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Supreme  Court issues notice to Bharti Airtel, Vodafone on penalty by DoT

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The Supreme Court seeks reply from Bharti Airtel, Vodafone on plea by Reliance Jio challenging the demand notices by Department of Telecom.

The Bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Hima Kohli has issued notice in Reliance Jio  plea to be heard in Department of Telecom (DoT)’s demand notice case.

DoT had issued a notice seeking a levy of Rs 3,050 crores from Telecom companies.

The penalty has been levied on the ground that provisions of Licence Agreement and the “Standard of Quality of Service of Basic Telephone Service (Wireline) and Cellular Mobile Telephone Service Regulations, 2009” have been violated .

Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea (Vi) have moved Telecom Department Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) against the telecom department’s demand for penalties for allegedly denying Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio) adequate points of interconnection (PoIs) in 2016.

Telecom companies has submitted before TDSAT  that as per agreement and relevant regulations of TRAI, interconnection connectivity to be provided to the Interconnection Seeker (in the present case RJIL) is based on technical feasibility and involves engineering and mechanical procedure assessment of capacity, data setting and configuration etc. which cannot be done overnight.

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The stand of Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL)  is that it is directly interested in the present proceedings, not only as an industry player governed by TRAI and DoT’s supervisory powers but also as a complainant who was heard by DoT and on whose complaint the impugned penalty was imposed. Therefore, the stand of RJIL is that it is a necessary and proper party; its prayer for impleadment as a respondent deserves to be allowed and that it will be adversely affected and prejudiced if it is not so impleaded.

The TDSAT  Bench  comprised of  Charperson Shiva Kirti Singh and Member Subodh Kumar Gupta observed that the Tribunal is not strictly governed by the provisions in the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) but only by principles of natural justice. This Tribunal has to be on its guard to ensure that no rights of RJIL should be affected by any order which may be passed in the appeals without giving an opportunity of hearing to RJIL.

On a proper consideration of all the facts and principles of law the Bench found that RJIL is not even a proper party whose presence will facilitate the settling of relevant questions involved in the appeal.

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“In order to protect its direct interests and rights against the petitioners, RJIL had the option to approach this Tribunal directly on the basis of interconnect agreements and the relevant regulations, but in the present proceedings, arising on account of action by DoT as a licensor, there is no reasonable requirement to have the presence of RJIL as a party. To the contrary there appears some merit in the case of the petitioners that impleadment of RJIL as a party may dilute the relevant issues and complicate them beyond what is required to be decided”

-observed the Telecom Tribunal.

On February 02 this year the TDSAT in the larger interest of justice and to assist the Tribunal, permitted the  RJIL to file, if it so likes, short written notes of not more than 10 pages, based upon materials made available by it to TRAI/DoT.

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