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Tribunals deliver some crucial judgements in 2012

TDSAT pronounced 463 judgements in 2012 compared with 356 the previous year

Read more on:    Tdsat | Tribunal | Telecom Tribunal
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Telecom kept up the momentum among quasi-judicial bodies in 2012 despite lack of resources as it passed a range of judgements aimed at protecting consumer interest.

It also decided on cases involving some of the world's biggest corporations.

The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) pronounced 463 judgements in 2012 compared with 356 the previous year even though it was without full strength in the year gone by.

TDSAT has a sanctioned strength of three people, including its chairman. However, the position of Member, Technical has been lying vacant since July 2011. In November this year, its chairman retired, leaving just one member who can only pass interim orders.

Besides TDSAT, other quasi-judicial bodies such as the Competition Appellate Tribunal, Company Law Board and the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity remained in the limelight as they dealt with anti-competitive practises, corporate disputes and crucial issues in the energy sector.

In one of the most important consumer-friendly rulings, the TDSAT directed telecom operators to comply with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's guidelines on Value- Added Services (VAS) that requires them to take confirmation from their subscribers through SMS, e-mail, fax or in writing within 24 hours of activation of VAS.

It also gave a go-ahead to the Trai's roadmap of digitalisation of cable TV and ensured customers right to select a combination of 100 free-to-air channels. Apart from that it also approved Trai's revenue sharing mechanism between the Local/Area cable operator and the Multi-System Operators.

However, it set aside restrictions put on MSOs on placement fee, number of channels and carriage fee by Trai. It was of the view that MSOs can charge placement fee from broadcasters for keeping their channels in a particular slot and Trai's regulation to curb it was "bad in law".

Giving liberty to the consumers, TDSAT on July 17 set aside Trai's circular limiting the number of SMSes to 200 per day per SIM.

The most high-profile case that the TDSAT decided on this year was the dispute between US-based chip maker Qualcomm and the central government which had successfully bid for broadband wireless access (BWA) spectrum in four circles for Rs 4,900 crore.

On March 2, TDSAT had directed the Department of Telecom (DoT) to grant licence to Qualcomm after removing technical hurdles. However, the San Diego headquartered firm had to approach TDSAT again after the DoT shortened the time limit for rolling out broadband services on account of delay.

Setting aside DoT's order on October 17, TDSAT said there was no delay by Qualcomm and there was no breach of conditions by it.

In July, TDSAT Chairman said DoT's order to stop intra-circle 3G roaming and scrapping of operators agreement within 24 hours without following the procedure was violative of natural justice. However, a tribunal member expressed dissent and observed that the companies cannot provide 3G service with their 2G licence.

On November 6, TDSAT gave a split verdict against a Trai directive asking companies to give ISD service in pre-paid numbers only after taking explicit consent from users to avail this facility.

On April 15, it had upheld DoT order to impose penalty on operators for not duly completing customer verification for security purposes.

It dismissed pleas of GSM lobby group COAI along with leading players Airtel, Vodafone and Idea to cancel 2G licence and spectrum of Tata group companies TTSL and TTML.

The GSM operators had contended that as per the Supreme Court's order a total of 141 licences needed to be cancelled, including those belonging to the Tata group firm, as the apex court had ordered cancellation of all licences issued in 2008 by then Telecom Minister A Raja.

In last three months, TDSAT received bunch of petitions against Bharti Airtel, Idea and Vodafone, who have started charging termination fee on the SMSes from other operators, moving away from the earlier practice of 'bill & keep'.

Passing a common order, TDSAT asked them to pay 5 paise per message as SMS termination charges (50 per cent of 10 paise per message demanded by them) till it finally decides on the issue.

After change of guard in May this year, the Competition Appellate Tribunal also delivered some important judgements. On October 9, Microsoft got a major reprieve after COMPAT set aside the case against software giant of abusing its dominant position while selling software licences.

COMPAT also set aside cartelisation charges against foreign airlines such as Lufthansa, Air Canada, Austrian Airlines, Air France, Continental Airlines, NorthWest Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Swiss International and Singapore Airlines on sales of their air tickets. Air travel agents had alleged that the airline companies had formed a cartel and were dictating terms in the air travel market.

The tribunal also handled the dispute between two leading Bollywood production house Yash Raj Films and Ajay Devgn Films (ADF) over availability of screen for their films during Diwali. However, it did not stay the screening of 'Jab Tak Hai Jaan' produced by Yash Raj Films. ADF had alleged abuse of dominant position by YRF.

Meanwhile, COMPAT cautioned CCI saying that law does not give it "untrammelled and uncontrolled discretion" to ask for any information from anybody during the course of an investigation. It held that CCI cannot ask for documents without stating "prima-facie" as to why examination of documents, including books of accounts, was required.

The Company Law Board (CLB) also dealt with high voltage dispute between Norwegian telecom giant Telenor and realty firm Unitech over management control of their JV firm Uninor and issues related to scam hit firm Satyam Computers (now Mahindra Satyam).

The government tried to fill CLB's vacant slots by appointing three members. CLB has been running short of staff for around five years and has at least 2,500 pending cases. In April, CLB referred Telenor and Unitech for arbitration.

Unitech again approached CLB against Telenor's move to auction the assets of Uninor to a third company. Later, both parties settled the dispute out of court.

On Supreme Court directive, CLB also started hearing of Mauritius-based investment firm SRS Orion's plea questioning management transfer of Maytas Properties to IL&FS from the family of Satyam Computer founder B Ramalinga Raju.

Appellate Tribunal For Electricity (APTEL) delivered around 240 judgements in 2012 over disputes ranging from electricity, petroleum and natural gases. It dealt with various tariff orders passed by state electricity commissions.

Airport tribunal AERAAT (Airports Economic Regulatory Authority Appellate Tribunal), which decides aeronautical tariff disputes, also issued various directions to sectoral regulator AERA and DGCA. It has asked AERA (Airports Economic Regulatory Authority) to take a decision on ground handling and dispute between the airlines over component of aeronautical charges. Last month, it stayed a 50-time hike in the penal parking charges imposed by Mumbai airport operator, Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL).

AERAAT was defunct for months, as the two-year tenure given to COMPAT expired in June. Later, it was revived again by the Centre after COMPAT (Competition Appellate Tribunal) got additional power to decide aeronautical tariff disputes.

The coming months could witness some major rulings by the quasi-judicial bodies.

In the first week of January, COMPAT will hear the case of Telewings Communications seeking a "consolidated clearance" from CCI (Competition Commission of India) for Telenor's plan to increase stake in the company to 74 per cent.

APTEL will hear the petitions filed by RIL, Essar Oil and Shell against pricing of petrol and diesel below cost by the three PSU oil marketing companies IndianOil (IOC), Hindustan Petroleum (HPCL) and Bharat Petroleum (BPCL).

COMPAT will also conclude its final hearing over DLF's plea on the Rs 630-crore fine imposed by CCI for alleged abuse of dominant market position in Gurgaon. Besides, it will hear plea against two DLF subsidiaries -- DLF Commercial Developers and DLF Services -- in a matter related to alleged abuse of its dominant position in a project at Jasola in Delhi.

It would also start hearing on JSPL's plea against CCI's clean chit to Indian Railways over its exclusive supply agreement with country's largest steel maker SAIL over supply of rails.

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