Telecom tribunal TDSAT in an interim order has asked state-controlled firm BSNL not to increase infrastructure charges retrospectively from April 2009.
"Prima facie, we are of the view that it cannot be so done. Having regard to the fact that if the charges are to be increased and that too with retrospective effect, the purpose could not be achieved by taking recourse to clause 5.3.3 alone," said the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).
It also did not agreed with BSNL's submission that as per the agreement, PSU can raise the charges from time to time.
"The words from 'time to time' by itself do not confer any authority on BSNL herein to give a retrospective effect to the charges levied by way of rental or infrastructural charges.
"The increase in the rate could have been effected only at the time of renewal of the agreement, i.e., with effect from April, 2013," said TDSAT.
TDSAT's order came over a batch of petitions filed by - Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular, Tata Teleservices, Reliance Communications, Aircel, Vodafone South and Vodafone Digilink.
The tribunal said, "They (operators) have made out a strong prima-facie case in their favour".
Infrastructure charges are paid by private telecom firms to BSNL as rental and maintenance fees to station their link equipment such as terminals and antennas in the premises of the state-owned companies to get connected in their NLD (domestic) and ILD (international) networks.
BSNL had on August 23, 2012 increased the infrastructural charges retrospectively from April 1, 2009 based on a classification of cities by the government in 2004.
The move was challenged by the operators, who had entered into an interconnect agreement with the PSU after 2001 contending that they have already paid infrastructural charges in advance for the financial year 2012-2013.
According to them, it was a commercial agreement between them and BSNL cannot do unilateral revision.
However, BSNL contended that as per the clauses of the interconnect agreement, BSNL can alone prescribe the charges from 'time to time' besides laying down the terms and condition.
TDSAT bench headed by its Chairman Justice S B Sinha observed BSNL's decision was based on classification by the government, which had actually divided into six tiers instead of four and said," prima-facie, we have no doubt in our mind that the Respondent (BSNL) was required to take a fresh decision".