Telcos should pay for call drops: SC’s initial view

The High Court had upheld the October 16, 2016 decision of Trai making it mandatory for cellular operators to pay consumers one rupee per call drop experienced on their networks.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published:March 5, 2016 2:32 am
“Prima facie, we do not find anything ultra vires in the decision. If call drop fault is on your (telecos) part, you will have to pay for it”- Supreme Court bench “Prima facie, we do not find anything ultra vires in the decision. If call drop fault is on your (telecos) part, you will have to pay for it”-Supreme Court bench

Observing that there seemed nothing wrong in asking the telecom companies to pay if the call drops is due to their fault, the Supreme Court Friday refused to stay the Trai’s decision obligating the telecos to compensate their subscribers for call drops from January 1, 2016.

“Prima facie, we do not find anything ultra vires in the decision. If call drop fault is on your (telecos) part, you will have to pay for it,” remarked a bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F Nariman, even as it agreed to hear the matter in detail on March 10. The bench said at this juncture, it would not pass any order on the cellular operators’ plea to stay the Trai’s decision. The court said it would first examine the issues involved and the stand taken by the central government and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

“It is a question of interim order. We will hear it on Thursday (March 10). As of now, no interim order,” said the bench while seeking replies from the Centre, Trai and others within a week. The court further asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing for the cellular operators, to take adjournment before Trai in connection with this matter that is supposed to come up on Monday. During the brief hearing, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi opposed the telecos’ plea, saying the Delhi High Court rightly upheld the Trai’s decision to impose penalty on the service providers.

“I also oppose their (telecos’) request for no coercive steps as the decision was in the consumer’s interest. Therefore, we succeeded before the High Court,” the AG submitted. “We will examine the issue,” replied the bench. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a body of unified telecom service providers of India and 21 operators, including Vodafone, Bharti Airtel and Reliance, had moved the apex court against the Delhi High Court order.

Earlier this week, the High Court had upheld the October 16, 2016 decision of Trai making it mandatory for cellular operators to pay consumers one rupee per call drop experienced on their networks, subject to a cap of Rs 3 a day. The court order had come came while dismissing a batch of petitions filed by the COAI, which had termed the regulation as “arbitrary and whimsical”, adding they were being penalised without proving any wrong-doing on their part.

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