The Delhi High Court has refused to interfere with TRAI’s recommendation for imposing a penalty of Rs. 1,050 crore on two Vodafone companies for allegedly denying inter-connectivity to Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (RJIL) under an Interconnection Agreement executed between them.
The high court noted that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) October 21, 2016 recommendation, which has been challenged here is also under challenge before the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), and tribunals are expert bodies constituted under statute to decide the disputes arising under that statute.
A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad, in its May 24 judgment, said the TDSAT has been empowered to deal with all disputes arising under the TRAI Act.
The Central government had passed an order on September 29, 2021 imposing a penalty on the petitioner companies for violation of the provisions of licence agreement and standards of Quality of Service (QOS) regulations of basic telephone service (wireline) and cellular mobile telephone service regulations, 2009.
“After the tribunal gives the conclusion that the order dated September 29, 2021 passed by the respondent no.2 (government) is not sustainable in law, then automatically the recommendation dated October 21, 2016 which is under challenge in the instant writ petitions would be set aside.
“This court finds considerable force in the arguments advanced by the senior counsel for the respondents that any observations made by this court in the instant writ petitions will have an adverse impact on the Telecom Petitions which have been filed before the TDSAT,” the bench said.
The high court disposed of the petitions filed by Vodafone Mobile Services and Vodafone Idea and made it clear that it has not made any observations on the merits of the case.
“It is always open for the tribunal to decide the issue on merits, including the recommendation dated October 21, 2016 which is under challenge in the instant petitions,” it said.
It also noted that the TDSAT has already stayed the September 2021 order.
On September 21, 2016, TRAI issued the a recommendation stating that the petitioners were at fault for not providing Point of Interconnections (POI) to RJIL, and recommended imposition of a penalty of Rs. 50 crore per circle for 21 Licensed Service Areas (LSA) where POI congestion exceeded the allowable limit of 0.5 percent.
The petitioners said they requested TRAI to withdraw the recommendation, but to no avail after which they moved the high court.
Vodafone has challenged the recommendation made by TRAI to the Secretary, Department of Telecommunication, for penal action, contending that the recommendation was contrary to law and deserved to be struck down.
TRAI opposed the petitions saying they are premature at this stage and non-maintainable.