Vodafone challenges TRAI’s penalty recommendation in Delhi High Court
Photo Credit: Reuters

Vodafone Mobile Services Ltd has moved the Delhi High Court against Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)’s recommendation to penalise three telecom operators, including Vodafone, after Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd complained that they were not providing interconnectivity. 

In October, TRAI had recommended a fine of $456 million (Rs 3,050 crore) to the Indian subsidiary of British telecom major Vodafone Plc, Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular for allegedly denying point of interconnection (POI) to Reliance Jio. Under the recommendation, Vodafone’s liability was around Rs 1,050 crore.

On Friday, when the matter came up for hearing, Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva posted the matter for hearing on December 21and directed the telecom regulator to file its reply.

“The telecom authority must act within the four corners of the statute,” argued senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi who is representing Vodafone, adding that the manner in which the regulator has recommended the penalty is arbitrary in nature.

“There was nothing in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, permitting imposition of the penalty and it was ‘arbitrary and unconstitutional’,” argued Dwivedi and sought the court’s intervention to stay TRAI’s recommendation.

“This is a classic case of the mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law phenomena,” said senior counsel Meet Malhotra who is representing the telecom regulator when contacted for comments. “When Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular were new operators, BSNL and MTNL were not giving them POIs and now when the new entrant came, established players are doing the same,” said Malhotra.

When contacted, Vodafone India’s spokesperson confirmed the development but declined to comment since the matter is sub judice. 

TRAI, in its recommendation to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), said it has found the trio to be non-compliant with licence conditions and service quality norms given the high rate of call failures and congestion at interconnect points for RJio. It also noted that denial of interconnection by these operators to RJio "appears to be with the ulterior motive to stifle competition and is anti-consumer".

Following the recommendations by TRAI, DoT has set up a committee to examine the issue.

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