which includes sealing and shutting down towers by municipal authorities over upon they have no control, or whether they are attributable to only two causes, as suggested by the Attorney General, being network related causes or user related causes. Equally, it is not necessary to determine finally as to whether the reason for a call drop can technologically be found out and whether it is a network related reason or a user related reason.
48. In the present case, also, a mandatory penalty is payable by the service provider for call drops that may take place which are not due to its fault, and may be due to the fault of the recipient of the penalty, which is violative of Articles 14 and 19(1)(g).
49. The reason given in the Explanatory Memorandum for compensating the consumer is that the compensation given is only notional. The very notion that only notional compensation is awarded, is also entirely without basis. A consumer may well suffer a call drop after 3 or 4 seconds in a voice call. Whereas the consumer is charged only 4 or 5 paise for such dropped call, the service provider has to pay a sum of rupee one to the said consumer. This cannot be called notional at all. It is also not clear as to why the Authority decided to limit compensation to three call drops per day or how it arrived at the figure of Re.1 to compensate inconvenience caused to the consumer. It is equally unclear as to why the calling party alone is provided compensation because, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, inconvenience is suffered due to the interruption of a call, and such inconvenience is suffered both by the calling party and the person who receives the call. The receiving party can legitimately claim that his inconvenience when a call drops, is as great as that of the calling party. And the receiving party may need to make the second call, in which case he receives nothing, and the calling party receives Re.1 for the additional expense made by the receiving party. All this betrays a complete lack of intelligent care and deliberation in framing such a regulation by the Authority, rendering the Impugned Regulation manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable.
53. Viewed at from a slightly different angle it is clear that if an individual consumer were to go to the consumer forum for compensation for call drops, he would have to prove that the call drop took place due to the fault of the service provider. He would further have to prove that he has suffered a monetary loss for which he has to be compensated, which the Explanatory Memorandum itself says is impossible to compute. Thus, the Impugned Regulation completely avoids the adjudicatory process, and legislatively lays down a penal consequence to a service provider for a call drop taking place without the consumer being able to prove that he is not himself responsible for such call drop and without proof of any actual monetary loss. Whereas individual consumers, either before the Consumer Forum, or in a dispute as a group with service providers before the TRAI, would fail in an action to recover compensation for call drops, yet a statutory penalty is laid down, applicable legislatively, and without any adjudication. This again makes the Impugned Regulation manifestly arbitrary and unreasonable.
In the wake of these legal challenges, the Supreme Court further went on to observe that it was expedient if the Parliament enacted another legislation whereby transparency could be
attained in making of sub-ordinate legislation such as these regulations. On this count the Court observed as under;
74. We find that, subject to certain well defined exceptions, it would be a healthy functioning of our democracy if all subordinate legislation were to be “transparent" in the manner pointed out above. Since it is beyond the scope of this judgment to deal with subordinate legislation generally, and in particular with statutes which provide for rule making and regulation making without any added requirement of transparency, we would exhort Parliament to take up this issue and frame a legislation along the lines of the U.S. Administrative Procedure Act (with certain well defined exceptions) by which all subordinate legislation is subject to a transparent process by which due consultations with all stakeholders are held, and the rule or regulation making power is exercised after due consideration of all stakeholders’ submissions, together with an explanatory memorandum which broadly takes into account what they have said and the reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with them. Not only would such legislation reduce arbitrariness in subordinate legislation making, but it would also conduce to openness in governance. It would also ensure the redressal, partial or otherwise, of grievances of the concerned stakeholders prior to the making of subordinate legislation. This would obviate, in many cases, the need for persons to approach courts to strike down subordinate legislation on the ground of such legislation being manifestly arbitrary or unreasonable.
One hopes that policy-makers will take heed for its not just the end which is important but also the means to the end which require justification. Penalty for call-drops, even if found to be a legitimate medium to ensure better telecom services, would need to be legislated in a more rational manner which is compliant with the legal and constitutional limitations.

Assimilate disabled in the mainstream of the nation's life: Supreme Court

Noting its disdain over the neglect of the disabled, the Supreme Court in its recent decision in a public interest litigation has implored one and all to create awareness and set an environment where even the disabled can enjoy their human rights. Reflecting its views in Jeeja Ghosh v. Union of India [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 98/2012] [decision dated 12.05.2016] the Court was concerned with the petition filed by noted disabled activity Jeeja Ghosh challenging the alarmingly unacceptable behaviour of an airlines which deboarded her from the aircraft on account of her disability. Imposing a fine of 10 lakhs in Spicejet airlines for their perceived inhuman treatment, the Supreme Court expressed its anguish at the ill-treatment and called upon one and all to ensure that even the disabled are brought within the mainstream of society. 

Some of the notable observations of the Supreme Court are as under;
36) The rights that are guaranteed to differently abled persons under the Act, 1995 are founded on the sound principle of human dignity which is the core value of human right and is treated as a significant facet of right to life and liberty. Such a right, now treated as human right of the persons who are disabled, has it roots in Article 21 of the Constitution. Jurisprudentially, three types of models for determining the content of the constitutional value of human dignity are recognised. These are: (i) Theological Models, (ii) Philosophical Models, and (iii) Constitutional Models. Legal scholars were called upon to determine the theological basis of human dignity as a constitutional value and as a constitutional right. Philosophers also came out with their views justifying human dignity as core human value. Legal understanding is influenced by theological and philosophical views, though these two are not identical. Aquinas and Kant discussed the jurisprudential aspects of human dignity based on the aforesaid philosophies. Over a period of time, human dignity has found its way through constitutionalism, whether written or unwritten. Even right to equality is interpreted based on the value of human dignity. Insofar as India is concerned, we are not even required to take shelter under theological or philosophical theories. We have a written Constitution which guarantees human rights that are contained in Part III with the caption “Fundamental Rights”. One such right enshrined in Article 21 is right to life and liberty. Right to life is given a purposeful meaning by this Court to include right to live with dignity. It is the purposive interpretation which has been adopted by this Court to give a content of the right to human dignity as the fulfillment of the constitutional value enshrined in Article 21. Thus, human dignity is a constitutional value and a constitutional goal.
38) We should, therefore, keep in mind that CAR instructions have also been issued keeping in view the spirit of human dignity enshrined in Article 21 and the right that are to be ensured to such persons. The underlying message in all these provisions is the acknowledgment that human rights are individual and have a definite linkage to human development, both sharing common vision and with a common purpose. Respect for human rights is the root for human development and realisation of full potential of each individual, which in turn leads to the augmentation of human resources with progress of the nation. Empowerment of the people through human development is the aim of human rights.
39) In international human rights law, equality is founded upon two complementary principles: non-discrimination and reasonable differentiation. The principle of non-discrimination seeks to ensure that all persons can equally enjoy and exercise all their rights and freedoms. Discrimination occurs due to arbitrary denial of opportunities for equal participation. For example, when public facilities and services are set on standards out of the reach of persons with disabilities, it leads to exclusion and denial of rights. Equality not only implies preventing discrimination (example, the protection of individuals against unfavourable treatment by introducing anti-discrimination laws), but goes beyond in remedying discrimination against groups suffering systematic discrimination in society. In concrete terms, it means embracing the notion of positive rights, affirmative action and reasonable accommodation. The move from the patronising and paternalistic approach to persons with disabilities represented by the medical model to viewing them as members of the community with equal rights has also been reflected in the evolution of international standards relating specifically to disabilities, as well as in moves to place the rights of persons with disabilities within the category of universal human rights. {See – Report of United Nations Consultative Expert Group Meeting on International Norms and Standards Relating to Disability 10-2-2001}.
40) Earlier the traditional approaches to disability have depicted it as health and welfare issue, to be addressed through care provided to persons with disabilities, from a charitable point of view. The disabled persons are viewed as abnormal, deserving of pity and are, and not as individuals who are entitled to enjoy the same opportunities to live a full and satisfying life as other members of society. This resulted in marginalising the disabled persons and their exclusion both from the mainstream of the society and enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Disability tends to be couched within a medical and welfare framework, identifying people with disabilities as ill, different from their non-disabled peers, and in need of care. Because the emphasis is on the medical needs of people with disabilities, there is a corresponding neglect of their wider social needs, which has resulted in severe isolation for people with disabilities and their families.
42) All these rights conferred upon such persons send an eloquent message that there is no question of sympathising with such persons and extending them medical or other help. What is to be borne in mind is that they are also human beings and they have to grow as normal persons and are to be extended all facilities in this behalf. The subject of the rights of persons with disabilities should be approached from human rights perspective, which recognised that persons with disabilities were entitled to enjoy the full range of internationally guaranteed rights and freedoms without discrimination on the ground of disability. This creates an obligation on the part of the State to take positive measures to ensure that in reality persons with disabilities get enabled to exercise those rights. There should be insistence on the full measure of general human rights guarantees in the case of persons with disabilities, as well as developing specific instruments that refine and given detailed contextual content of those general guarantees. There should be a full recognition of the fact that persons with disability were integral part of the community, equal in dignity and entitled to enjoy the same human rights and freedoms as others. It is a sad commentary that this perceptions has not sunk in the mind and souls of those who are not concerned with the enforcement of these rights. The persons suffering from mental or physical disability experience and encounter nonpareil form of discrimination.They are not looked down by people. However, they are not accepted in the main stream either even when people sympathies with them. Most common, their lives are handicapped by social, cultural and attitudinal barriers which hamper their full participation and enjoyment of equal rights and opportunities. This is the worst form of discrimination which disabled feel as their grievance  is that others do not understand them.
45) It is the common experience of several persons with disabilities that they are unable to lead a full life due to societal barriers and discrimination faced by them in employment, access to public spaces, transportation etc. Persons with disability are most neglected lot not only in the society but also in the family. More often they are an object of pity. There are hardly any meaningful attempts to assimilate them in the mainstream of the nation's life. The apathy towards their problems is so pervasive that even the number of disabled persons existing in the country is not well documented.
47) On our finding that respondent No.3 acted in a callous manner, and in the process violated Rules, 1937 and CAR, 2008 guidelines resulting in mental and physical suffering experienced by Jeeja Ghosh and also unreasonable discrimination against her, we award a sum of 10,00,000 as ₹ damages to be payable to her by respondent No.3 within a period of two months from today. This petition stands allowed and disposed of in the aforesaid terms.
48) We would like to conclude this judgment by observing that to most disabled persons, the society they live in is a closed door which has been locked and the key to which has been thrown away by the others. Helen Keller has described this phenomena in the following words:
“Some people see a closed door and turn away. Others see a closed door, try the knob and if it doesn't open, they turn away. Still others see a closed door, try the knob and if it doesn't work, they find a key and if the key doesn't fit, they turn way. A rare few see a closed door, try the knob, if it doesn't open and they find a key and if it doesn't fit, they make one!”
These rare persons we have to find out.

One can give two exams at the same time: Supreme Court

A very interesting case came up before the Supreme Court recently. The Appellant before it cleared class 12 exam in 2002. He thereafter obtained a Bachelor's degree in 2005 and Master's degree in 2007. Thereafter he obtained another degree in 2011. However at this time his class 12 results were cancelled after nine years of having given the exam. The reason accorded for this punitive action was that the Appellant had simultaneously appeared in class 10 examination (in 2002) with another examination board and in view of the concerned authorities "it was not permissible for the appellant to appear in two examinations conducted by two different Boards simultaneously".

The Appellant challenged the order of cancellation at various forums, to be unsuccessful at all stages. In its decision in Kuldeep Kumar Pathak v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 2016 SC 251 the Supreme Court, however, overturned the rationale extended by the authorities. In a short and crisp decision the Court has pointed out that there are no regulations of the concerned examination board which prohibit a person from given two examinations at the same time and therefore there is no violation in having done so.
"6. Before us, Mr. Pradeep Kant, learned senior counsel for the appellant has made a neat legal argument. He submits that though the impugned judgment proceeds on the basis that appearing in two examinations simultaneously for the same year is violation of the Regulations of the Board, this reason given by the High Court is clearly unsustainable inasmuch as no such Regulation is shown by the Board which prohibited any such candidate to appear in two examinations in the same year. The learned senior counsel further argued that the impugned order passed by the respondents for confiscating his Certificate of Intermediate exam was, otherwise also, contrary to the principles of natural justice inasmuch as no show cause notice and opportunity of hearing was given to the appellant before passing such an order, which was passed belatedly after a period of nine years from the passing of the said examination by the appellant.
7. We are of the opinion that both the submissions of the learned senior counsel are valid in law and have to prevail. The High Court has been influenced by the argument of the respondents that simultaneous appearance in two examinations by the appellant in the same year was 'contrary to the Regulations'. However, no such Regulation has been mentioned either by the learned Single Judge or the Division Bench. Curiously, no such Regulation has been pointed out even by the respondents. On our specific query to the learned counsel for the respondents to this effect, he expressed his inability to show any such Regulation or any other rule or provision contained in the U.P. Intermediate Education Act, 1921 or Supplementary Regulations of 1976 framed under the aforesaid Act or in any other governing Regulations. Therefore, the entire foundation of the impugned judgment of the High Court is erroneous. 
8. It is also pertinent to note that the appellant's intermediate examination and result thereof was not in question before the U.P. Board. No illegality in the admission in that class has been pointed out by the respondents. The alleged charge of simultaneously appearing in two examinations, one of the U.P. Board and other of the Sanskrit Board, was with respect to Class X and equivalent examination which did not relate to admission in intermediate course. The only provision for canceling the said admission is contained in Regulation (1) of Chapter VI-B. It details the procedure for passing the order of punishment canceling intermediate results and, inter alia, prescribes that a committee consisting of three different members is to be constituted and entrusted with the responsibility of looking into and disposing of cases relating to unfair means and award appropriate penalty as specified in the Regulations itself. However, there is no allegation of any unfair means adopted by the appellant in the instant case and, therefore, that Regulation has no applicability. Even otherwise, no such committee was constituted. Therefore, having taken admission in Intermediate on the basis of past certificate issued by a separate Board, which was recognised, and not on the basis of the result of Class X of the U.P. Board, the appellant derived no advantage from his examination of the U.P. Board while seeking admission in Intermediate course. Thus, from any angle the matter is to be looked into, the impugned orders dated April 20, 2011 and May 10, 2011 passed by the respondents are null and void, apart from the fact that they are in violation of the principles of natural justice."