The Supreme Court last week ruled that Tata Communications, the successor of VSNL, was providing commercial service for profit considerations and it is not performing public functions. Therefore, employees who were terminated cannot move high courts through writ petitions, the court said while upholding the judgments of the Bombay and Delhi high courts. In a batch of appeals, Jatya Pal Singh vs Union of India, the court noted that the engineers and technical staff were originally working in the Department of Overseas Communications. Later it was converted into Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. Later the government divested a portion of the shareholding in VSNL and it became a Tata group company. There was a condition that the employees would not be retrenched. Later, 20 managers were terminated. They moved the Delhi and Bombay high courts against the management action which they argued was against the assurances given to them. Both the high courts rejected their petitions as the company was no longer a state enterprise. Their appeals were dismissed by the Supreme Court which stated that they could seek redress through the ordinary forums like the industrial courts.
HPCL called ' trespasser'
Public sector Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd has been indicted by the Supreme Court for being a "trespasser" of property and not vacating premises by paying Rs 5,000 while the market rent value is Rs 30,000. While overruling the Allahabad high court in the case, Ram Bharose Lal vs HPCL, the Supreme Court also stated that the government corporation acted unfairly and unreasonably while dealing with the landlords. The property was leased out to Caltex India Ltd in 1960 for 20 years for a monthly rent of Rs 50. The private company was nationalised in 1977 and HPCL is the successor company. It squatted on the property claiming its right under the take-over law and partly raised the rent. The landlords fought at different levels of the judiciary and lost at the high court. Setting aside the high court judgment, the Supreme Court emphasised that the lease had ended in 2000 and the corporation was a trespasser.
Union leader no whistle-blower
Every informer is not automatically a bonafide 'whistle blower'; he must possess the qualities of a crusader and there should be no doubt about his integrity and motivation, the Supreme Court stated while dismissing the appeal case, Manoj Mishra vs Union of India. He was a union leader in the Kakarapar Atomic Power Project in Gujarat. During heavy monsoon in 1994, the dam rose beyond the danger level. He created media scare about the danger to the nuclear plant and people panicked. Following this, he was removed from service. He argued that he was a whistle blower who is protected under various laws. Rejecting his appeal, the court stated that as he was sworn to secrecy in view of the highly sensitive nature of the atomic organisation, he was not right in indulging in making scandalous remarks against the management bringing down the morale and creating panic. He assumed the role of vigilante without justification, the court said.
Dabhol bids to open again
The Delhi high court dismissed the petition of RDS Project Ltd with costs in a long-standing dispute over accepting tenders for the Dabhol Power Project at Ratnagiri. The court noted that due to litigation which went back and forth between the high court and the Supreme Court "this project of national importance is yet to undergo another tender process and delay has already resulted into incalculable loss to the nation." RDS was one of the bidders for an important part of the project. Its qualification was the main point of the protracted litigation. The high court decided that the claim of the company was not substantiated. It appreciated the efforts made by Ratnagiri Gas & Power Ltd "to ensure that this project is entrusted only to a bidder who can meet all the eligibility conditions to ensure that the project does not meet the same fate again."
Telecom tower co wins VAT case
The Delhi high court last week allowed the writ petition of Indus Towers Ltd, a company providing access to telecom operators, on shared basis, to telecom towers. It is registered with the Department of Telecommunication for providing passive infrastructure services. The Commissioner of Trade and Taxes, Delhi, examined the contract between the company and telecom service providers and passed an order that the entire amount of consideration received from the sharing telecom operators for providing access to the passive infrastructure would amount to consideration for the transfer of the right to use goods as defined in the Delhi VAT Act and taxable. The company argued that there was no transfer of right in any goods and therefore tax was not payable. The high court stated that it all depended on the terms of the contract between the infrastructure provider and the telecom companies. After examining the contracts, the high court quashed the order of the commissioner.