Telecom regulator TRAI will "quickly" evolve a mechanism for telcos that are closing down services or operations to return the unused balance of prepaid customers.
The mechanisms being weighed include such telcos crediting the unused amount to the Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of their consumers in a Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) type model, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R S Sharma told PTI.
"We are very clear in our mind that we will find ways to ensure that customers get back their money. We will evolve a procedure and mechanism for doing that, and specific instructions will be issued in this regard quickly," he said.
Sharma asserted that such a mechanism was important as the unused amount is not "small" and "involves hundreds of crores".
"It is certainly a consumer issue," he said adding that TRAI will make all efforts to ensure that consumers in such situations do not get "shortchanged" with regard to getting back their unused sum or being given an adequate notice period by the operator.
"We will find a way to ensure that customers...if there is a balance remaining with operators...that such balance comes back to the prepaid consumers. Maybe we will try out something like DBT...It certainly can be done leveraging Aadhaar-linked bank accounts," he said.
The regulator is considering calling specific telecom operators who are switching-off operations for a detailed discussion on how they propose to return the unused balance to customers.
Sharma said that while the modalities for such money transfer will be worked out, the underlying principle is that wherever possible, "customers must get their money back in case they are not getting the service".
"Let the operators also come up with solutions," Sharma said.
Loss-making telecom operator Reliance Communications has announced it will shut down voice call services (and provide only 4G data services to consumers).
Aircel too has informed the regulator that it has decided to shut operations in select telecom circles. Sharma confirmed that Aircel has intimated the regulator about its plans to close services in certain circles "about a week back", but did not get into the specifics.