A.K. Kirty, J.
1. These petitions under Article 226 of the Constitution raise a common question for determination. In both the petitions it is prayed that a Writ of certiorari be granted quashing the order dated 27-7-1967 which was passed individually against each petitioner. It is further prayed that writ of mandamus be issued directing the opposite parties not to disconnect or remove telephone No. 32702 in case of the petitioner in the first case and telephone No. 33262 in case of the petitioner in the second case. In both the petitions there is a further prayer also for an interim order commanding the opposite parties not to disconnect the said telephones. This Court issued an interim order in each case. It, however, appears that in Writ petition No. 3159 of 1967 the telephone of the petitioner was actually disconnected before the interim order passed by this Court was communicated to the Authorities concerned. In the second case, however, the stay order was communicated before the actual disconnection of the telephone.
2. Both the petitioners in the instant Writ petitions are businessmen having telephone connections in their business premises. A bill for the fixed rental for the period from 1-4-1967 to 30-6-1967 and local calls for the period from 1-12-1966 to 28-2-1967 was given to and received by the petitioner of each case in March, 1967. The amount demanded under the bill in the case of R. D. Kanodia petitioner in Writ Petition No. 3159 of 1967, was Rs. 657.30 Paise. The number of local calls shown in the bill during the relevant period was 4292. In the case of R. C. Gupta, petitioner in writ petition No. 3164 of 1967, the amount demanded under the bill was Rs. 122.85 Paise and the number of local calls noted in the bill for the period was 729. It is admitted that both these bills were duly paid by the petitioners. Subsequently, however, a further bill was submitted to each of the petitioners in July, 1967 demanding a further sum of Rs. 4,500 in case of Kanodia and a further sum of Rs, 5,000 in case of Gupta which amounts were required to be paid by the party concerned within fifteen days of the date oi issue of each bill.
In Kanodia's case, it was mentioned in the bill that as against the total local calls for the period in question amounting to 34292, in the original bills, the figure was by mistake shown as 4292. Similarly in the case of Gupta, it was noted in the subsequent bill that as against the correct figure of local calls numbering 20729, the figure of 729 was incorrectly mentioned in the original bill. Each petitioner, thereupon, wrote letters to the Telephone Authorities concerned asking them to furnish details of the meter readings during the relevant period. The figures of Meter readings supplied to Kanodia are mentioned in paragraphs 6 and 7 of his writ petition and the figures supplied to Gupta are mentioned in paragraph 6 of his petition. The petitioners wrote to the Authorities protesting against the subsequent bill sent to each of them and contended that the subsequent bills were wrong and on no calculation the number of local calls could be of the magnitude as shown in the subsequent bills.
The Authorities concerned, however, according to the petitioners, paid no heed to their protests and objections and intimated that the respective telephones of the petitioners would be disconnected unless the amount demanded was paid. Thereafter the present two Writ petitions were filed in this Court.
3. A counter-affidavit has been filed in each case on behalf of the respondents. In the counter-affidavits it has, inter alia, been alleged that the meter works automatically and works under the system known as 'time and zone'. It has been explained as to how this system works and it has been stated that Kanpur has been provided with a direct dialling system for trunk connections and that whenever a subscriber dials, for example Delhi, the meter starts working as soon as the subscriber gets an effective connection. Thereafter the Meter automatically works and for each period of six seconds the Meter registers one local call. The Meter automatically goes on registering local calls in this manner so long as the trunk connection obtained by the subscriber is not disconnected by him. It has further been alleged in the counter-affidavits that the Meter can record upto 9999 calls and as soon as that figure is reached and the next call is registered, the meter shows '0000' and starts working afresh thereafter beginning with No. 1.
It has further been alleged in the counter-affidavits that the Authorities concerned received some information about the misuse of telephones by some subscribers and thereupon it was decided to open special registers and to note therein the Meter reading of such subscribers much more frequently than is done ordinarily. Ordinarily a subscriber's Meter is read every fortnight but in case of persons against whom some reports had been received a direction was given to read their Meters very frequently either on alternate days or at such short intervals as may be considered appropriate. Such frequent readings thus came to be recorded in the special register opened for this purpose. In that special register whenever a reading showed that the figure '9999' had been crossed a circle was put around the reading made on a particular date. This indicated that the Meter had already registered 10000 calls i.e. 9999 actually shown in the Meter and 1 more call indicated by '0000'.
It has been stated in the counter-affidavits that while sending the original bills, it was omitted to be noted that in case of Kanodia there were three 'circle marks' and in the case of Gupta, there were two 'circle marks' in the special register against readings on different dates indicating that in each case local calls to the extent of 10000 had already been registered. Thus in the case of Kanodia there occurred a difference of 30000 calls between the bill originally sent and the revised bill sent subsequently, and in the case of Kanodia, (Sic Gupta) a difference of 20000 calls.
4. Today Mr. H. N. Seth, learned counsel for the respondents, showed me the special register which according to his instructions, is maintained at Kanpur and on the basis of which the revised bills were sent to the two petitioners. On seeing the special register at least I was, prima facie, satisfied that the bills which were subsequently sent were in conformity with the figures noted in that register. It has, however, been suggested on behalf of the petitioners that no reliance can be placed on the register and that a casual look into the register itself might show that in fact the register had been written at one and the same time and that it may very well have been manufactured for certain purposes. It is not necessary for me to go into the question and to give any decision as to whether the special register is a genuine register or it has been forged or manufactured for the purpose of defence in these cases or for the purpose of sending fictitious bills to the petitioners.
Indeed, I am not in a position either to investigate into this question or to record any finding thereon. I was also, prima facie, satisfied by the explanation given by Mr. Seth that even if you ignore the circle marks placed around certain figures on certain dates you will get the correct figure shown in each of the revised bills by calculating the number of local calls in each case from the Meter readings noted in the special register.
5. Personally speaking, I do not very much appreciate the idea of opening a special register confined to the Meter readings of certain members of the subscribers against whom, the Authorities alleged, some reports of misuse had been received. I should think that all the Meter readings of all the subscribers, whether such readings are taken after an Interval of a fortnight or whether such readings are taken every day, should be noted in one register. The petitioners at least, prima facie, had a cause of grievance when they alleged in this Court that even the particulars of their Meter readings which had been furnished to them by the Department did not show that the bill which was subsequently sent to each of them was a correct bill according to the Meter readings shown in the particulars supplied to them. Whether a bona fide mistake was committed by the Department as alleged in the counter-affidavit, or not is again a matter in respect of which I am not in a position to give any findings on the basis of the affidavits filed in each case. In so far as the question of granting any relief to the petitioner is concerned, I find that unless it is possible for me to hold that the revised bills which had been sent were fictitious bills or were incorrect bills, no relief can be granted.
6. On behalf of the petitioners, it was argued by Mr. Jagdish Prasad that before proceeding to disconnect, no opportunity of showing cause was given and that, therefore, the Department could not legally exercise their power to disconnect the telephone. This argument, in my opinion, is not sound. Disconnection of the telephone of a particular subscriber cannot be treated as a punishment. If the Department refuses to extend telephone facilities unless the amount payable for the use of telephone for a previous period is paid, then it cannot be said that the Telephone Authorities are punishing that subscriber. In fact it would probably be a matter of contract between the subscriber and the Department. Mr. Seth has pointed out that under Rule 443 of the Rules, the Department has a right to disconnect the telephone in case of nonpayment of the amount due under a bill or in case of non-payment of the sum demanded for the use of a telephone. Mr. Jagdish Prasad argued that this Rule was ultra vires. He, however, did not explain as to what exactly he meant by saying that the Rule was ultra vires. Under the Telegraph Act, there is a rule-making power given to the Central Government. The Act also provides that the Rules which are framed by the Central Government under the Act are to be laid before both Houses of Parliament for approval during a certain period. There is nothing to show or suggest that the requirements of law had not been complied with before the Rules were enforced. The Rule, in my opinion, does not contravene any provision of the Telegraph Act. nor can it be said that it is in excess of the Rule-making power given under the Act to the Central Government. I am unable to hold Rule 443 of the Rules is ultra vires or illegal.
7. In the counter-affidavit, it was also pleaded that since the Telegraph Act itself provides for an alternative remedy under Section 7-B thereof, the Writ petitions are not legally maintainable. This plea does not appear to me to be a plea of substance. Section 7-B(1) of the Indian Telegraph Act. 1885 reads as follows:--
'Except as otherwise expressly provided under this Act, any dispute concerning any telegraph line, appliances or apparatus arises between the Telegraph Authority and the person for whose benefit the line, appliance or apparatus is, or has been, provided, the dispute shall be determined by arbitration and shall, for the purposes of such determination, be referred to an arbitrator appointed by the Central Government either specially for the determination of that dispute or generally for the determination of disputes under this section'.
Howsoever extended meaning be given to the language used in the aforesaid Section, to my mind, the dispute which has been raised by these two petitions cannot be brought within the ambit of that section. There is no dispute that any apparatus, appliance or telegraph line had not functioned properly or correctly and that the bills had been wrongly made as a result of defective operation or functioning of the Meters in question. The dispute centres round the actual readings, of the Meters and the basic question is as to whether in each case the Meter had been correctly and honestly read and the readings had been correctly and honestly noted down. Such a dispute, in my opinion, is clearly outside the provisions of Section 7-B(1) of the Telegraph Act Therefore, Section 7-B(1) of the Telegraph Act cannot be accepted as a bar to the filing of the Writ petitions or to the granting of reliefs to the petitioners. I have, however, already observed above that on the basis of the affidavits and materials placed on the record of the two writ petitions it is not possible to record any finding which can be made the basis for the grant of relief to the petitioners. I am of opinion that the petitioners, if they do desire, should seek relief in an appropriate Court of law. The Telegraph Act itself does not appear to contain any statutory bar in regard to the filing of suits of seeking of redress and remedy from a competent Court of law. If the matter is taken to a competent Court of law by means of a suit by these petitioners, that Court will certainly have every power in law to investigate the issues which may arise and to record findings thereon.
8. For the reasons mentioned above, both the petitions fail and are dismissed. However, I am of opinion that, in the circumstances of the case, the parties should be directed to bear their own costs and I order accordingly.