Decided on February 04,2004



D.P.Wadhwa, - (1.)THIS batch of six petitions filed under Section 14(a)1 of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997 (for short ' Act) raises common issue for decision by this Tribunal. In fact, four more petitions on the same issues were also filed along with these six petitions, but those could not be proceeded with as necessary fee was not paid by the petitioners in those petitions. I am, therefore, to decide the dispute in regard to these six petitions.
(2.)The petitioners are challenging the enhancement of annual rental from Rs. 1,500 per kilometer for the P-Wire Telephone Circuit taken by them 31.3.2001. When the petitioners received bills dated 5.6.1999, they found that the respondent charged @ Rs. 24,558 as rent and also demand of arrears on pro-rata basis was claimed for a period from 1.4.1999 to 30.6.1999. Thereafter, they stated that subsequently, the tariff was reduced to Rs. 5,000 per kilometer with effect from 1.1.2000. Again, was reduced with effect from 1.4.2001.
Petitioners in all these petitions had earlier filed writ petitions in the Kerala High Court which were disposed of by common order dated 30.5.2002 with direction to file petitions before this Tribunal in view of the provisions of the Act amended by Act 2 of 2000 (with effect from 24.1.2000). Thereafter, these petitions came to be filed before this Tribunal. Petitioners have challenged the enhancement of annual rental for their P-wire connections for the period from 1.4.1999 to 31.3.2001. Para 4 of the order of the High Court would be relevant for our purpose which I reproduce:

"4. In the instant case, as already noted, there is a dispute regarding the tariff fixed for P-wire connections for the category below 64 kbps. Hence, it can be treated as a case falling under the new Section 14(a)(iii) of the Act, namely, a dispute between the service providers and a group of consumers. In the above circumstances, it is for the petitioners in all these cases either independently or collectively to file application under the new Section 14A of the Act before the Tribunal constituted under the new Section 14 of the Act. If the petitioners file such application before the said Authority within a period of six weeks from today, the same will be disposed of by the Tribunal in accordance with the procedure provided under Section 14A on merits."

(3.)ON notice being issued BSNL filed its reply on 15.1.2004. A preliminary objection has been raised that in Sub-clause (iii) of Clause (a) of Section 14, these petitions are not maintainable. This provision gives jurisdiction to the Tribunal to adjudicate any dispute 'between a service provider and a group of consumers'. It is the contention of Mr. Maninder Singh, learned counsel for the respondents, that the petitioners in these six petitions cannot be termed as group of consumers and this Tribunal will not, therefore, have jurisdiction to try these petitions. ON 11.11.2003, an order was made treating all the petitions as filed together as they raised similar question. This order of 11.11.2003 is reproduced hereunder :
"All these petitions have been separately filed. Earlier a view was taken that perhaps separate petitions could not be entertained in view of Sub-clause (iii) of Clause (a) of Section 14 of the Act inasmuch as a group of consumers would normally mean some persons together forming a group. Earlier, we had given an opportunity to the petitioners to file an application for clubbing all the petitions. An application has been filed, it being M.A. No. 40 of 2003 in Petition No. 15 of 2003. That apart it appears to me that though it could be said that a group of consumers would mean a number of consumers together filing the petition that would not bar this Tribunal to entertain the petitions though separately filed and raising similar issues to be treated as petitions by a group of consumers. Accordingly, treating these petitions as filed by group of consumers, I direct notices to be issued. Mr. Maninder Singh accepts notice. He may file his reply within four weeks. Rejoinder, if any, be filed two days before the date fixed.

M.A. No. 40 of 2003 is disposed of.

Mr. M. T. George who appears for petitioners in Petition No.15 of 2003 states that he is appearing for petitioners also in Petition Nos. 16 and 17 of 2003 and Mr. P.V. Dinesh who appears for petitioners in Petition Nos. 13 and 14 of 2003, stales that he is also representing petitioner in Petition No. 18 of 2003.

All these petitions, including Petition No. 18 of 2003, be listed for directions/further proceedings in January, 2004.

Registry to indicate next date to the parties, one week in advance."

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