Published on: 27 May 2023 at 22:35 IST
The Delhi High Court has declined to intervene in the case involving two Vodafone companies accused of denying inter-connectivity to Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL) as recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
The TRAI had suggested imposing a penalty of Rs. 1,050 crore on the Vodafone companies based on an Interconnection Agreement between the parties.
The high court acknowledged that the TRAI’s recommendation, challenged in this case, is also being contested before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT). The court emphasized that tribunals, such as the TDSAT, are specialized bodies established by law to handle disputes arising under the relevant legislation.
Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad, in their judgment on May 24, affirmed the authority of the TDSAT to address all disputes arising under the TRAI Act.
The Central government issued an order on September 29, 2021, imposing a penalty on the companies mentioned in the petition for violating the terms of the license agreement and the Quality of Service (QOS) regulations for basic telephone service (wireline) and cellular mobile telephone service regulations in 2009.
The court noted that once the tribunal determines that the government’s order of September 29, 2021, is legally unsustainable, it will automatically nullify the recommendation dated October 21, 2016, which is being challenged in the current writ petitions.
The bench recognized the persuasive arguments presented by the senior counsel representing the respondents, highlighting that any remarks made by the court in the ongoing writ petitions could negatively impact the Telecom Petitions filed before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).
The high court dismissed the petitions submitted by Vodafone Mobile Services and Vodafone Idea, emphasizing that it has not made any assessments regarding the merits of the case.
The court clarified that the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) retains the authority to make a judgment on the matter, including the recommendation dated October 21, 2016, which is being challenged in the present petitions.
Furthermore, the court acknowledged that the TDSAT has already granted a stay on the order issued in September 2021.
According to TRAI’s recommendation on September 21, 2016, the petitioners were found responsible for failing to provide Point of Interconnections (POI) to RJIL, and it suggested imposing a penalty of Rs. 50 crore per circle for 21 Licensed Service Areas (LSAs) where the congestion of POIs exceeded the allowable limit of 0.5 percent.
The petitioners asserted that they had requested TRAI to withdraw the recommendation, but their request was unsuccessful, leading them to approach the high court.
Vodafone has challenged TRAI’s recommendation to the Secretary, Department of Telecommunication, calling for penal action, arguing that the recommendation goes against the law and should be invalidated.
TRAI opposed the petitions, stating that they are premature at this stage and not maintainable.