New Delhi: TDSAT has directed the government not to take any coercive action against two Bharti group firms, Bharti Airtel and Bharti Hexacom, in a dispute over licence fees pending further hearing in the matter.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had raised demands in November last year pertaining to special audit for the financial year 2006-2007 and 2007-2008
It also raised demands after licence fee assessment for 2006-2007 and revised licence fee assessment for 2006-2007 and 2007-2008.
This was challenged by the Bharti group firms before TDSAT requesting to set aside the demands and also to restrain the DoT from taking any coercive action against them till the final disposal of this petition.
The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) had observed that Bharti Airtel already challenged the same in the Kerala High Court on the question of validity of terms and conditions of the licence agreement.
Moreover, Bharti Hexacom has also got a stay from Guwahati High Court on the issue of the demand raised.
The tribunal said: "It is seen that the demands raised by the Respondent (DoT) have been covered by the said interim orders issued by the High Court. Therefore, I am of the opinion that there is no need to issue any order by this Tribunal".
"Regarding the demand of licence fee assessment for the year 2006-2007 raised on January 30, 2013, it is on similar grounds as in other demands. It is noticed that large number of petitions have been filed in this Tribunal which are on the Board for final hearing, wherein the similar demands have been raised and the final finding is to be given by this Tribunal. The demands raised by the DoT in all these petitions have been stayed by this Tribunal.
"Therefore, keeping in view the order of Guwahati High Court and this Tribunal in various other petitions, it is directed that pending hearing in these petitions the Respondent (DoT) will not take any coercive action against the Petitioner (Airtel and Hexacom)," said TDSAT in its order passed on February 18, 2013.
The tribunal has asked government to file its reply within four weeks. It also gave two weeks time to the Bharti group firms to file their rejoinders and directed that the matter be listed on March 18 for further directions.
Meanwhile, TDSAT, which has been headless for sometime, yesterday became even member-less as the lone serving member P K Rastogi has retired, a development that makes the tribunal unable to preside matters filed by telecom and broadcasting firms for now.
TDSAT had already been functioning without a head since November, 2012 after its Chairman Justice S B Sinha retired.