Mumbai, December 17
Vodafone India has challenged in court the telecom regulator’s recommendation of levying Rs 1,050 crore penalty on it for allegedly denying points of interconnect (PoIs) to Reliance Jio, calling Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) move “arbitrary and biased” and one which exceeds the sectoral watchdog’s jurisdiction.
The country’s No 2 telco Friday asked the Delhi High Court to quash the recommendation, arguing that Trai’s move was against principles of natural justice.
This, since the show cause notice served by Trai on September 27 didn’t give the company the complete picture that the regulator wanted to recommend levy of penalties of Rs50 crore per circle against the company.
The notice “did not grant the Petitioners any effective opportunity to defend its action in law since it was incumbent on the
TRAI to state in the show cause notice that it was seeking to recommend an imposition of penalty in order to provide an effective and meaningful opportunity to show cause against the same,” Vodafone argued.
Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva of the Delhi High Court also asked how the September 30 meeting of Trai with all telecom operators was held before expiry of 10 days given to Vodafone to reply to the show cause notice.
Justice Sachdeva did not pass any orders after the telecom regulator’s lawyers sought time till December 19 to take instructions on the steps taken by the authority after it issued a show cause notice to Vodafone on September 27. The court will next hear the matter on December 21.
In its petition, Vodafone has called the recommendation to the telecom department (DoT), made on the basis of Jio’s complaint, “an irregular and an illegal exercise of power by the TRAI extraneous to
the TRAI Act.”
“The letter to the DoT by TRAI is neither an exercise of statutory powers nor an action contemplated under the quality of service regulation and therefore is wholly arbitrary and beyond the jurisdiction of Trai, illegal and deserves to be quashed,” Vodafone said.
In October, Trai recommended to the telecom department (DoT) a Rs 50-crore penalty for each of the country’s 21 circles, barring Jammu & Kashmir, be levied on Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, which adds up to Rs 1,050 crore for each operator. For Idea Cellular, it recommended a penalty in 19 circles, totalling Rs 950 crore
Trai accused the incumbent telcos of violating licence norms by denying adequate PoIs to Jio , saying the move appeared to be aimed at stifling competition and were anti-consumer and against public interest.
Denial of adequate PoIs had led to huge number of call failures on Jio’s network, Trai said.
The DoT is taking legal opinion on Trai’s recommendation.
Bharti Airtel declined to comment while Idea didn’t respond to emailed queries if they would also challenge Trai’s recommendations. But a senior executive at Idea said that the telco may not at this stage, since it was a recommendation and not a final order.
Vodafone lawyer Rajiv Nayar told ET that the company could challenge the recommendation itself, basis a Supreme Court ruling, and added that once a recommendation was made, it could cloud judgment of decision-taking authority, therefore it has to be challenged at this stage itself.
Lawyers said that the recommendation was out of the regulator’s jurisdiction has they have neither been given as a suo moto action, nor at the request of the telecom department – the licensor – and have instead been issued at the behest of Jio.
“The entire process adopted by the Trai in issuing the recommendation clearly establishes that, it was an empty formality and the matter was prejudged,” the petition added.
Jio didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.
In the petition, Vodafone’s lawyers also argued that Trai cannot interfere with private contractual rights
and obligations between licencees, which are governed by an interconnection agreement – which can be resolved via TDSAT or arbitration.
Vodafone added that the letter issued by Trai was against its own rules, which state that a telco has to give PoIs to another within 90 days of payment, pointing out that the period of default that Trai has considered is within the 90-day period.
The imposition of penalty has serious civil consequences and therefore without a specific power vesting the TRAI with such authority, the impugned action of TRAI is beyond the Act, the company argued. The law suit against Trai comes after Vodafone wrote several times through November and early December, asking the regulator to withdraw the recommendation, giving grounds that the company had provided adequate points of
Mumbai, December 17