The Delhi High Court sought the Centre’s response on telecom operator Bharti Airtel’s plea seeking a refund of over Rs 2,500 crore. The plea includes disputed license fees of Rs 399.92 crore paid by it for its Punjab circle for 1996-98 and interest on the amount. A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal issued notice to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and sought its reply by September 29 on Airtel’s plea challenging a single judge order holding that the telecom company was not entitled to refund. Also Read - Fake WhatsApp message claims free internet for three months, don't fall for itAlso Read - Prepaid to postpaid and vice versa with OTP: Operators propose simple conversion process
“The limited question is whether you are entitled to refund,” the bench observed while issuing notice. In its plea, Airtel has contended that it was not liable to pay license fees for Punjab telecom circle for April 1996 to March 1998 as the government “had of its own accord unilaterally, illegally and without any basis brought about a de-facto suspension of the license during that period”. The telecom major has said that prior to going for arbitration it had in 2001 deposited the amount with DoT with the understanding that if the company wins the dispute, then the amount would be refunded.
The arbitrator had dismissed the refund claim of the company against which it came to the High Court, which in 2012 had set aside the arbitral award, Airtel has said in its petition. The 2012 decision was challenged by DoT and is still pending before another bench of the Delhi High Court which rejected the government’s plea for stay, the company has said in its petition. Airtel said it had then sought refund of the amount and when it was not granted, had moved a writ petition which was decided on May 11, 2016, by the single judge who had said that as per some previous verdicts of the High Court, the relief sought by the company cannot be granted.
As per Airtel’s plea, it has sought refund of Rs 399.92 crore deposited in 2001 with DoT, Rs 2095.95 crore interest on the amount from 2001 till 2012, coming to a total of Rs 2495.87 crore. It has also sought additional interest, from 2012 till payment, on the total amount, contending that once arbitral award was set aside and as the order was not stayed on DoT appeal, retaining of the license fees by the government amounts to “unjust enrichment”.