Section 7-B (1) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885= Under Section 7-B (1) of the Act, if any dispute concerning any telegraph line, appliance or apparatus arises between the telegraph authority and the person for whose benefit the line, appliance or apparatus is, or has been provided, the dispute shall be determined by arbitration.
THE HON’BLE SRI JUSTICE C.V.NAGARJUNA REDDY
WRIT PETITION No.4508 of 2013
The Union of India,
Rep. by its Secretary,
Ministry of Telecommunications,
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr. J.Uga Narasimha
Counsel for respondent No.1: Ms. Baby Rani for
Standing Counsel for Central Government
Counsel for respondent Nos.2 to 4: Mr. B. Devanand,
Standing Counsel for BSNL.
The Court made the following:
The inaction of respondent No.2 and its functionaries in initiating proceedings under Section 7-B (1) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 (for short ‘the Act’), for deciding the dispute raised by the petitioner with regard to the alleged excess billing relating to telephone connection No.27112295, is assailed in this writ petition.
I have heard Mr. J.Ugra Narasimha, learned counsel for the petitioner, and Mr. B. Devanand, learned counsel for respondent Nos.2 to 4.
The petitioner is the subscriber of respondent No.2 with the abovementioned telephone number.
He was provided with internet connection on 08.06.2010.
The petitioner received bill dated 06.11.2010 for the period from 01.10.2010 to 31.10.2010 for an amount of Rs.22,237/-, wherein a sum of Rs.21,542.38 ps. is shown as current bill amount.
On receipt of the said bill, the petitioner made a representation on 06.12.2010 to respondent Nos.2 to 4, wherein he has protested against the bill amount and requested for verification of the reason for such excessive billing while expressing doubt that as the respondents themselves have pointed out that the customers are advised to change the broardband password frequently, there is ample scope of misuse of internet facilities by third parties.
The said representation was replied to by respondent No.3 on 13.12.2010 to the effect that the usage of internet is absolutely from the petitioner’s end and that there is no scope for others to misuse the petitioner’s internet facility.
The petitioner has again received another bill dated 06.01.2011 for the period from 01.12.2010 to 31.12.2010, wherein a sum of Rs.34,338/- was shown as dues and the current bill amount was quantified at Rs.3,138.30 ps.
The petitioner has got the internet facility withdrawn. For non-payment of the disputed bill amounts, the respondents have disconnected the telephone connection. Thereafter, respondent No.4 has issued letter, dated 10.04.2012, to the petitioner, wherein it was informed that an amount of Rs.32,095/- was payable by the petitioner.
The petitioner has addressed letter, dated 27.04.2012, to respondent No.4, wherein while disputing his liability to pay the demanded amount, he requested for reference of the dispute for arbitration under Section 7-B of the Act.
The grievance of the petitioner is that while on the one hand respondent No.4 has displayed absolute indifference to his request for reference of the dispute for arbitration, letter dated 10.04.2012 addressed by him has threatened the petitioner of registering a criminal case for recovery of dues.
The petitioner also stated in the affidavit that on 02.02.2013, four officials from the office of respondent No.3 visited his residence and told him to come and meet their superior officer at Tirumalagiri, which the petitioner has declined.
In this writ petition, the petitioner has, therefore, questioned not only the inaction of respondent No.4 in referring the dispute for arbitration, but also of the highhanded action of the subordinates of respondent No.3 in hurling threats to the petitioner of registration of criminal case and also deploying pressure tactics to recover the disputed amount.
Under Section 7-B (1) of the Act, if any dispute concerning any telegraph line, appliance or apparatus arises between the telegraph authority and the person for whose benefit the line, appliance or apparatus is, or has been provided, the dispute shall be determined by arbitration.
As noted above, on 27.04.2012 the petitioner himself is stated to have requested respondent No.4 to refer the dispute for arbitration under the abovementioned provision.
If such a request was made in writing, I do not find any justification in respondent No.4 not referring the dispute for arbitration.
If the allegation made by the petitioner that respondent No.3 has been taking coercive steps such as threatening to register a criminal case and sending his subordinates to the house of the petitioner demanding payment, is true, such a conduct on the part of respondent No.3 cannot be appreciated.
If any subscriber is in arrears, respondent No.2 and its functionaries shall strictly follow the prescribed procedure for recovery of the dues.
Being a Government of India Company, it does not behove well for its functionaries to act outside or in excess of their legal authority in the matter of recovery of dues.
Since the petitioner has raised a serious dispute regarding his liability to pay the arrears, respondent No.4 ought to have referred the dispute for arbitration and await the decision of the arbitrator before venturing to recover the arrears.
It is not in dispute that both the telephone and internet connections are under disconnection.
Under these facts and circumstances, it is appropriate that respondent No.4 refers the dispute raised by the petitioner for arbitration under Section 7-B (1) of the Act.
He shall also ensure that the arbitrator adjudicates the dispute and passes award within one month from the date of reference after hearing both the parties.
Respondent Nos.2 to 4 shall await the award of the arbitrator. In the event the award is made against the petitioner, they may recover the arrears subject to the right of the petitioner to question the award.
For recovering the dues, respondent Nos.2 to 4 shall strictly follow the procedure prescribed for such recovery.
Subject to the above directions, the Writ Petition is disposed of.
As a sequel to disposal of the writ petition, WPMP.No.5630 of 2013 filed for interim relief is disposed of as infructuous.