SC refuses relief order; TTSL to pay R287 crore to Bharti Airtel

Written by Indu Bhan | Indu Bhan | New Delhi | Updated: Oct 18 2012, 05:34am hrs
In a setback to Tata Teleservices (TTSL), the Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the sectoral tribunal order that asked the telecom operator to pay dues of over R287 crore to Bharti Airtel towards short messaging service (SMS) termination charges.

A bench headed by justice GS Singhvi, admitting the petition, refused to stay the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunals (TDSAT) judgment that held Bhartis claim of R287.34-crore dues from TTSL on account of SMS termination charges as reasonable.

However, the apex court said that in the event of TTSL succeeding in the matter, Bharti will refund the whole amount with interest at the rate of 12%.

Senior counsel AM Singhvi, appearing for Bharti, agreed to refund in case the largest telecom firm lost the case in the apex court.

Termination charges are paid by an operator from whose network calls or SMSes originate to the one on whose network these communications end. These charges impact tariffs.

According to TTSL, Bharti cannot be allowed to levy such termination charges at the rate of 10 paise per SMS as it was contrary to the Trais direction issued in February last year asking the Sunil Mittal-led firm to stop applying such discriminatory charges.

Senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi, appearing fro TTSL, argued that Bharti had been discrimating against the Tata firm by raising such demands but had been continuing the Bill and Keep regime with other telecom operators.

Bharti, being a dominant player, is coercing TTSL in levying SMS termination charges at the rate of 10 paise per SMS as the same was against the principle of IUC Regulations 2009, which prescribe that such charges should be transparent, reciprocal and non-discriminatory, the counsel said.

Besides, these charges were against the consumer interest as it would affect the tariff of text messaging, TTSL added.

Rejecting the Tata Group firm plea that it was not liable to pay as there was a system of bill and keep in the sector, the tribunal had observed that TTSL had given a go-bye to the method by voluntarily entering into an agreement in September 2009.

Tata Teleservices never questioned the legality or validity of the said agreement. It had paid a sum of R6 crore as on March 31, 2008.

It itself raised invoices on the Petitioner (Airtel), which were honoured, TDSAT had stated in its August 30 judgment.

It further said: TTSL had entered into a contract with its eyes wide open. It acted thereupon. It paid an amount of R6 crore. It itself by way of reciprocity raised invoices on Airtel. By way of an afterthought, it must have refunded the amount paid by it. The said contention of TTSL must, therefore, be rejected.