India’s Attorney General (AG) – the government’s top law officer—has reportedly allowed the telecom department to levy of penalties on Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular for denying adequate connectivity to Reliance Jio Infocomm.
The AG has informed the telecom department that it was well within its powers to levy penalties these top telcos as recommended by the telecom regulator. “I have approved the recommended penalty,” attorney general Mukul Rohatgi was quoted as saying by Mint.
The AG's opinion comes also within a month of Vodafone challenging the Trai’s recommendation at the Delhi High Court.
The DoT had reportedly sought AG Mukul Rohatgi's opinion after the telecom regulator in October recommended penalties Rs 3,050 crore on the top three players - Rs 1,050 crore each on Airtel and Vodafone and Rs 950 crore on Idea. The Trai had then said that the act of denying adequate connectivity to Reliance Jio was in breach of the licence conditions and hence attracted a penalty of Rs 50 crore per operator per circle where they violated the conditions.
Denying adequate connectivity to Reliance Jio was viewed by the regulator as anti-competitive and anti-consumer and in non-compliance with licence conditions. These top telcos, however, have always maintained they have continuously released PoIs from their end and have alleged network unpreparedness at Jio’s end.
Reports said that the issue will now be evaluated by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal, on the sidelines of Airtel Payments Bank launch, said that the telco has taken its position very clearly that these penalties are completely unfounded and have been done in haste.
“We have written to Trai and DoT and what I understand is DoT has set up a committee to look into the penalty suggestion made by Trai and we all await the outcome of that, and based on the next set of actions by Trai or DoT, we will be able to act,” he said.
Mittal however said that he was unaware of the AG’s decision.
Airtel last month had moved TDSAT against Trai for permitting Reliance Jio to extend free services beyond the 90 days stipulated for promotional offers. It had said that the regulator is acting like a “mute spectator” to violations of tariff orders. TDSAT recently directed Trai to submit a response from Reliance Jio and also decide on the allegations against Reliance Jio in reasonable time.