Vexatious lawsuits involving big corporates of telecom, medicines and media sectors came up in 2017 before the Delhi High Court which passed significant orders including halting a multinational pharma major’s bid to enjoy patent rights forever on its breast cancer drug. The year gone by was not good enough for low-cost private carriers — Indigo, GoAir and Spicejet — as they unsuccessfully challenged in the high court the decision of Delhi’s airport operator, DIAL, to partially shift their operations from Terminal-1 to Terminal-2 of the IGI airport, one of the busiest in the world. The high court held that Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) did not act unfairly, but granted time till February 15 to the three airlines to shift to T-2 the operations of flights to and from Delhi to Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru. In a boon to other pharma firms and patients suffering from breast and gastric cancer, the high court trashed the bid of Swiss drug major Roche to retain patent right over its breast cancer drug ‘Trastuzumab’ saying sternly that it “cannot hang on to” the medicine, innovated by it, for the rest of its life.
The decision consequently allowed pharma firms Biocon and Mylan to sell their version of Roche’s drug for treating two kinds of breast cancer and metastatic gastric cancer. The Swiss company had later moved the Supreme Court against the high court’s decision, but then withdrew its plea in August 2017. Towards the end of an eventful 2017, a high-profile legal battle between fast-food major McDonald’s and its estranged Indian partner Vikram Bakshi engaged the court’s time. The litigation between them was the offshoot of the proceedings before National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) regarding McDonald’s decision to terminate Bakshi’s franchise licence for running 169 fast-food outlets under their 50-50 joint venture Connaught Plaza Restaurant Ltd.
While these developments happened towards the end of the year, the start of 2017 saw telecom major Vodafone moving the high court claiming that the free talk time and Internet offers being handed out by Reliance Jio to consumers were a violation of TRAI’s rules on tariff. The telecom sector would wait with bated breath for the outcome in 2018. Vodafone, Airtel and Idea have also moved the high court against TRAI’s recommendation to impose a fine of Rs 50 crore for each of their circles, except in Jammu and Kashmir, coming to a total of Rs 1,050 crore for the first two and Rs 950 crore for the third, respectively, for not providing interconnectivity to Reliance Jio.
This matter is still pending before the high court. Vodafone was again in the news after the Centre moved the high court challenging the arbitration initiated by the company in UK and Netherlands against India in connection with a Rs 11,000 crore tax demanded from it in relation to its USD 11 billion deal acquiring stake of Hutchinson Telecom. While the court initially restrained the company from participating in the UK arbitration, it was later allowed to take part in it. This interim order has been challenged by the Centre in the apex court. An international telecom major, NTT Docomo, also knocked on the doors of the high court for implementation of the USD 1.17 billion damages to be paid by Tata sons for its failure to find a buyer for the Japanese company’s stake in their joint venture.
Ruling in Docomo’s favour, the high court said the amount can be paid to the foreign company and the Reserve Bank of India’s permission was not required for the transaction. State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) was also in news after its decision to appoint BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as an independent director on its Board was challenged in the high court which refused to interfere in the matter. Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved Ltd was also dragged to the high court which directed it to stop airing ads promoting its brand of Chyawanprash, after one of its rivals, Dabur, said the commercials disparaged its product.
Media house NDTV was also in the high court over the income tax demanded from it for various years. The tax authority’s demands also brought Cairn UK Holdings Ltd to the high court after the company was held liable to pay Rs 10,247 crore as capital gains tax in relation to some share transactions done in 2006. This matter is also pending before the high court. The Centre’s new tax regime Goods and Services Tax (GST) was also in the limelight for including sanitary napkins in its ambit when it was exempting bindi, sindoor and kajal.