A premier body with judicial powers to resolve cases of cyber fraud in the country legally, has remained as good as defunct even after being merged with another body in April this year. The Cyber Appellate Tribunal (CyAT), now merged into the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), has not passed a single order, nor heard any case related to cyber fraud since 2011. The irony is that even after the merger, the TDSAT has, in effect, remained non-functional since May this year.

According to the CyAT’s website’s “Daily Orders” section, which records the functioning of the tribunal, from 2006 to May 2017, CyAT received 87 appeals in all, out of which the tribunal could dispose of only 17 cases. All the 17 cases were disposed of till 2011 and since then, the tribunal did not dispose of any cases.

In 2006, the then Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (bifurcated into two ministries in 2016) had formed the CyAT, a specialised forum to redress cyber frauds, but due to the alleged lack of political will, the tribunal remained as good as a defunct body for six years. Even the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had pointed out that CyAT spent nearly Rs 30 crore on salaries and operating expenses without actually discharging any duties.

Prior to the merger, successive governments did not bother to fill the chairman’s post at CyAT, lying vacant since 2011. The absence of a chairman is attributed as the cause for the CyAT’s failure and the CyAT was merged into the TDSAT in April this year.

Delhi’s Vivek Sharma (name changed), a victim of cyber fraud, said: “In 2010, I approached the CyAT for justice, but since then I am regretting my decision to approach the tribunal.”

“One day, I received a message from my bank that Rs 200,000 had been debited from my account, though I had withdrawn the money. To my shock, when I contacted my bank, they refused to help. I filed a case in a district court against the bank, but the court said that the bank had no liability to refund my amount,” Sharma told The Sunday Guardian.

“Finally I approached the CyAT against the court’s decision, but since then I am just getting dates. After almost seven years, I have given up all hopes now of getting my money back,” Sharma added.

Naavi Vijayashankar, a cyber law expert who runs Naavi.org, told The Sunday Guardian. “With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for digitisation, e-commerce trade is on the upswing, but cyber fraud related crimes have also shot up. In such circumstances, there must be an efficient judicial recourse body for speedy resolution of causes related to cyber frauds. In my opinion, TDSAT has not been able to handle issues of cyber fraud.”

“The CyAT was initially set up as a statutory organisation in accordance with Section 48(1) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the tribunal was vested with the same powers vested in a civil court, but after the merger, the TDSAT now has powers similar to that of the Supreme Court and this has made the process of appeal more difficult,” Vijayashankar said.

“In the absence of an effective body, which can provide recourse in cyber fraud cases, most victims head either for their local cyber-crime police cell or decide to go to a consumer forum or their local district or High Court. Most of these options are either time-consuming or logistical nightmares,” Vijayashankar added.

 

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