Supreme Court today dismissed the pleas of three telecom majors – Reliance Communication, Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular, challenging government’s 2015 spectrum auction, saying the decision was taken to maximise revenue and expand the service range. “In the instant case, we are unable to perceive any arbitrariness or favouritism or exercise of power for any collateral purpose in the Notice Inviting Tender (NIA). In the absence of the same, to exercise the power of judicial review is not warranted.
“In the case at hand, we think it is a prudent decision once there is increase of revenue and expansion of the range of services,” a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant said while dismissing three telcos’ pleas which had been transferred to the apex court from the High Courts of Delhi, Tripura and Karnataka. The apex court, in a 101-page verdict, said in such “complex” matters having “enormous financial ramification”, interference by the courts based upon any perception of fairness may create a situation of fiscal imbalance. It said that interference in such matters should be on the ground of stricter scrutiny when the decision-making process smacked of “obnoxious arbitrariness or any extraneous consideration”.
“It needs to be stressed that in the matters relating to complex auction procedure having enormous financial ramification, interference by the Courts based upon any perception which is thought to be wise or assumed to be fair, can lead to a situation which is not warrantable and may have unforeseen adverse impact.
“It may have the effect potentiality of creating a situation of fiscal imbalance. In our view, interference in such auction should be on the ground of stricter scrutiny when the decision-making process commencing from NIA till the end, smacks of obnoxious arbitrariness or any extraneous consideration which is perceivable,” the bench said.
The telcos had contended that the quantum of the spectrum being put up for auction had been arbitrarily capped by the government which was hoarding the airwaves and that the bidding had been made non-competitive. The apex court rejected the contentions saying “the court cannot interfere with the tender conditions only on the ground that certain amount of spectrum has not been put to auction”.