TDSAT directs Broadcast Initiatives to clear UOI’s dues within eight weeks

MUMBAI: Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has allowed Union of India’s (UOI) appeal against Broadcast Initiatives Ltd. (BIL). In an ex-parte order, the tribunal has directed the broadcaster to pay Rs 2.06 crore within eight weeks from the date of judgement which is 3rd March.

he petition relates to two agreements dated 1.4.2012. The 1st agreement is for provision of 4.5 MHz qualifying units of C Band capacity in the INSAT 4A satellite in favour of the respondent whereas the IInd agreement is for providing 6 MHz qualifying units of KU Band capacity in the INSAT 4 CR satellite for fees and charges specified in the agreements.

Amendments were made to both the agreements in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 so as to extend the terms of the agreement till 31.3.2017. Clause 25 of the agreements show that Antrix Corporation Ltd. (Antrix) was appointed as the Contract Administrator and vested with all powers on behalf of the claimant Union of India, including initiation of legal proceedings. It has been shown that Antrix is a Company fully owned by Department of Space, Government of India.

UOI has pleaded that for the purpose of meeting their business requirements, the broadcaster executed the agreements with the UOI (in the name of President of India) which have been amended/extended from time to time and covered the entire period for which the dues have been claimed.

It further stated that the Article 8 of the agreement specifies the charges payable by the broadcaster. BIL was required to furnish the interim security deposit of the required amount, being approximately 25% of the annual rental charges. The final amount claimed by the UOI has been shown to be the balance outstanding after adjusting the security furnished by the broadcaster.

The UOI stated that BIL did not make regular and timely payment of monthly charges. It has been shown that the petitioner/Antrix issued e-mails/letters at regular intervals seeking payment of the outstanding dues and finally demand letters were also issued, but still the claimed amount remained unpaid.

It claimed that it has maintained a ledger account of the broadcaster which depicts the outstanding dues alongwith interest payable in terms of the agreement for delay in timely payments, after giving credit to payments made by the respondent.

It has been shown that as per clause 9 (f) of the Exhibit-B to the agreement in the event of delayed payment, the broadcaster shall be liable to pay penal interest at the “Prime Lending Rate” (PLR) as published on quarterly basis by RBI + 3%. However, from April 2014, the above stipulation for interest was reduced and replaced by “Base Lending Rate” (BLR) charged by SBI. The petitioner has brought on record the figures of interest chargeable as per stipulation from time to time and also statement of account depicting the amount claimed from the respondent.

The arrears claimed in this petition are within the period of three years from the time the petition was filed and hence, the issue of limitation does not arise in this case.

“Hence, the amount claimed in the petition after deducting the differential amounts demanded due to price revision as discussed earlier, is allowed. For the purpose of clarity, it is indicated that only an amount of Rs. 2,06,71,728.00 is being allowed,” TDSAT said in an order.

As far as the claim for interest @ 18% p.a. is concerned, the tribunal noted that following several other judgements and orders of this Tribunal in similar matters, the pendente lite and future interest is allowed but only @ 9% p.a.

“This interest shall be payable from the month of November 2017 (since after filing of the petition). The rate of interest allowed shall be payable by the respondent till date the decretal amount is paid to the petitioner. Since the respondent has not appeared and contested the petition, there shall be no order as to costs.”

So far as the amounts claimed by the UOI is concerned, the tribunal stated that there is an important issue which needs to be addressed because the petitioner has not only claimed the outstanding dues as per rates in the agreements but has admittedly also claimed further amount of Rs. 16,84,354.00 for Agreement no. I and Rs. 22,64,523.00 for Agreement No. II.

These amounts have been claimed later as differential amount because of revision in rates effected through a revised price issued by the petitioner on 7.8.2017. The revised price-list is effective from April 1, 2016. In case of BIL, the revised price is higher by about 20% and is being charged from a date earlier to the date of issue of the revised pricelist of 7.8.2017.

The issue whether this amounts to retrospective revision of price and, therefore, is against the provisions of law and the agreement, has been raised by some of the service providers either by filing an independent Petition/Writ Petition or by way of defence. A Writ Petition bearing no.WP(C) )3072 of 2019 filed by Tata Sky Ltd. Vs. Union of India & Ors. is pending in Delhi High Court. In this tribunal also, the issue is pending in various Telecom Petitions bearing Nos. 224,225, 226 & 227 of 2018, and 62 of 2019. The issue is also involved in B P No. 637 of 2018.

“It appears that in some of the concerned petitions pending in this Tribunal, the revised price for the period prior to 7.8.2017 has not been given effect. The same issue arises in this petition also but since this petition is being heard ex-parte and is undefended, it would not be proper at present to decide such an important issue more so when the matter is also pending in the High Court. Hence, the claim in this petition for the differential amounts of Rs. 16,84,354.00 for Agreement No. I and Rs. 22,64,523.00 for Agreement No. II is left undecided with liberty to the petitioner to revive this claim unaffected by limitation by filing an appropriate petition within six months of the issue being decided in a way which gives it the right to claim such a differential amount. With this clarification and liberty the claim for the differential amounts noted above is closed for the time being so far as this petition is concerned,” the tribunal stated.

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