In an industry-wide legal move, Reliance Jio Infocomm, the Mukesh Ambani led telco, and the Competition Commissions of India (CCI) pleaded the Supreme Court against the newly merged telco, Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel to probe cartelisation charges. However, as per the latest report, the apex court has dismissed the plea made by the newest telco entrant. Before reaching out to the Supreme Court, the Competition Commission had approached Bombay High Court where it had made the same please, but citing that there is already a sector regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), hence the body did not have the jurisdiction to do so, the Bombay High Court quashed the plea made by CCI.
Reliance Jio Gather Legal Action Against Incumbents
Last year in September, CCI had appealed against the three incumbent telcos on the grounds that they had denied interconnection points to Reliance Jio and thus based their argument of cartelisation over this fact. However, after being dissatisfied by the decision of Bombay High Court, the Mukesh Ambani led telco had to move apex court against the decision in January.
As per an ET Telecom report, an Apex Court bench, headed by Justice A K Sikri, who heard the plea, remarked, "We are upholding the order of the (Bombay) High Court on the aspect that the CCI could exercise jurisdiction only after proceedings under the Trai Act had concluded/attained finality, i.e. only after Trai returns its findings on the jurisdictional aspects.”
Further, supreme court bench turned the move made by CCI to be “premature” citing that the ultimate order given by the high court, quashing CCI's order was not “liable to be interfered with.” In the matter, Bharti Airtel, which remains in direct competition with Reliance Jio, welcomed this decision, and was pleased by the decision of the apex court to "uphold the order of the Bombay High Court".
Incumbents Pleased by Apex Court Order
Harsh Kaushik, Airtel’s legal representative also added, "the upshot of the apex court order is that CCI does not have the jurisdiction to probe these (cartelisation) charges at this stage. Only after determination of relevant facts by the concerned authorities under Trai Act, 1997 - the Trai, DoT and TDSAT - can the matter be examined any further".
Even after the Supreme Court order, people aware of the matter say that Reliance Jio and CCI might file review petitions. Questions posed to Reliance Jio, and Vodafone Idea went unanswered.
To recall, the matter snowballed back in November 2016 when Mukesh Ambani led telco, Reliance Jio, accused the other three telecom companies of cartelisation because the telecom operators had denied interconnection points to Reliance Jio. As per the company’s statement that time, the move by incumbents did not let the users of Reliance Jio connect with users of other networks.
Following this, the CCI went on to order a probe in May 2017 saying that there was prima facie evidence about the telcos forming a cartel and coming together against Reliance Jio, and denying interconnection points. The Commission had given a timeline of 60 days to the Director-General for completion of the probe. However, the order could not come to fruition after the Supreme Court ruled out the move.