August 22, 2011
Husband’s telephone can be disconnected if House-wife defaults to pay for her telephone
Surjit Singh Vs Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., (AIR 2008 SC 2226)
FACTS OF THE CASE:
The appellant and his wife are living together at their residence in Rajouri Garden, Delhi. At that residence, there is one telephone line bearing No. 5121187 in the name of appellant Surjit Singh and there is also another telephone line bearing No. 5416493 at the same residence in the name of the appellant’s wife. There is a third telephone line bearing No. 3265301 in the name of the appellant and installed at the business premises of the appellant at # 1195, Chahrahat Building, Jama Masjid, Delhi. It appears that there were arrears of telephone dues in connection with line No. 5416493 which was in the name of the appellant’s wife. For non-payment of the telephone dues in connection with this line, the other two lines in the name of the appellant bearing No. 5121187 at his residential premises and line No. 3265301 at his business premises were disconnected.
Appellant contended that the telephone line in his own name bearing line No. 5121187 at his residence and line No. 3265301 at his business premises should not be disconnected on account of non-payment of dues in connection with the line in the name of his wife bearing No. 5416493. He contended that he and his wife are two separate legal entities and he could not be penalized for the fault of his wife.
JUDGMENT OF THE COURT:
The Hon’ble Division bench of the Apex Court while pronouncing the judgement observed that such an interpretation would be in the teeth of the language used in Rule 443 read with Rule 2 (pp) of the Telegraph Rules, 1951, which defines “subscriber”. But in such a case the literal interpretation rule has to give way to the purposive construction rule. The intention of Rule 443 obviously was that payment of telephone dues should be made promptly, otherwise the telephone department will suffer. The interpretation which effectuates and furthers the intention of Rule 443, i.e., the telephone bills should be paid in time has therefore to be adopted. The word ‘subscriber’ has therefore to be widely constructed. Hence the telephone line in the name of another person who is economically dependent on the former can be disconnected for non-payment of bills in connection with the telephone line in the name of the latter. Such an interpretation would effectuate the intention of Rule 443. It would make no difference whether the telephone line is at the residence or at the business premises, even of the two are entirely separate. Further the Apex court deeply regretted that these principles have rarely been used in Indian Courts.
The decision of the Apex Court intended to interpret the Statute and the word ‘subscriber’ has to be widely constructed. When two relatives are living in the same house a distinction has to be drawn between a telephone line in the name of a person who is economically dependent on another (who may be the husband, father etc.), and the telephone line in the name of a person who has an independent source of income from which he is paying the telephone bills. In the case of the former, i.e., a person who is economically dependent on another who is paying his telephone bills, the telephone line in the name of such other relative on whom the subscriber is dependent can be disconnected for non-payment of the telephone bills of the nominal subscriber.