The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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AirTel to cough up excess bills

New Delhi, Aug 23: AirTel subscribers stand to get refunds of Rs 600-700 each from the Sunil Mittal-owned Bharti Cellular Ltd, which had overcharged rentals between January 2000 and January 2001.

Bharti Cellular lost a key case against Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) today when the Supreme Court dismissed its appeal against the watchdog’s order asking it to refund approximately Rs 6 crore to subscribers that became due after it shifted from the licence fee to the revenue sharing regime under the National Telecom Policy, 1999.

The company executives said the refund would be adjusted against bills. Both pre-paid and post-paid subscribers will get refunds for that period. However, as per the Trai formula, any customer who has used airtime for more than 80 minutes in a month will not get the benefit since the refund amount on airtime charge will be equal to the rental refunds to be paid by operators.

Customers of Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh will get the benefit after identification. If customers cannot be traced, the refund will go to the customer fund maintained by the regulator.

Trai had asked Bharti to refund the extra amount it had charged during August 1999 till January 2001 since the company had effected changes in its rentals and airtime after it migrated from licence fee regime to revenue sharing system.

However, the company approached the Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). It claimed that since the rentals where brought down from Rs 475 to Rs 422 and the airtime was increased from Rs 4 to Rs 4.65, while the company pays up the rentals overcharged from the customers, it should be allowed to take the difference from customers for the airtime. This argument was rejected by TDSAT.

The company approached the Supreme Court that gave it an interim stay. But on Friday, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice M. B. Shah and Justice D. M. Dharmadhikari dismissed the appeal after hearing Bharti counsel Arun Jaitley and Trai counsel additional solicitor general Kirit Raval and M. Malhotra.

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