The Madras high court on Friday ordered a fresh probe into a case related to Jaggi Vasudev-led Isha Foundation’s non-payment of telephone bills due to the BSNL.
The court also set aside the award granted to Isha Foundation by an arbitrator.
Isha Foundation had applied for a service connection in 2010 and services were provided without any issues until November 2018. This present dispute relates to bills issued by BSNL to the Coimbatore-based Isha Foundation for December 2018 and January 2019.
Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoothy on July 7 reserved his orders in the case and pronounced it on August 12.
BSNL had issued bills two to the foundation — one dated January 2, 2019 claiming more than ₹20 lakh (for a billing period from 1 December 2018 to 31 December 2018) and another bill dated February 2, 2019 for more than ₹2 crore (for the billing period of January 1, 2019 to February 1, 2019).
Since the foundation had not paid the bills citing a fault in BSNL’s connection, a committee was constituted to visit the site and examine the equipment. Following that, BSNL found that Isha Foundation had extended net connectivity and enabled Voice Over Internet Protocol to the IP-PBX and consequently, the GSM PRI circuit became vulnerable. Hence, the respondent was directed to disconnect the facility.
This was challenged by the Isha Foundation in 2019 before a sole arbitrator, Justice E Padmanabhan, to resolve the dispute. BSNL had sought payment in full for the two invoices along with interest at 24% per annum but the arbitrator quashed them both. Instead, the arbitrator directed the Isha Foundation to pay ₹44,000 with interest at 15% per annum from April 15, 2019 till the date of payment.
BSNL has challenged this in the Madras high court. Justice Ramamoothy on Friday set aside the award and ordered a “denovo enquiry” by the arbitrator.
Senior counsel P Wilson, appearing for BSNL, had argued the arbitrator had not taken into account the call records and many clinching documents and that he had relied upon evidence of a yogi of ashram alone as gospel truth. “Man can speak lie, but machine will no,” Wilson had said in court.
The telephone exchange inside the ashram has recorded lakhs of calls and therefore liability cannot be denied by Isha foundations to BSNL, he said, adding that the government provider has incurred loss due to payment of call charges payable to international service providers.
He argued that the arbitrator’s findings were “miserably flawed”. “The ashram had taken a defence that there was no possibility of making such a huge number of calls during December 2018 and January 2019 and hence they are not liable to pay the said amount. At one point of time the ashram claimed that their private exchange was hacked… The Arbitrator accepted the version of Ashram in toto and rejected the entire claim of BSNL ..,” Wilson said.
Counsel S Rajendrakumar, appearing for the respondent, said from 2010 till November 2019, Isha Foundation’s average monthly consumption was not more than ₹22,000. He also contended that the Foundation received the bills for December 2018 and January 2019 only a month later in both cases. He argued that the arbitartor had considered all the evidence.
The justice accepted BSNL’s stance and stated that the arbitrator’s findings were erroneous and so the direction for Isha to pay ₹44,000 with interest did not survive.
“As a result, the award is set aside,” the court said in its orders. “As a corollary, the petitioners (BSNL) are granted leave to institute de novo arbitration proceedings.”